Cinematic Empathy

My PhD dissertation on Empathy in the film experience
Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, 2010

In recent decades film studies have shifted their focus to the emotional and bodily level of film experience. By adopting a phenomenological approach, this dissertation deals with the strategies of the film spectator’s involvement in contemporary mainstream narrative films. Chapter 1 reconstructs the meanings of the notion of empathy in philosophy, aesthetics, psychology and neurocognitive research. Chapter 2 traces a genealogy of empathy in film theories, from Bergsonism to Cognitivism, and evaluates the relevance of Simulation-Theory to film studies. Chapter 3 explores the relevance of Edith Stein’s phenomenological theory of empathy to film theory and assumes it is a theoretical model to investigate the “intensified” nature of both film design style and film reception style. A film is constructed and experienced on the basis of the “circuit of empathy”, a stratified system of different species of empathetic interaction, acting at sensori-motor, perceptual, cognitive and emotional levels with the aim of generating both an aesthetic and an inter-subjective experience. Chapter 4 analyses a vast corpus of contemporary films and focuses on four “aerial figures” of involvement and their combination: acrobatics, falling, flying, and non-gravitational movements, both of the actor’s human body and of the film’s anthropomorphic body. In the Conclusions, it is argued that the spectator internally imitates these “double” movements and inadvertently experiences the intentionality implied in the figures. Contemporary film spectators empathetically “get”, with their own sensibility, the senses of an experience that transcends the immanence of the film and contributes to the process of “giving” sense to the World, the Other, and the Self.

My essays on empathy and the film experience

  • Cinematic Empathies. Spectator Involvement in the Film Experience. In: Matthew Reason, Dee Reynolds (eds.), Kinesthetic Empathy in Creative and Cultural Practices, Intellect, Bristol-Chicago 2012, pp. 91-108.
  • Edith Stein va al cinema. Fata Morgana, No. 12, ‘Emozione’, 2011, pp. 111-127*.
  • Edith Stein geht ins Kino. Einfühlung als Filmtheorie. montage a-v, 19/1/2010, ‘Erfahrung’, pp. 79-100.
  • Adamant Bodies. The Avatar-Body and the Problem of AutoempathyE|C, No. 5, ‘Computer Games between Text and Practice’, 2009, pp. 51-58*.
  • Edith Stein to the Movies. Empathy as Film Theory. In: Francesco Casetti, Jane Gaines, Valentina Re (eds.), Dall’inizio, alla fine. Teorie del cinema in prospettiva/In the Very Beginning, at the Very End. Film Theories in Perspective, Proceedings of the XVI Udine Film Forum, Forum, Udine 2010, pp. 491-498.
  • Cinempatia. Simulazione e rispecchiamento nell’esperienza psicofisica del film. In: Francesco Parisi, Maria Primo (eds.), Natura, comunicazione, neurofilosofie, Atti del III Convegno 2009 del Codisco, Squilibri-CORISCO, Roma 2010, pp. 243-251. ISBN 9788888325163