Thoughts on: Catharsis in Film and Television by Grant Connor

The best stories, whether on the big or small screen, evoke an emotional response from the viewer and it’s the writer or directors’ responsibility to execute the emotional punch of the story in a way that doesn’t feel cheap and expected.

The big emotional conclusion to a film or tv show can be cathartic in different ways depending on the viewer, some people may not understand the catharsis of two lovers finally overcoming their struggles and deciding to be with each other if the person watching has never been in love, or some people may find the ending of Inception anti-climactic when Cillian Murphy’s character breaks into the deepest vaults of his subconscious and discovers a childhood item his father kept for years if the person watching has never had any unresolved conflict with their parents. I believe that this is a major factor in dividing audiences opinions on a film. On a basic level someone might love a DC film because they’ve always loved DC comics, whereas the average film goer may not have that influence of nostalgia behind the characters and just see how badly the plot was executed, and on a grander scale almost everyone over a certain age can relate to a character mourning the death of a loved one, as it happens to all of us.

Kevin Smith’s ending to Clerks 2 was cathartic in an overwhelmingly pleasant way and is an example of how well character investment pays off emotionally. Randal and Dante buy the burned down and abandoned Quick Stop convenience store, where the first film was entirely set, and reopen it with themselves as the new owners; essentially back where they started but this time they’re the ones on top. This greatly pleased fans of the original Clerks and if Dante and Randal being back at the Quick Stop wasn’t enough, Kevin Smith’s final shot of the duo standing behind the counter with the camera pulling back and the image gradually de-saturating to black and white was the perfect way to end the story of the potty-mouthed Clerks. Frankly I’m glad that Clerks 3 is no longer happening, I personally can’t see how the ending of Clerks 2 can be topped, plus the replacement project of another Jay and Silent Bob movie dealing with the constant rebooting of franchises seems like a better project that might bring Kevin Smith back to mainstream status instead of being the podcast guy who occasionally directs episodes of CW shows. But moving on.

Ricky Gervais is a master of storytelling  and I always seem to forget this after a couple of months of not seeing ‘The Office’ or ‘Extras’. Despite being a huge fan of his work I only recently got around to watching ‘Derek’. I found it funny and heartwarming as I binged through the episodes but wasn’t connected to it on a completely emotional level because I hadn’t related to anything, that changed when I reached the series finale.

I won’t spoil it because I think everyone should watch the series, but for those who have seen it will know what I’m referring to. The ending had me in tears because I connected with what was happening. I hadn’t experienced the events beat for beat, but the reunion itself was enough to get me to express sadness and happiness simultaneously, the sadness derived from the fact that in my own life that reunion is yet to happen, and the happiness came from a catharsis of seeing it happen to someone else, fictional yes but still important. It’s rare that a film or TV show ever gets the water works going for me, and at the time of writing this no other recent titles spring to mind, but I’m not ashamed to say Derek got me.

Audience catharsis is something I’ve only recently thought about but I like finding out what some people find cathartic and what other people just find dull or pandering. It depends totally on personal experience and the varying of our experiences as a collective audience is what forces filmmakers to produce a wider range of material and create realistic stories that connect with us. Well that’s my thoughts at least. Don’t fear the tear folks!



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