Keira’s Kiss

Though intimacy has been a wide concern in the humanities, it has received little critical attention in film studies. The book Intimacy in Cinema. Critical Essays on English Language Films, edited by David Roche and Isabelle Schmitt-Pitiot and published by McFarland, investigates both the potential intimacy of cinema as a medium and the possibility of a cinema of intimacy where it is least expected.

As a notion defined by binaries—inside and outside, surface and depth, public and private, self and other—intimacy, because it implies sharing, calls into question the boundaries between these extremes, and the border separating mainstream cinema and independent or auteur cinema. Following on Thomas Elsaesser’s theories of the relationship between the intimacy of cinema and the cinema of intimacy, the essays explore intimacy in silent and classic Hollywood movies, underground, documentary and animation films; and contemporary Hollywood, British, Canadian and Australian cinema from a variety of approaches.

My essay Keira’s Kiss. The Affordance of “Kissability” in the Film Experience draws on cognitive psychology and neuroscience to explain how the cinematic kiss turns the film experience into a sensuous and intimate experience. By analyzing a series of cinematic kissing scenes selected from dramas with British actress Keira Knightley as the main female character, I argue that the spectator’s desire and sense of intimacy are influenced by prereflexive perceptual dynamics and their neural correlates, in particular on the perception of affordance, as psychologist James J. Gibson posited it at the core of his ecological approach to visual perception. With regards to cinematic kissing as an act perceived by the spectator, it can be argued that lips are “kiss-on-able,” i.e., “kissable,” that is: lips afford kissing. In the chapter I make the bold claim that Keira Knightley’s lips are particularly “kissable.” This probably depends also on the individual physiognomic formation of her face and her way of talking (protruding lower jaw, slender cheeks, naturally full lips and large teeth are physical elements that directly express a tendency both to “explore” the surrounding environment and engage in intersubjective relationships principally via her lips). However, it is not a mere matter of physiognomy. Rather, a series of factors contributes to enhance “kissability.” First, aesthetic and stylistic factors such as mise en scène (makeup, acting style, photography etc.) and shot size (especially the use of closeups of her face and extreme closeups of her lips). Second, cognitive factors, including the narrative construction of the film: the kissing scene is often a climax in melodramas or dramatic scenes in other genres, and its emotional potential is narratively prepared. The analysis of kissing scenes selected from film starring Keira Knightley support this hypothesis—the”dancing kiss” Atonement (Joe Wright, 2007), the “quasi-kiss” Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (Gore Verbinski, 2006), the “singing kiss” in The Edge of Love (John Maybury, 2008), and the “biting kiss” in A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg, 2001).

Intimacy cover

Print ISBN: 978-0-7864-7924-5
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-4766-1711-4
22 photos, 244pp.