Movies and Meaning: Studying Audience, Fiction Film and Existential Matters

In what ways and under what circumstances can a movie be a resource for individuals and their thoughts about existential matters? This central research question has been investigated using a both quantitative and qualitative approach. First, a questionnaire was distributed amongst 179 Swedish students to provide a preliminary overview of film habits. The questionnaire was also used as a tool for selecting respondents to individual interviews. Second, thirteen interviews were conducted, with viewers choosing their favourite movie of all time. In the study socio-cognitive theory and a schema-based theoretical tool is adopted to analyze how different viewers make use of movies as cultural products in an interplay between culture and cognition in three contexts; a socio-historic process, a socio-cultural interaction with the world and inner psychological processes. Summarizing the interviews some existential matters dominated. Matters of immanent orientation were in the foreground. Transcendental questions received much less attention. Summarizing the schema-based theoretical question, assessing which cognitive schema structures the narratives were processed through, the study found an emphasis on a combination of two main cognitive structures, person schema and self schema. Detailed person schematic cognitive processes about fictitious characters on the screen and their role model behaviour were combined by the respondents with dynamic cross-references to detailed self schematic introspections about their own characteristics, related to existential matters at some very specific moments in their lives. The viewers in the study seem to be inspired by movies as a mediated cultural resource, promoting the development of a personal moral framework with references to values deeply fostered by a humanistic tradition. It is argued that these findings support theories discussing individualised meaning making, developing ‘self-expression values’ and ‘altruistic individualism’ in contemporary western society.

Author: Axelson, Tomas

Source: Uppsala University Library

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