Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

4/16/2014 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (

Why are we able to enjoy a movie that we have already seen, or tell a well-known story whose outcome we already know?

We welcome the retelling of traditional stories because we are always seeking both to understand and endure the stories we inhabit and ultimately the narrative which is our entire life.Why else would both the main characters in Casablanca, played by Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart, ask for the same song to be played over and over? The subtext of "Play it again, Sam" is, "I am still trying to understand, to put the pieces of my life together."


By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (

4/16/2014 (2 years ago)

Published in Movies

Keywords: art, culture, film, Aristotle, casablanca, play it again sam, Humphrey Bogart, Deal W. Hudson

WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - Why are we able to enjoy a movie that we have already seen, or tell a well-known story whose outcome we already know?  Cyprian and I sat down over the weekend to watch the 2004 film, Miracle, starring Kurt Russell, about the 1978 victory of the US hockey team over the Soviets at the Lake Placid Olympics.
I had seen this movie at least two times. I knew the ending and several of the key plot points along the way, but I was completely absorbed watching all of it for 2 hours and 15 minutes.  So was Cyprian, who knew the US was going to win because I had told him, and we both were disappointed when there were no "extras' to watch on the DVD.
Much of the reason we were enthralled by the film was because it was extremely well-made, with Kurt Russell as the US coach, Herb Brooks, taking on the entire hockey establishment with his commitment to beat the Soviets, perhaps the greatest hockey team of all time.  Not only was the story of the 1978 victory familiar to us but also the narrative trope of the underdog winning in spite of the odds, in spite of the resistance against him.  In this case, it was Herb Brooks and his college hockey players overcoming the resistance of his own colleagues as well as the Soviet hockey team. 
We knew everything that was going to happen in that film, but for two hours we were completely in the grasp of the storytelling, skillfully directed by Gavin O'Connor. It must be the case that our appreciation of art, whether a film, a novel, or a painting is not found in its presentation of the new, per se.  All art, with the exception of kitsch, offers its audience something new in the way the familiar is represented on stage, on the movie screen, on a canvas, or in a book.
When the human form was contorted in cubes by Picasso in his 1907 painting, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, his audience, no matter how shocked or delighted by the new cubist style, still recognized the human figures, the Young Woman, i.e., prostitutes of Avignon. Indeed, it would have been a superficial critic who applauded Picasso for the stylistic invention if it had not succeeded in revealing something interesting about the young woman it depicts.  In other words, we know in general what a young prostitute might look like, that's not new. But Picasso succeeded by his new style in depicting the harsh realities of a prostitute's life. One might say an artist employs the new, his creativity, to re-imagine or re-present what we are already familiar with, and in doing so offers us insight, or greater clarity, into the subject of the work.  (Obviously this description would be amended in the case of totally abstract works.)
Once we have it that art reproduces the human, nature, and the spiritual we can appreciate how Aristotle in his Poetics captured the aesthetic experience with his description of Greek tragedy involving the "catharsis of pity and fear." What we can tease out of this highly compressed statement is important for two reasons: first, the viewer undergoes an experience called a catharsis, and, second, that catharsis has something to do with "pity and fear."  Thus, even without defining precisely what Aristotle meant, we know that for him tragedy was about the human experience, about what we all face along the way, from the impact of misfortune to the consequences of our own mistakes, especially the mistake of pride.
Allow me to use Aristotle's discussion of tragedy to apply to the arts in general, especially those that employ narratives such as film, novels, and paintings. What Aristotle meant by the "catharsis of pity and fear" is precisely what answers my original question: how we can enjoy a story we've already been told. First of all, the human stories we meet in art are very finite. Somewhere in my studies I came across an author who had created a list of all possible human narratives, and it wasn't very long. Secondly, these narratives are familiar, along with the emotions and worries that accompany them.  Aristotle's "pity and fear" represent the common thoughts and emotions we all have when, for example, a son rebels against his father, or young lovers disobey their parents, and so on. 
We can enjoy, even be riveted, by the retelling of these human stories because their artistic representation, if skillfully made, provides us greater clarity, i.e., catharsis, about the dynamics of that story, our story, thus allaying our predictable emotions and worries about being faced with that situation ourselves. Catharsis is not an emotional purgation, it is an experience of clarity, of insight, that in making sense of the human condition allows us at least a moment of relief from the anxieties that we bear from day to day.  In fact, we welcome the retelling of traditional stories because we are always seeking both to understand and endure the stories we inhabit and ultimately the narrative which is our entire life.
Why else would both the main characters in Casablanca, played by Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart, ask for the same song to be played over and over? The subtext of "Play it again, Sam" is, "I am still trying to understand, to put the pieces of my life together."

© Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor and Movie Critic at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, is heard on the Ave Maria Radio Network.


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'

Copyright 2016 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for SEPTEMBER 2016
Centrality of the Human Person: That each may contribute to the common good and to the building of a society that places the human person at the center.
Evangelization: Mission to Evangelize: That by participating in the Sacraments and meditating on Scripture, Christians may become more aware of their mission to evangelize.


More Movies

'I'm Not Ashamed' - Atheists slam faith-based Columbine massacre film Watch

Image of


Movies based on true stories come out every year - but of course the faith-based films get the most controversy, primarily from Atheist hate groups. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "I'm Not Ashamed" is a new faith-based film focused on the Columbine massacre that ... continue reading

Mark Wahlberg is set to play his most Catholic role ever Watch

Image of


Well-known Hollywood movie star and Catholic, Mark Wahlberg is gearing up for his most Catholic role ever. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Mark Wahlberg, alongside director David O Russell, is working on an inspirational biopic about Father Stuart Long, an American ... continue reading

'The Story of Christ' to be told in Virtual Reality Watch

Image of Imagine standing next to Christ while he delivers the Sermon on the Mount.

By Marshall Connolly (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

A new film will allow people to experience the life of Christ in full virtual reality (VR). The new film aims to bring people closer to Christ by allowing them to experience key events in His life. LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - "Jesus VR - The Story of Christ" ... continue reading

JESUS RETURNS: A sequel to 'The Passion of the Christ' confirmed Watch

Image of Jim Caviezel as


Mel Gibson has confirmed a sequel to 'The Passion of the Christ' is coming. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - In an interview with evangelist Greg Laurie at SoCal Harvest at Angel Stadium, Gibson announced there would be a follow-up to the hit independent film. "Of ... continue reading

Inside scoop for latest Clint Eastwood film 'Sully' - An interview with writer Todd Komarnicki Watch

Image of Take a behind-the-scenes look at


Todd Komarnicki, a writer, producer and director, shares insight into the making of Clint Eastwood's "Sully," which saw a $35.5 million opening weekend. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Todd Komarnicki is known for writing scripts for "Perfect Stranger," "Sully," ... continue reading

Miracle on the Hudson - 'Sully' film review (NO SPOILERS) Watch

Image of A review of

By Nikki Crawford & Marisel Maldonado

The latest Clint Eastwood film, "Sully," will be released in theaters Friday, September 9. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Sully" is based on the real story of Flight 1549, when Canadian geese flew into the U.S. Airways Airbus' engines.Both engines lost thrust and ... continue reading

The MUST-READ 2016 'Ben-Hur' Review (NO SPOLIERS) Watch

Image of


The 2016 "Ben-Hur" remake wows with an adrenaline-inducing chariot race and heartbreaking tale of betrayal. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The remake of classic film "Ben-Hur" maintains a similar story line as the 1959 version but portrays an updated version ... continue reading

Pope Francis blesses Ben-Hur actor and actors pull own stunts - Everything you need to know in tell-all exclusive interview with Roma Downey Watch

Image of Ben-Hur will be available nationwide in theaters August 19.


During an exclusive interview with Catholic Online, Hollywood film producer Roma Downey offered some behind-the-scenes insight to the upcoming film "Ben-Hur." LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Downey, who starred in the CBS series "Touched by an Angel," is an actress ... continue reading

Ben-Hur reimagined: Read the EXCLUSIVE interview with producer Roma Downey now! Watch

Image of Ben-Hur 2016.


Read the transcript of Roma Downey's exclusive interview with Catholic Online. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Downey was interviewed Friday, August 12 in regards to the remake of the cinema classic Ben-Hur.The 2016 release features the talents of Jack Huston and ... continue reading

What is a miracle? New film aims to explain the unexplainable Watch

Image of

By Tonia Borsellino (CNA)

For both skeptics and believers, miracles have captivated people's attention for thousands of years. Swansea, United Kingdom (CNA) - That same intrigue led St. Anthony Communications to produce their latest film, 'Miracles.'The 35-minute documentary is the first of a ... continue reading

All Movies News


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 6:10-20
10 Finally, grow strong in the Lord, with the strength of his ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 144:1, 2, 9-10
1 [Of David] Blessed be Yahweh, my rock, who trains my hands for war and ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 13:31-35
31 Just at this time some Pharisees came up. 'Go away,' they said. 'Leave ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 27th, 2016 Image

St. Frumentius
October 27: Called "Abuna" or "the fa­ther' of Ethiopia, ... Read More