Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

4/16/2014 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

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."

Highlights

By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

4/16/2014 (1 year 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'


Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for May 2015
Universal:
That, rejecting the culture of indifference, we may care for our neighbours who suffer, especially the sick and the poor.
Evangelization: That Mary's intercession may help Christians in secularized cultures be ready to proclaim Jesus.


Rosaries, Crosses, Prayer Cards and more... by Catholic Shopping .com


Comments


More Movies

What are filmmakers getting wrong with Bible-based movies? The universal story may not be so universal Watch

Image of

By Talia Ramos (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Hollywood has released a lot of movies centered on Christianity and the Bible's stories during 2014. Some of them were well-received by Christians and even film critics, while some of the movies received negative, cold responses, especially from those who subscribe to ... continue reading


Filmmakers of 'Little Boy' receive mixed reviews -- audience approves, film critics are not convince Watch

Image of Little Boy is a movie about a young boy desperate to bring his father home for WWII.

By Atarah Haely (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Rotten Tomatoes gave the newly released movie, "Little Boy" a low rating, viewing it as rather unconvincing for fans, the filmmakers and some of the professional film critics. MUNTINLUPA, PHILIPPINES (Catholic Online) - However, the movie was given positive approval ... continue reading


New 'Star Wars' trailer features plenty of surprises for fans Watch

Image of John Boyega, who left a lasting impression as the hero in the 2011 British horror film,

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

"The force - is back," and the new trailer in the "Stars Wars" installment, "Star Wars: Episode VII -- The Force Awakens" packs quite a few surprises. Due to hit theaters during Christmas this year, the trailer's unveiling was attended by many actors in the ... continue reading


Empire of the Cross; Layers of Our Faith Watch

Image of

By Caitlin Bootsma

If you've ever visited Rome and had a sense of deja vu or that you were somehow "home", you wouldn't be the only one. Many Catholics feel this connection to the Eternal City, despite not having a drop of Italian blood in them. This feeling is reinforced by stumbling ... continue reading


Amazing documentary 'Planet Earth' plans sequel to uncover the unknown wilderness Watch

Image of

By Talia Ramos (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

When the documentary series "Planet Earth" was shown on TV, a lot of people changed the way they see Mother Earth. The good news is, there is now going to be a sequel to the widely accepted film. MUNTINLUPA, PHILIPPINES (Catholic Online) - The downside, though, is it ... continue reading


Are movies encouraging kids to drink? New study shows relationship between 'boozy films' and teen drinking habits Watch

Image of

By Hannah Raissa Marfil (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Research shows  a strong relationship between the drinking habits of teenagers and the choices of movies they watch. Young people are found to be more likely to consume and binge drink if they are into movies that feature the notable characters drinking alcohol. ... continue reading


Faith, hope and love: 'Little Boy' is movie for entire family Watch

Image of A motion picture intended to send audiences home with smiles on their faces,

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A motion picture intended to send audiences home with smiles on their faces, "Little Boy," is a new World War II-era feature film. The story involves a 7-year-old child (Jakob Salvati) who wants his father to come home from battle. Promising to inspire ... continue reading


Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, iTunes promise lots of entertainment for month of April Watch

Image of Streaming original content, such as the superhero film

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Spring is in the air and streaming movies, TV shows and specials will be here to greet the sunnier season. Streaming original content, such as the superhero film "Marvel's Daredevil" will be the month's main draws. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - From ... continue reading


Late actor Paul Walker lives again - thanks to digital technology Watch

Image of Universal Pictures was able to complete its April 3 tent pole,

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Actor Paul Walker, whose life was taken in a horrific traffic accident two years ago, will have the opportunity to live again - dying during the production of "Fast and Furious 7," Walker's scenes will be completed with digital technology. While this will ... continue reading


Luke Skywalker's home in 'Star Wars' invaded by ISIS Watch

Image of R2D2 and C3PO would probably feel out of place at the location that served as Tatooine in the original

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The desert planet of "Tatooine," Luke Skywalker's (Mark Hammill) home planet in the "Star Wars" series, was attacked and destroyed by storm troopers in the original installment of that science-fiction series. Art apparently imitated life, as the Tunisian location ... continue reading


All Movies News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

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

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Sirach 17:19-27
19 Their actions are all as plain as the sun to him, ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 32:1-2, 5, 6, 7
1 [Of David Poem] How blessed are those whose offence ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 10:17-27
17 He was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for May 25th, 2015 Image

St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi
May 25: It would be easy to concentrate on the mystical experiences God ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter