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 2016 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for August 2016
Universal:
Sports: That sports may be an opportunity for friendly encounters between peoples and may contribute to peace in the world.
Evangelization: Living the Gospel: That Christians may live the Gospel, giving witness to faith, honesty, and love of neighbor.



Comments


More Movies

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

Image of

By Nikki Crawford (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

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.

By Nikki Crawford (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

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.

By Nikki Crawford (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

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 idisciple.org

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


Film spotlights Hillsong UNITED's remarkable journey from a youth group band at Hillsong Church to a worldwide recording and concert sensation Watch

Image of

By Press Release

Pure Flix is distributing HILLSONG-LET HOPE RISE, the highly anticipated feature film that chronicles the spectacular and miraculous rise to prominence of the Australia-based band, Hillsong UNITED. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Directed by Michael John Warren ... continue reading


Witness the Coming of Christ...to virtual reality Watch

Image of The Story of Christ is coming to virtual reality for the first time (The Story of Christ).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Looking for a new way to immerse yourself in the story of Jesus Christ? LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to Engadget, virtual reality is an opportunity to fully engage an audience in a film like never before.Producers and directors are moving toward the ... continue reading


Jesus to reach 6.5 million more people? Watch

Image of The JESUS Film will reach millions more after being translated into eight new languages (Amazon).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Millions around the world have no idea who Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is - but now 6.5 million people will be able to learn about Christ in a way they can clearly understand. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - <a href=http://www.jesusfilm.org/>The JESUS Film ... continue reading


'He was a Primitive Baptist': Matthew McConaughey on new Bible-based film Watch

Image of

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

According to actor Matthew McConaughey, his latest film "Free State of Jonas" is not just a historical film - it is also a Biblical one. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Free State of Jonas" centers around Newton Knight, who brings together a small band of farmers ... continue reading


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


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

  • St. Monica: Mother of Augustine, Model of the Virtuous Mother
  • St. Monica: Saint of the Day for Saturday, August 27, 2016
  • The economic problem that could destroy America TODAY HD Video
  • You'll never believe what Obama did in Hawaii!
  • Daily Readings for Saturday, August 27, 2016
  • St Augustine on a Personal Relationship with Jesus
  • Daily Reading for Monday, August 29th, 2016 HD Video

Daily Readings

Reading 1, First Corinthians 1:26-31
26 Consider, brothers, how you were called; not many of you are wise by ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 33:12-13, 18-19, 20-21
12 How blessed the nation whose God is Yahweh, the people he has chosen ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 25:14-30
14 'It is like a man about to go abroad who summoned his servants and ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for August 27th, 2016 Image

St. Monica
August 27: Saint Monica, also known as Monica of Hippo, is ... Read More