Empathy is a major aspect of the interplay between filmmaking and reception. As early as 1940, Siegfried Kracauer found that cinema’s most distinctive quality derives from how the material elements in film directly stimulate the material layers of the human being. Philosophers have similarly emphasized the sensual and perceptual aspects of film, equating it to a medium capable of rendering through images the very processes of thought (Deleuze), whilst some claim that films may be affectively “prefocused” with a built-in gestalt or perspective in the ways they mobilize the viewer (Carroll; Plantinga). Attempting to understand film viewers’ experiences, neuroscientist Vittorio Gallese and film theorist Michele Guerra have recently observed how the process of “embodied simulation” makes possible intense and diversified experiences of space, objects and other individuals. At the basis of empathy, embodied simulation can make an important contribution to the study of how films are experienced and co-created by viewers. Drawing on these arguments from neuroscience and film theory, in this communication I explore the relationship between empathy and aesthetic modes, investigating how different tools of cinematic storytelling—such as point of view, camera angles, lighting, set design, editing, mise-en-scène, and acting styles—suggest and produce different ethical affects.
Daniel Frampton. Filmosophy. NY: Columbia UPress 2006.
Gallese, Vittorio and Michele Guerra, “The Neuroscience of Film” Projections 16.1 (Spring 2022): 1–10. doi: 10.3167/proj.2022.160101
Plantinga, C. (1999). “The scene of empathy and the human face on film.” In Passionate views: Film, cognition, and emotion, ed. G.M. Smith and C. Plantinga, Baltimore, MA: Johns Hopkins University Press, 239–56.
Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Empathy, Heidi L. Maibom ed., London & NY: Routledge, 2017.