Can lines, shapes, and colors express emotions in movies? In her new book, “The Forms of the Affects,” literature professor Eugenie Brinkema closely looks at these properties in films like “Psycho” and “Open Water” and argues that they do. In her view, emotions or “affect” need not only be observed by watching characters embody a feeling like anxiety or grief. Rather, Brinkema says that formal properties like repetition, duration, and lighting show the emotion themselves.
Take the film “Open Water,” in which a husband and wife are accidentally left behind in shark-infested waters during a scuba diving trip. The movie is frightening and anxiety producing, in part, says Brinkema, because of its visual frame. Most scenes show the sea and the sky with a horizontal line between them. As time goes on in the film, that line is interrupted by shark fins above and bodies disappearing below.
“The commonplace assumption is that spectators pay money to go to horror films because it will make us feel anxious, and then we cathartically leave the theater at the end of the day and feel fine. But what if [the film’s] anxiety has to do with the specific visual form of movement and time?” Brinkema told the MIT News.
Explore Professor Brinkema’s research in the Open Access Articles collection in DSpace@MIT, where it is openly accessible to the world. Brinkema also has a newly published course on MIT OpenCourseWare.
Since the MIT faculty established their Open Access Policy in March 2009 they have made thousands of research papers freely available to the world via DSpace@MIT. To highlight that research, we’re offering a series of blog posts that link news stories about scholars’ work to their open access papers in DSpace.