Do you cry when a movie character dies on screen? Do you laugh with them louder than most people in a cinema hall? Do you tend to feel that the struggles they go through are often your own? Do you think that the characters in a film are relatable? If you do, then there’s a good chance that you possess an emotionally expressive but creative self.
I enjoy films that move me emotionally. I often find myself pondering over the futures of movie/video-game/television characters at night when I have nothing else to do. Especially, when I have just watched a film that shook me or finished a video-game with an ambiguous/open ending. Also, I’ve noticed that seeing laughter on screen is at times, contagious, as hell. When I see a character breaking into uncontrollable laughter during a particular scene, I might also end up laughing with them. Same goes for weeping as well. When a character goes through a breakdown, I tend to get my eyes filled too (and shining like diamonds!). In short, I am moved by the immeasurable power of solid writing and performances.
It also depends on the kind of mindset you’re sitting down to savour a piece of art (in this case, cinema) with. When you’re in for a sensible, well-acted situational comedy and what you get instead is plain slapstick, it would be difficult for your sense of logic to just sit back and not interfere. Your brain tells you that it’s not going to switch off at your convenience and ingest that travesty without wincing multiple times. Therefore, it does help to know a little about the kind of experience you’re signing up for in advance. I’m saying it makes sense to study the respective genre(s), to understand the calibre of the performers, the crew members and to dig their previous work (if any), and also, to not judge an art-form by how explicitly expressive it is. Even in the case of music, that’s the thing. The same person, during different moods/situations, can relish both hard rock and electronic (to a bare minimum at least, or so I believe) music.
I am someone who isn’t put off by excessive gore (or in pop-culture terms, ‘torture porn’) in films. I wasn’t exactly turned off by the Saw or the Hostel films (for example), which some consider exasperating to sit through. Horror, as a genre, along with all its sub-genres has always intrigued me. It is as much a strenuous task to genuinely spook someone as it is to make them laugh or cry, sometimes, a lot more. While bloodshed in films doesn’t bother me (even they are often classified under the ‘horror’ category) much, examples of films that gave me the jitters would be The Omen (1976), The Thing (John Carpenter’s), The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, [REC] (the first part), 28 Days Later, The Wailing, and The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi’s). Films such as The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and The Exorcist, however great they may be in their own right, didn’t give me sleepless nights. Then again, it must have been the mindset with which I sat down to watch those films in the first place. Maybe, I ‘expected’ too much, and the payoff turned out to be little. The latter films relied mostly on big reveals and epic moments, while the former list was consistently high on atmosphere and world-building, trying to amp up the consequences (and of course, the shocks) one moving scene at a time. That made all the difference to me!
Now let’s talk action. What makes the Mission Impossible series so vividly different from The Fast and the Furious series? Is it just because Tom Cruise performs all those insane stunts himself in his 50s? Well, technically, that could be one reason, but it’s the smart writing and the actual staging that works in favour of the former. Take a look at George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. Now, that’s how you make someone who’s not a fan of the genre, a goddamn fan for life. Or the Bourne series. Or the John Wick trilogy (for the Gen Z-ers). Or even some of the Bond films. It takes more than just a mind-blowing set-piece or two, to make a great action movie. It’s about telling an engaging story.
Moving on to comedy/drama/romance. I’m clubbing these three genres since they are usually clubbed together in films. These are the genres in which the most realistic narratives can be seen. Who hasn’t truly felt the coming-of-age of Tom from 500 Days of Summer, Chuck’s struggle for survival in Cast Away, Juno‘s existential crisis as a pregnant teen, or the unlikely friendship shared between the members of The Breakfast Club? Heck, let’s go regional for a second. The camaraderie shared between the cousins in Bangalore Days and the heartwarming brotherhood that we witnessed in Kumbalangi Nights are ideal examples of how writing and performances go hand-in-hand with each other.
Lastly, thrillers (conveniently ignoring sci-fi & fantasy, we’ll talk about those later). The satisfaction I get from watching a well-made crime thriller is difficult to explicate. Memento, Rear Window (basically any of Hitchcock’s work in the ‘thriller’ category), Memories of Murder, Nightcrawler, and The Departed – just a handful of cinematic pieces that offer distinctly thrilling experiences. From a regional perspective, watching Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru, Mumbai Police, or Andhadhun is as satiating as it can get. It takes a great story to set the ball rolling and compelling performances (and to an extent, the musical score) to get viewers invested.
In my eyes, it all comes down to two things: 1) the sync between the director and the viewer, or in other words, how much the viewer decides to buy into the storytelling aspect & 2) whether the director’s vision was fruitfully conveyed, regardless of the methods chosen. If the makers can get these right, then I’d be more than willing to resume laughing, weeping, shivering, cheering, or pumping my fists.
P.S – If you’re a movie buff, you ought to check out my IMDB page. And in case it interests you, let’s discuss films, characters, and storylines in detail!