Cinematic Empathy

In recent decades film studies have shifted their focus to the emotional and bodily level of film experience. By adopting a phenomenological approach, I study empathy as a key strategies of construction of the film spectator’s involvement in contemporary mainstream narrative films. This research trend started with my PhD dissertation, that reconstructs the meanings of the notion of empathy in philosophy, aesthetics, psychology and neurocognitive research; traces a genealogy of empathy in film theories, from Bergsonism to Cognitivism, and evaluates the relevance of simulation theory to film studies; and explores the relevance of Edith Stein’s phenomenological theory of empathy to film theory and assumes it is a theoretical model to investigate the “intensified” nature of both film design style and film reception style. A film is constructed and experienced on the basis of the “circuit of empathy”, a stratified system of different species of empathetic interaction, acting at sensorimotor, perceptual, cognitive and emotional levels with the aim of generating both an aesthetic and an inter-subjective experience. I also analyse a vast corpus of contemporary films and focuses on four “aerial figures” of involvement and their combination: acrobatics, falling, flying, and non-gravitational movements, both of the actor’s human body and of the film’s anthropomorphic body. The spectator internally imitates these “double” movements and inadvertently experiences the intentionality implied in the figures. Contemporary film spectators empathetically grasp, with their own sensibility, the senses of an experience that transcends the immanence of the film and contributes to the process of giving sense to the World, the Other, and the Self.

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