Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

4/16/2014 (2 years 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 (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 2015 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for April 2016
Universal:
Small Farmers: That small farmers may receive a just reward for their precious labor.
Evangelization: African Christians: That Christians in Africa may give witness to love and faith in Jesus Christ amid political-religious conflicts.



Comments


More Movies

Pope Pius IX portrayed in Steven Spielberg's latest film Watch

Image of Latest Spielberg movie features Pope Pius IX (WikiMedia Commons).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Steven Spielberg's latest film, "The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara," will tell the true story of how a six-year-old's kidnapping relates to Pope Pius IX, the crumbling of the then Papacy and how Italy was unified through the culmination of events. LOS ANGELES, CA ... continue reading


True story behind 'Miracles From Heaven' Watch

Image of Annabel Beam shares story of how God cured her of lifelong illness (PA Real Life).

By Monique Crawford (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Annabel Beam was only 9-years-old when she fell down a hollowed-out tree and landed on her skull. Despite other horror stories in which spines were snapped and skulls were broken, Annabel emerged with a few scratches and a miracle: She was cured of a lifelong illness. ... continue reading


Star of 'God's Not Dead 2' opens up about powerful journey that led him to God Watch

Image of

By Abigail James (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Star of the upcoming feature film, "God's Not Dead 2," Jesse Metcalfe opens up about his journey to God and a better life. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Faith is really important to me," expressed Metcalfe during an interview with FOX411. "I really discovered a ... continue reading


What the Vatican paper has to say about 'Spotlight' and its Academy Award for Best Picture Watch

Image of

By CNA/EWTN News

The film Spotlight, which won the Oscar for best picture on Sunday, is a courageous movie that is not anti-Catholic, the Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano said in two articles dedicated to comment on the Oscars. Vatican City (CNA/EWTN News) - Historian and journalist ... continue reading


Roman turns to Christ in new 'Risen' film Watch

Image of 'Risen' follows the story of a Roman soldier as he searches for Christ's body (risen-movie).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

New movie "Risen" follows a Roman soldier's search for Christ's body after His resurrection. Clavius, acted by Joseph Fiennes, must disprove "rumors" of a risen Messiah, but reveals a life-changing truth instead. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Risen's" website ... continue reading


5 faith-based movies coming in 2016 that are worth your time and money Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Faith-based films with an overt Christian message have been making inroads in the nation's box offices. The film industry is responding to audiences who want Christian themes in their entertainment, and even more films that are Christian are coming to theaters ... continue reading


The Young Messiah: Film to depict Christ as a child Watch

Image of The Young Messiah is the story of Jesus' youth (Wikipedia).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

"The Young Messiah" is the story of Christ's childhood. Who was he? How did he grow to be the world's Savior? What must it have been like to know the Christ child? LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - On "The Young Messiah" website, it is explained: "Inspired by ... continue reading


The one amazing thing waves of teenagers are doing after seeing this powerful film will inspire you Watch

Image of Recently released to the home entertainment market via DVD and Blu-Ray,

By Catholic Online (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Many movies make us laugh, thrill us and make us cry ... in the case of the football film, "Woodlawn," the film's story on how a community is torn apart by racial strife to later reunite because of God's love has audiences standing up and cheering - and ... continue reading


New faith-based film 'The Pastor' addresses gang violence, urban decay Watch

Image of Arturo Muyshondt, the star and writer of the new faith-based film

By Catholic Online (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

The faith-based film "The Pastor" is playing in 400 theaters tonight only across the United States. "The Pastor" tells the story of a former gang member, played by the film's writer Arturo Muyshondt, who turns his life over to God and begins his ministry in a ... continue reading


Opulent castle in Hitchcock masterpiece 'To Catch a Thief' on the market Watch

Image of Sharing the screen with Cary Grant in 1955, Grace Kelly fell in love with the amazingly beautiful castle.

By Catholic Online (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

The breathtaking Castle of la Croix des Gardes, used to good effect in the 1955 Alfred Hitchcock classic, "To Catch a Thief" is back on the market again after 56 years. Grace Kelly adored the location, with its graceful Florentine contours. The owner of the ... continue reading


All Movies News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

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

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Acts 15:7-21
7 and after a long discussion, Peter stood up and addressed them. 'My ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 96:1-2, 2-3, 10
1 Sing a new song to Yahweh! Sing to Yahweh, all the earth!2 ... Read More

Gospel, John 15:9-11
9 I have loved you just as the Father has loved me. Remain in my ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for April 28th, 2016 Image

St. Peter Chanel
April 28: In St. Peter Chanel, Priest and Martyr (Feast day ... Read More