Cinema through our senses

Usha Sharma

In class today we discussed Cinema through our senses and we were shown a brief clip of “The Piano” and “Dumplings” both of which sent shock waves through my entire body as I watched the horrifying scene of the Helen’s finger being axed off by the enraged husband in The Piano.  Watching the lady eat dumplings made of fetus (human) in Dumplings made me want to throw up. The sound was used very cleverly to compliment the scene and I doubt there was anyone in the class who did not feel some bodily reaction to the scene.

How can we describe this relation of our senses to cinema?

“the sensory envelope of sound and other perceptual stimuli, as well as the imaginary construction of filmic space through mise-en-scène, montage and narration. Likewise, bodies, settings and objects within the film communic- ate with each other (and with the spectator) through size, texture, shape, density and surface appeal, as much as they play on scale, distance, proximity, color or other primarily optical markers. But there are additional ways the body engages with the film event, besides the senses of vision, tactility and sound: “ 

What I understand Thomas Elsaesser is trying to say here is ,that we not only watch films, but our vision is now a Haptic vision (Laura marks) and our body and senses communicate with the screen as we can touch the screen through our eyes. We are not separate from what we are watching and therefore every sense in our body reacts to what we watch.

For Marks, the skin of the film – “offers a metaphor to emphasize the way film signifies through its material- ity, through a contact between perceiver and object represented. It also suggests the way vision itself can be tactile, as though one were touching a film with one’s eyes: I term this haptic visuality.” 

In this scene from Hostel, the exterior view of the spectator with no somatic contact to the screen will still send a shock and perhaps an instinct to check if their hands or fingers care still intact. At least I wanted to…

“The horror film attempts to bring about a confrontation with the abject (the corpse, bodily wastes, the monstrous feminine) in order finally to eject the abject and redraw the boundaries between the human and the non-human.”


Thomas Elsaesser, M. H. (2010). Film Theory –an introduction through the senses. New York: Routledge.|
Page 12-13 ,Page 32 ,Page 130


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