Paying to Feel: Why People Love Movies

Categories Life & Opinions

Awhile back, after seeing The Revenant, I was thinking to myself about the value of entertainment and why people pay for it. I think the simple answer is: fun. People get bored and want to have a good time. They want that so much that they’re willing to pay for it.

But I’d like to propose it’s something deeper than that. Maybe it’s that people want to feel, and that’s what they’re paying for.

To use The Revenant as an example, I (hopefully) will never have to witness my son killed before my eyes while I lay powerless to do anything about it. I also probably won’t have to venture across a bitter stretch of winter wilderness after being maimed by a bear.

But hell, what an experience, right?

Movies give us an opportunity to feel things we’d probably never feel in our own personal lives. It’s not just escapism, it’s also, in so many cases, simulated emotion.

This thought made me wonder:

Are we having enough real, emotional experiences today?

Okay, so maybe this question is more personal in the sense that maybe I’m not having enough real, emotional experiences. But then again, I think it’s safe to speculate that the majority of us spend most of our days in front of one screen or another.

Unlike living in colonial America, our lives are pretty safe. We don’t even have to risk having an awkward conversation with the bank teller with all the automation that’s happened (and continuing to happen).

We’ve created systems and processes to avoid a great deal of negative emotion, strife and general discomfort.

This isn’t to say that people don’t struggle and feel intense emotion at all, but we definitely have it a lot easier than people living in an era of no vaccinations, law enforcement or human rights advocates.

Anyway, back to my point: I’m wondering this not because I think it’s necessarily bad that people watch movies to feel, but more so to understand the psychology of paying to watch a film.

As a producer, investigating this issue has logistical value. In other words, knowing that people want to feel intense emotion means that I know to make evocative films.

However, from a perspective of social commentary, I wonder what this means for the future of the human experience.

Movie-Induced Feelings vs. Life-Induced Feelings

Are we headed further into an era of simulated emotions? (That sounds like it could be an interesting dystopia to explore in a movie…)

Or maybe a society like that wouldn’t be a dystopia. After all, the fact that we can empathize so deeply with a movie character shows how cinema encourages open-mindedness.

However, the emotion we feel in a movie is still different than what we’d feel if we were actually experiencing it in real life. Real experiences change you, but the feelings produced in a movie are fleeting.

So I wonder what other people think—do movies promote false emotions, or are they widening our range of empathy and understanding? I’d love to discuss this further in the comments.


1 thought on “Paying to Feel: Why People Love Movies

  1. There’s definitely an element of escapism to some movies and for some people with film in general but I agree: there’s also an intensly emotional aspect to many audience members experiences. There’s something transportive and cathartic about film.

    Psychology in regards to film is a really interesting concept to explore: what motivates us & why? These are integral questions that we need to think about as filmmakers and, honestly, as people as well. I’m glad to see there’s someone else out there that’s thinking about these things, too =)

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, Eden. As a reader, I really enjoyed your honesty.

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