Thoughts on Perception of Movies


I have always been fascinated with the concept of a person’s perception of what is going in the world around them.  Filmmakers, effects experts, writers, and anyone else in the film industry strive to make their stories believable, their characters real and deep, and their gore to look just like the real thing.  I always found this part specifically interesting because when it comes down to it, your mind knows that it’s just a movie.  You know none of it is real.  You know that there may be some crazy people in the world, but there is no Freddy or Jason or even a Pinhead in the real world but yet you still let out a shriek when they come out of nowhere up on the screen.  You feel the terror and fright as our main character (who we barely know, but already find a connection with) is running away from whatever terror is behind them.  You want to see them make it out of here because you love them and you identify with them.  You are the representation of at least one thing that character stands for and like you would feel in that situation, you would want to get the hell out of danger.

The fact of the matter is that the entire horror genre makes its bread and butter on the concept of immersion.  The filmmakers want to become part of the situation unfolding on screen so that once our main characters experience a good fright, then so do you.  So in essence, what would pull you into the horrific situation better than anything else?  You guessed it, it’s a sense of realism I wrote about this before).  The gore has to be believable, the story has to be grounded in the real world, and the characters have to be modeled after someone you know or identify with.  However if your perception of a character isn’t something that you would identify with, then the movie may be harder for a person to get immersed in and ultimately the argument for their hatred would be “it would never happen”.  I think it’s best if we go down example alley together.  Follow me!

For my first example, let’s take a movie that most of you have seen… like… Halloween (John Carpenter).  Since the movie has been around for over 30 years, I would like to think that most people who enjoy the horror genre have seen the flick.  Now take into account the character of Nancy, we can all identify with her because either we know someone in our lives who is exactly like her (or you possibly are exactly like her).  Maybe it could also be that you see certain traits in her that have been hardwired into your brain to automatically come to the conclusion that “this is a good person”.  Laurie babysits, she tries her best to protect the kids, and in addition to that, we have to see her suffer through a situation where all her friends are brutally murdered.  The example of perception works extremely well in this case because of the general likeability of her character via preconceived notions of what everyone has as a basic template for a good teenage girl.  But what if you never had the life experience necessary to make that template?  

Let’s say for the sake of argument, you were born into a monastery.  Your monk brothers (or nun sisters, whatever just go with the analogy) are the only people in your life that you have ever known.  You have been studying religion rather than going to a stereotypical high school and you have never interacted with anyone like Laurie before.  To you, this world that you live in is all that exists.  So when you get kidnapped by the people for a better world (PFBW) and get forced to watch Halloween, it’s not going to seem realistic to you.  Your perception of reality isn’t the leave ridden suburbs, pumpkins, and high school so you have nothing to identify with.  It’s a matter of differing perceptions of what reality is and what isn’t.  Now I realize that this example isn’t realistic (ha!), but the important thing is that the point is made that different people from different backgrounds have varied perceptions of the world around them.  This also applies to how films are made.  Let’s look at a filmic example.

What I’m alluding to here is the shaky camera trick.  You have all seen it a million times and I’m sure most of you are sick of it but why is it even used?  Does it really make the project look more “gritty and realistic”?  Does it give you more of a “documentary feel”?  Does it really capture the immediacy of the situation?


It makes me think these people should invest in a tripod so I can focus on what’s happening on the screen (because I already know it’s a movie, why the hell can’t I see everything that I paid 10 bucks to see?), not why I can only see glimpses of what’s going on because the camera is pointed at someone’s feet.  Then again, that is my perception of the shaky camera.  It’s how I feel about the overused and overhyped filming style.  Your perception may be completely different; you may think that this makes everything more realistic because if you recall events in your memory, they look a lot more like this than a smooth city wide helicopter shot.  It’s all a matter of what the individual perceives as reality.

I’ve been doing a bit of rambling here, but my main point of this piece is to try and plant the seed in your head that even though a movie may be completely ridiculous and off the wall, it can still be enjoyed as long as it is done well.  Not everything has to be completely devoid of a tripod while suffering from Parkinson’s disease in order to look like it’s unfolding in front of someone’s eyes.  Sometimes the viewer can realize they are watching a movie and then try and take a step back from it so that they can identify and interpret what they are seeing.  Then again another view and their perceptions are telling them that the movie is completely ridiculous because they are using the door to a 88 nova, not an 88 nova sport like the car is supposed to be.  Which one are you?

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