The Basic Psychological Mechanism Of Viewers’ Perception Of Commercial Movies

The totalitarian (pre- and post-democratic societies) are emotionally cemented by positive and negative identifications (positive – by the principle of factual or imaginary similarity/identity: of unconditional acceptance of the other person, and negative – by the principle of dissimilarity/otherness”: of his/her unconditional and hateful refutation. To simplify, totalitarian people love those who are similar with them and suspiciously indifferent or hateful towards those who are different from them (in ideology, worldview, life-style, values and norms of behavior). In an ideally democratic community, on the other hand, similarity or dissimilarity between two or more people is not important, but what considered attractive in human being is this person’s otherness/uniqueness /authenticity creating in others a kind of friendly curiosity.

Totalitarian people identify with power elite (vertically) and with one another (horizontally). They worship power and are ready to die for it, and they are always ready to kill those who are “not with them and against them”. The point here is that the commercial cinema (for example, Hollywood entertainment) uses this totalitarian emotional structure of human relations as a model for psychological relations between the viewers and the stars/heroes as a mechanism of tying viewers to their production. For cinema producers (and everybody involved in the production) it’s not a theoretical issue but a matter of survival, success and self-enrichment. They know by their refined ability to smell money that what we call totalitarian psychology is rooted deeper in the soil of human psyche than democratic one. They feel with their liver, that the relationship of the mass people with the hairy-fist leaders (worshipful) and with the “angelic”/heroic hurrah-peers (with whom “we” share life, death and resurrection as heroes/martyrs), and, on the one hand, with the carriers of dissimilarity, these contemptible devils, is impregnated with dense libido where Eros and Tanatos are blended as in an ecstasy creating drug. So, they based the whole perceptional aesthetic of commercial cinema on the old and universal totalitarian psychology, which they didn’t name as such but see it as the basic human motivational sources they can use as a precious resource.

Commercial movie-makers employ archaic human emotional matrix to fixate the viewers on stars/characters – positive, who are as “I” am or dream and want to be, and the negative, whom “I” dislike and tend to hate. The commercial narratives are obviously or in essence based on interaction, confrontation and clash between carriers of goodness and villainous people, and a lot of gimmicks and magical effects around to make “my” ideal life on the screen adventurous, breathtaking, heart-pumping and chair-sweating.

The most advanced version of this basic scheme is the situation when “my“ star-hero (me-star-hero) is simultaneously the one whom I narcissistically admire and, at the same time, not less narcissistically (passionately) hate. If on the screen these two parts of each viewer are not so polarized and not obviously exaggeratedly good and bad, the viewers tend to laugh – sometimes sarcastically – at negative “themselves”, and sometimes sentimentally – at positive “themselves”. Totalitarian polarization of perception is still there, but without the traditional sharpened social contrast.

Immediate identification with star/character (positive and negative) is the basic magic mechanism of commercial cinema that gives the producers, directors and actors the opportunity to transport the viewers into the wide world by simultaneously transforming this world into basic everyday situation of each mass viewer who is psychologically stuck in the narcissism of his/her personality and with the external world in which there is always “not enough similarity with ‘us’ and too much dissimilarity/otherness”. Commercial cinema is always about people’s readymade totalitarian unconscious. But transformation of the viewer into star/hero through identification is his/her narcissistic idealization as viewer/star/hero. As soon as the end result is that “I” feel “great” about myself – what can be a better motivation to buy ticket for the same movie again and again and expect the same euphoria from the next? Giving viewers the chance to be “great” character through cinematic identification is the main leverage commercial cinema has to make people hooked on movies as goods.

This chance to feel yourself a star/hero, as if, moves the viewer upward in the social hierarchy, transforms him/her into a movie star – the center of everybody’s admiring attention. What more a poor movie fan can dream about? What he/she feels in these moments of identification with the star/hero is much more than the cost of the ticket to the movie-theater. Life is not only just – it is miraculously generous when entertaining movies exist. The film star/hero for the viewer is a psychical hybrid between a totalitarian leader and totalitarian peers. He is everything, and he is, simultaneously, more than everything. And entertaining cinema is his/her magic moving stage. Only here we can be ourselves, above the boring and often a humiliating reality.

Only serious cinema avoids the totalitarian trap hidden in the very psychology of fabrication and perception of commercial movies, by the price of losing the opportunity of commercial success (by refusing identification by similarity and scapegoating of otherness as the bad guys). It seems that democratic psychology as a psychological canvass of art is bad for profit although it is good for the freedom of the filmmakers and the viewers and for the truth.