Controversial films like Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange represent a challenge for current theories of emotion elicitation. Combining theories of emotional appraisal, film comprehension, and the formal analysis of film, this article outlines a model of audiovisual responses to films that distinguishes between four levels of information processing and corresponding emotional reactions: 1. the perception of images and sounds triggers perceptual affects, sensations, and moods; 2. the development of mental models of a represented world, its inhabitants and events, calls forth diegetic emotions like sympathy, empathy, and situation-related feelings; 3. grasping indirect or more abstract meanings leads to thematic emotions; and 4. reflection on the communication process and its elements (text, producer, recipient) leads to communicative emotions. These four levels of emotional reactions interact in time, leading to the development of complex emotion episodes.
Characters are of central importance for our film experience, and they confront us with a multitude of questions concerning their production, structures, meanings, effects, etc. Subjective intuitions do not suffice to answer those questions and to analyze, describe, and discuss characters in differentiated and comprehensive ways. To do this, we need a set of conceptual tools, an infrastructure for argumentation. This article summarizes the central results of my book Die Figur im Film in those respects, starting from a heuristic core model. The “clock of character” distinguishes between four aspects of characters: (1) As artifacts, they are shaped by audiovisual information; (2) As fictional beings they have certain bodily, mental, and social features; (3) As symbols, they impart higher-level meanings; and (4) as symptoms they point to socio-cultural causes in their production and to effects in their reception.
This article shows in what ways Matthew Ratcliffe’s phenomenological theory of existential feelings is relevant to film and media studies. Existential feelings are “feelings in the body, which are experienced as one‘s relationship with the world as a whole.” They are related to other concepts in film theory; however, their relation to films has never been systematically examined. The article discusses how audiovisual media are able to represent, express, and evoke existential feelings, and even work as “qualia machines” in making viewers partially share feelings of characters. Focusing on the paradigmatic case of depression and on exemplary films like Dominik Graf’s Deine besten Jahre, the article identifies different aesthetic strategies to express existential feelings. Building on that, the article argues that the power of films to evoke related feelings in the viewers is a crucial factor in spreading ideas about how others feel and conveying collective structures of feeling.