Cinema as skin: see the film, feel the film

How to define a perfect cinema experience? What is the relationship between the spectators and the film?

“That is, we do not experience any movie only through our eyes. We see and comprehend and feel films with our entire bodily being, informed by the full history and carnal knowledge of our acculturated sensorium” (Elsaesser and Hagener, 2015: 127).

The interpretation from Sobchack pointed out the limitation of the ocular-centric paradigm of cinema experience that has dominated film theory for such a long period, should be connected with other perceptions of a spectator’s whole body, even skin, in order to process a more perfect cinema experience, feeling and understanding a film.

According to Elsaesser and Hagener, “Skin is an apparatus that “understands cinema also as a haptic experience” (ibid: 126), in which skin is actually treated not merely as a wrapping for the body, but actually an interface for interaction and communication aspects between film and viewer. Therefore, skin is actually a good method for reading cinema.

They argue that skin has a function of “continuous perception” that is activated, engaging with cinema. Here it will need the assistance from visual perception and viewing as an initial gateway to recognize triggers for skin to activate. Vision and embodiment work in concert for a total experience of cinema.

In the film Black Swan, the skin of protagonist Nina appeared many times, for example, she tears off her agnail when washing hands; she draws out the black feather on her back; she tries to split her “ goose paw-like” foot in the makeup room, etc. These actually could be seen as the triggers, through which to active spectators’ skin perception and blur the barrier between the onscreen and off-screen. As Sobchack said in Elsaesser and Hagener (2015: 128), “subjectively here as well as objectively there, mine as well as the image’s”, the triggers make the spectators feel Nina’s pain and self-changes. That might be the process of engaging into the film, feeling the film and understanding the film.





Elsaesser, T., & Hagener, M. (2015). Film theory: An introduction through the senses. Routledge.

Written by GE ZHAN


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