Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why do we want 'Sad'?

I should have known it coming. I do not understand how I could have been so careless. I risked it and now I stand a victim of the trauma.

Why do we watch movies? Different people might give different reasons. A single person might have many reasons. For some, it is a form of escapism. For some, it is the pure entertainment from the art of story-telling. For some, it is an art - where elements of lighting, edits, colors and angles ought to blend in perfect symmetry to create an impact and share a message and the creation of the symmetry is what they study and enjoy. It is a scientific study of aesthetics for them.

Why do I watch a movie? I don't know - I think for me, it is bringing closer a world and characters that it is impossible for me to personally travel and experience. I love to know why people do what they do, how characters react in difficult situations, practices in different cultures and so on. I could of course read about it. Yet what might equal the visual phenomenon. And how many people am I going to get to know in my life? How many places will I travel to? How many strata of the society am I going to personally observe by being a part of?

In the light of these questions, movies come to fill a huge void in me. And this is where I have a huge problem because I don't want to visit the life of a man whose wife gets brutally murdered at the end. I don't want to spend two hours being a part of the love story which only gets unnecessarily shattered finally. These are not merely fictitious stories for me. They were the people and places and lives that I became a part of for two to three hours.

As a rule, I don't watch what you call the 'sad-ending' films. My friends know that. My movie buff brother and film supplier knows that. It is an understanding between us that he is not to give me any movie where the protagonist or his/her love interest or wife/husband die at the end. Why should the we want 'sad'?

He thinks I am being childish. I don't know. Maybe yes, I am stupid and yes, I will definitely never make a good film critic nor will I even dare to call myself a film buff. Because it doesn't matter if the movie makes it to top 5 or 50. If it doesn't end on a good note, I am not going to watch it.

"It is just a movie, come on!", friends tease.

Of course I know it is a movie. I then try watching the actor who died in the movie on other portals to perhaps cajole myself to see the stupidity of it all - 'Hey, this fellow is still alive Sinduja!, come on!'. But I think the approach is stupid.

It is not Gwyneth Patrow of se7en (she is butchered by a psychopath and her head is delivered as a parcel to her husband) herself as a person that I am mourning for. It was her character -  a character that the maker made me feel love for; a character who life and dreams the maker let me peep into; a character that ceased to make the boundaries of the screen real.

"But the character never existed in real. None of it happened!", they say.

If we are not allowed to connect to created characters, then what really is the purpose of art at all? We would all cease to appreciate movies and novels if we were painfully aware of the deception of it all and strongly held ourselves back from dissolving into the ocean of another's mind's creation.

The truth is most of them are able to exercise control. I am not saying they do not feel the intensity of emotion. They can let go for a while and feel them but perhaps they can all collect themselves back together again. They can wander into imagination for a while and they can get back to life again/. Perhaps people like me lack that knack; that direction. we get lost and then we simply get lost. We can never find a way back.  Their attachment is only a temporary loosening of the core detachment while it is the other way round for us.

While a few can hold the strings for a while carefully and then let it go,  others blunder by getting intertwined with them.


CHIBI said...

this post was wonderful, it has connected so deep to me... It seems like we both have exactly same thought here. I too get very connected with the character and feel for what happens to them in the movie. except, i do not avoid sad endings, but i do avoid gore to certain extent.

With Certain movies like forrest gump, pursuit of happiness, Artificial intelligence, aboorva sagodhargal, kadhal konden, even Wall-e.. i have felt for the characters a lot. esp. forrest gump, where he talks to his wife's grave.. i cried the first time,and it affects me everytime i've seen that movie.

or 127 hours movie where by end of the movie, i felt the pain and joy of the character who escaped a certain death.

It's not like we lack the knack to hold on to reality.. It's because our imagination is much stronger than others.we tend to hold on to the imagination more than others.

It's not a Blunder.. it's a gift.. to empathize even with fictional characters and maybe understand the perspective of the world around us better.

ganeshputtu said...

think of it this way, we purge our feelings and our sadness along with those characters on the screen...there was a film some years ago called Pepsi...ullathai something..dont know if you watched it...starring shyam, arya, asin and all when they were just starting out..a very touching film on loss of friendship...when the end credits bring tears to your eyes it is not the filmy characters you are crying was the loss of your own dear friends and friendships you are identify with them and can shed tears which you didnt know you had been holding back all this time..something clicks inside you and the floodgates open....another film i cried unabashedly was the Kamalhassan/madhavan film Anbe sivam....i didnt cry for kamal's lost love..i cried for my own and in the end when i walked out i felt better....a darkened theatre allows you to express raw emotions which normally the Bro-code (being a Man/and all its cultural impostions) does not give you licence to do. i may not enjoy films with sad endings, but i never avoid a good film for that sole reason..

ganeshputtu said...

and please, please, cant you do something about the CAPTCHA? its a pain in the wrong place to deal with it, everytime we try to comment...

Anu Krishnan said...

I can totally relate to this, as someone whose eyes well up real fast when I watch movies. And to all those who lose no time in telling me that it's just a movie, I've posed the same questions for years. "Do you not get the pain she/he is in"? "How can you not feel for her?" " Can you imagine being in her place?"

All I've received is "No, it's just a movie. I'm not that weak at heart."

Feeling for a character,brooding over the movie for days, losing sleep over it, etc etc are not signs of being weak. It's empathy. Or reaction to good craftsmanship and imagination.

That's when I wish people would look beyond the wardrobe collection, stunts, or the actor.

Ok, I know this wasn't your point, because I really like 'sad'. :)

Anonymous said...


Ganeshputtu seems to have a plausible theory on why we may like 'sad' - catharsis - a way of releasing pent up emotions, by identifying with the character and living his / her life vicariously.


Arumugam said...

Sinduja,do ask your bro to give you a copy of The elephant man.Its depressing but also beautiful.

Also,edward scissorhands,if you haven't seen it.

So many thoughts,will revisit this post later

karthick r said...

Filmein sirf teen cheezon ke wajah se chalti hain, entertainment, entertainment, entertainment. If it helps, I winked and did a lip pout just like Vidya Balan. :)
Not a pretty sight. Isn't it?
~ cheers.!

Sinduja said...

@CHIBI: "It's because our imagination is much stronger than others.we tend to hold on to the imagination more than others. " Agreed. Agreed.

But I don't get it. So you are able to feel the sadness. Yet, you do not avoid it. Why not? We are all wired to avoid pain and go for pleasure; which means there is some pleasure you get there which over-rides the pain? What is it?

Sinduja said...

@Ganesh Puttu: " we purge our feelings and our sadness along with those characters on the screen" - Catharsis. Hmmm. Okay. But how does it apply for situations where I may not have experienced in my life but feel sad for nevertheless?

Also, catharsis is great if the pain is momentary and the tears wash away your held-back emotions and you feel better at the end of it. However, the darkness and memory of the scene continues to linger and disturb me for a couple of days. How do you deal with that?

Thanks for writing in Ganesh! :) About the captcha thing, I am very sorry it is a bother. I guess it is to prevent spam and I get a lot of spam. It is not a pretty sight to get over-joyed that you got 5 comments and on opening, 3 are ads for viagra pills! But I will see if there is an alternative.

Sinduja said...

@Anu: Yay! Loved the way you so earnestly put forward your defense defense of 'us'! :)

"It's empathy. Or reaction to good craftsmanship and imagination." Hmmm. I hope they didn't come with such a heavy cost!

End of it, I have the same question - You feel convinced there is nothing wrong with the ability to feel sad but why do you not try to avoid it? What feels okay about feeling sad? Am curious.

Sinduja said...

@Arumugam: No! Unless you tell me a way to not feel sad about sad endings, I will not watch the movies! No! Hmph. ;(

@Karthick: :D My dear Vidya Balan devout - touch your heart and tell me; didn't you cry when Trisha died at the end in Bhima? When Vidya suicided in Dirty Picture? ;) Theriyum theriyum. :P

CHIBI said...

@ Sindu : I feel the emotions in movies,the same way i feel about them in real life. No one remains sad or happy all the time, but it does stay on the corner of my mind all the time, i think about it, learn more about.. but eventually other emotions in life take over.

Every Sadness or happiness, i see in the movies are a lesson in life experience. Emotions that could very well happen in real life. so in any case, i encounter such emotions in my life. i'll be able to cope up with it better.. avoiding it, doesn't help in anyway except keep me in darkness.

So don't avoid it, make yourself strong.!

CHIBI said...

@ Sindu : I feel the emotions in movies,the same way i feel about them in real life. No one remains sad or happy all the time, but it does stay on the corner of my mind all the time, i think about it, learn more about.. but eventually other emotions in life take over.

Every Sadness or happiness, i see in the movies are a lesson in life experience. Emotions that could very well happen in real life. so in any case, i encounter such emotions in my life. i'll be able to cope up with it better.. avoiding it, doesn't help in anyway except keep me in darkness.

So don't avoid it, make yourself strong.!

Anonymous said...

We are all wired to avoid pain and go for pleasure;

If 'sad' as an emotion exists, it must be there for a reason. Just as physical pain acts as a deterrent to avoid things that cause physical harm to the body, sorrow must give an evolutionary advantage.


Sinduja said...

@CHIBI: The crucial question is does exposure to sad things in movies increase our ability to deal with sad things in reality? I am not sure.

We all engage in escapism at some level at something or the other - either consciously or sub-consciously. I am not sure I am ready for this. Perhaps this speaks of a more inherent difference between us - one that can be traced way back to things we learnt as a child.

Sinduja said...


V, there are two kinds of pain - voluntary and involuntary. Both exist to protect us. The voluntary one pushes us to protect ourselves. It is a cue. (How we learn not to play with fire or eat too many sweets). The involuntary one is not a cue - it is a sign that protection is happening, the job being done by something else.(Fever is the body eliminating pathogen).

The sorrow I experience in movies is the first kind I feel.
"Just as physical pain acts as a deterrent to avoid things that cause physical harm to the body, sorrow must give an evolutionary advantage." -yes, it too must act as a deterrent right? So this sorrow, makes me avoid such movies. I am protecting myself.My wonder is how can there be a whole bunch of people ignoring evolutionary advantage?

Or wait, for them, perhaps the pain is perceived to be the second kind - that it is a sign of something good happening within them. A healing. The calm after the storm.

CHIBI said...

@Sindu : Yes, they do. Certain movies have shown me how to look at things from a different perspective. for example, 500 days of summer, it showed me, practical way to cope up with break up and gave a perspective into a woman's mind.

I do not see Death in the movie as a mere death, there's a reason for a death and a message behind it. "A walk to remember" shows about the love that lives on after losing someone you love.
Anbe sivam showed that witnessing death changes people, makes them strong, it's sad when the little boy dies, even after being offered help, but the dialogue kamal speaks to madhavan after it, tells how to cope with such loses, make ourselves feel less guilty.

Movies with meaningful sad endings can give a little bit of comfort to ease the heavy burden that could be caused by a real life pain.

Arumugam said...

This discussion has gone waay too technical for me.I think we are just splitting hairs here:)

Sinduja,you are doing a cost/benefit analysis on emotions here:)Doesn't work that way.

Why do people say,It is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.Evolutionary advantage:Zero.

Something like that.

The happiness that you feel in watching movies is no more real than any sadness that is felt.If you can take one part,why not the other? Agreed,some people dont want to spend money and 2 full hours of their life,watching something that makes them cry and face sleepless nights.For them, good endings give them a sense of righteousness and fairplay that is so often missing in the real world.

I cannot explain it logically through some equation.I have chanced upon some of the most tragic cinema/documentaries that have ever been made,far worse than conventionally tragic movies like Requiem for a dream,Dancer in the dark, and House of sand and fog.(3 more to avoid:)Even a simple soundtrack can take me back to those gut wrenching emotions.But I feel,my life has been enriched in some way,that cannot be explained in words.I am more aware of what is going on,and in the end I realize that the real world tragedies that slowly unfold in the lives of innocent people not over a span of 2 hours but much slower,are far worse than what any movie can throw at us,if only we had the eyes to see them.

Anu Krishnan said...

@Sindu,It's the upshot of an important life lesson I've learnt-that 'pain is good'. It makes you stronger, it makes you prepared, it prevents you from falling apart when the world goes crazy. Believing strongly in that helps me look beyond bad experiences and take things in my stride. I relate sadness to being stronger; I'm scared of being happy all the time:D. Movies throw situations at you that you wouldn't have known otherwise, or might, someday, and you end up thinking of how you'd deal with it if it ever happened to you, or to somebody you know, or to anybody in real. Not saying this will necessarily help you face things, but sparing it a thought helps, really.

On the downside, 'liking sad' makes you forget how to appreciate the little joys of life. I've seen people who genuinely find 'cuteness' and 'beauty' in everything; I don't understand them.

karthick r said...

//didn't you cry when Trisha died at the end in Bhima?
Yeah.! Bastards. I mean why kill a heroin of a movie? BUT BUT I din't cry. I almost welled up.
And I used that knowledge while watching Sarvam. Heard the story beforehand and left the theater for that particular scene and joined my group back after 20 mins.
See, *brainwave*. :) //True story
~ cheers.!

ganeshputtu said...

Sindhu, i see from your profile that you are a namma chennai girl ...if you are on FB - we have a Chennai Blogger group- if you are interested to connect heres the link:
and we actually have a blogger meet coming up tomorrow eveng at Cafe coffee day, nungambakam- ispahani center, so if you are anywhere near about chennai do drop in tomorrow anytime after 4pm (treat this as a personal invite:...the link for the meet is here:

Arumugam said...

Happened to read this a minute back,Kafka’s advice on what to read:

"Read the kind of books that wound and stab us … that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide.
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us."

I particularly love that last line:)I think it's kinda like what all good art forms must do.

Sinduja said...

@Arumugam: Actually, isn't there a lot of evolutionary advantage in having loved and lost than never have loved at all? - you gain perspectives and experience in courtship which is the strongest existence purpose. Anyways, that is not our point I guess.

Arumugam, it is easy to say - 'if you can take happiness, why not sadness'. For one thing, you are NEVER going to know how much impact the grief causes anyone else in this world except yourself. You could ask them to describe it, rate it but what it actually feels like - you wouldn't know. So wouldn't I.

So maybe a few people internalize it so much more than the threshold that makes them deal with it in a healthy manner. Maybe not. Like I said, we would never know. But you don't get to decide these kind of things. I am sure you did not coax yourself to go through the grief. You did not auto-suggest yourself to opt for such movies despite some resistance within. From the beginning, it is a natural process. But I will have to do so. And I don't think that is natural. Maybe it will be worth it but there are so many rich experiences in life worth it that we never get to do. I will consider this as one of them.

Maybe I am not emotionally refined. You guys tell me that watching such movies can help us get refined emotionally but I think it is also the other way round. End of the day, I whole-heartedly agree that these movies ought to be watched and appreciated. They ARE amazing. Never denied it. Just that I don't understand my strong defense or shield against it and I don't want to mess with it.

Trust me, I have been through some bad times (of course, many others have been through worse) and I think I have coped pretty much like everyone around me would have - without seeing these movies. You might argue that I could have done it easier had I watched these movies but that is an argument that is not going to be ever resolved. But from what little sense I have, I don't see myself significantly weaker or ignorant than the rest. Perhaps certain things have more than 'refined' me - much more than the grief I would have gone through with movies.

Cheers! :)

Sinduja said...

@CHIBI: Like I have said in the previous comment, we will never know if having watched such movies makes us cope better or not. I have been in love (oh, feels like I always - lost it too to death and break ups. I did get emotional and in the end, I did learn to move on. I did find meanings in the loss and learnt to treasure the meanings.

Could the whole process have been more rich had I watched some movies on the same? I don't know. I somehow think we are born with the natural capacity to deal with grief, find meaning in loss and treasure memories. No one ever learnt to love watching a movie.

I don't deny though, that there is a lot of cultural and aesthetic wealth here that I am missing out.Hope I learn to adapt someday! :)

Sinduja said...

@Anu: Yes, 'pain is good' - definitely! I only think - 'oh, not at the movies, please' :)

I support your reasoning. And talk of being scared of being happy - I think I have a chronic issue with that. Perhaps I look to the movies to balance this melancholic element of mine while you look to the movies to enrich it.

After all the discussion on this topic, I suddenly think I am only trying to shield a tiresomely built fantasy world of mine. And looks like I will go to any extent to shun things that pull me away from it. Is it unhealthy? I think not..because at the end there is no reality. We all live in our fantasy worlds.

Sinduja said...

@Karthick: Hahaha... lol. Finally, someone from my clan - thank god! Yes, even I walked out b4 end of Paruthiveeran. No regrets!

Sinduja said...

@Ganesh: Thank you so much for the invite! :) However, I am at Coimbatore right now and hence will not be able to make it. Maybe the next time. Tc!

CHIBI said...

@sindu : Here's a different perspective about your point to avoid sadness.. Correct me if i am wrong.

I have this strong fetish for movies that feature twins.. why? cos i am a survivor child of an identical twins. so i love those type of movies, irrespective of how the movie is.. i'd have watched all of it more than once even if it sucked. Jeans is one of my all time favorite for that single reason.
I fancy these movies, cos i can relate to something/someone i missed in my life, a visualization of a life that i never had. It gives me great happiness.

So coming to point,you are right ! I guess it's similar case for both of us, (Probably opposite in a way). and i think you are emotionally refined, you avoid movies, that could reminisce real life sorrows/issues. In that case, it's better to avoid Sad endings rather than face it. cos it's not going to do any good by stirring up emotions !

well, I guess you do have a work around for watching sad movies as well :P:P

C.V.Varun said...


I connect with movies o a very deep level, not just the realistic ones, but the highly imaginative and fictitious ones as well. I mean, I live in pandora when I see Avatar, I live in Hogwarts even after the days of Harry Potter.

Ofcourse, the point of art is to connect with the people in it, but to what level is my point. Some of us are impacted more by acculturation. You more than me, or perhaps just the duration of it. For me, the movies that moved me most weren't always sad endings. I have 3 movies from 3 languages that made me emote the most- Pursuit of Happyness, Taare Zameen Par and Anbe Sivam. The first two had what you would call 'Happy ending', still the characters touched my heart deep. The story was set in a realistic world. Both of them, I was able to connect the story to the real world every now and then. Maybe that was the reason. When Will Smith laughs and clapped his hands by the end, I realized my eyes were wet. Its just the emotion that came across as real to me. Not the character as a whole, maybe thats why I never felt bad seeing a "sad movie".

On another perspective, I wonder this, probably people who think that this place we live in is a happy place and that life is going well, don't want to expose themselves to a new dimension, where cruelty, death, murders happen side by side. Maybe their mind pushes it away so as to avoid dissonance. This may also apply to people who think that what happens on screen can actually happen to them in real i.e people who are highly accultured.

Some how throught history, the best art has a tinge of sadness to it...May it be the Monalisa or the Titanic. Its upto us to clearly demarcate reel and real.

I can connect with a movie and live in it for 3 hours or whatever is its duration, after that its just a memory/experience, and it doesn't continue to be the real world to me.

So, The real question is how much of art are you going to miss because of your 'sad' bias?