Living emotions through drama

Working out emotions through fictional characters, Full of life, full of joy, loneliness, grief

William Hurt in ‘J’enrage de son absence’

A good review of a new French film, “J’enrage de son absence” (Maddened by his Absence) reminded me that living through painful emotions through fictional characters can help, especially if the emotions are complicated and confusing. Of course, jumping into a film about grief-stricken, lonely people when you’re feeling much the same can lead to a sense of drowning in it, so it doesn’t always work… But if, like me, you don’t quite know what you’re feeling and can’t quite sort out why and what and how and when, watching a drama play out through fictional characters can help get things a bit straighter and – bonus – make us realise again that we’re far from being alone in feeling this way.

When my sister rang to tell me she had cancer, it was just as I and a friend were going in to a cinema to watch ‘Love Actually’. Disaster. The upbeat, sweet romantic comedy was so much at odds with my feelings that it meant me crying silently through most of the film, especially at the end, with the images of happy people greeting each other at the airport. Hundreds of them, all ecstatic at seeing their families and friends. Instead of thinking positively about what I could do for Ginny, and being able to talk it through with my friend, I was stuck in the dark cinema with my imaginings and all this happy sweetness. In contrast to the feelings on screen, I was picturing the worst and starting to grieve for what was in danger of being lost. Not good.

Have you had an experience of fiction affecting your emotional state for good or ill?

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2 comments on “Living emotions through drama

  1. Jan says:

    My favourite film of all time is (perhaps sadly!) Shirley Valentine. I watch it at least once a year – usually a few weeks before setting off on our annual sojourn to Kefalonia. Always always always the tears begin before the opening credits have even finished rolling because of the theme song … check it out … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOeyG7MER3I … I identify so much with the song – full version here in case you want to hear it all http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sR1xrriJheQ – and the true meaning of the film, that of a middle-aged housewife wondering what happened to the self she lost when she became the wife and the mother and realising that she could be herself again and going for it! NOT what people often say about it being about a woman who went on holiday, fell in love and never came back – I find that sooo irritating.
    I think when fiction affects your emotional state it’s often because it’s touching deep feelings that otherwise we may not acknowledge – or try to ignore, probably out of fear of them.

    Anyhoo – just my tuppence worth :o)) xx

    • Great comment, Jan, thanks. Love Shirley Valentine – love all Willy Russell – so clever with the emotions, and brilliant use of language. Have you read his first novel – the Wrong Boy? Sold as a ‘hilarious’ comedy, but despite the aching wit, it read as a little tragedy to me.

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