There Will Be Tears / Why Are They British?
Welcome back humble readers. I hope you enjoyed reading nerdy rants about science and technology in movies but now we’re going to switch gears… twice!
There Will Be Tears
Everyone knows movies will make you laugh and cry, but have you ever wondered why? (Yeah, that shit did rhyme, I’m a poet and I wasn’t even aware) Why do you form such an emotional attachment to not real people you just “met”? To find the answers to these questions you must look deep inside yourself, at your own motives and experience, at your very humanity. LOL JK, I’m just gonna tell you.
When I went to see The Avengers (2012) *THERE BE SPOILERS ACOMIN’* it was opening weekend and the theater was pretty packed. When Agent Coulson got got, it was an emotional scene. You could hear sniffles being stifled and handkerchiefs being handed out. Even super-hard badasses like myself felt their eyes water. But the woman a seat over from me just started straight bawling, as if she were also a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who had worked with Coulson and was deeply upset by his passing. “Well maybe she lost a loved one recently and this scene reminded her of her own loss” I thought, trying to justify why a fully grown human would be openly crying in a crowded movie theater. Then her friend/boyfriend/husband/socially oblivious stranger leaned over and asked “Why are you crying?” “It’s just so sad” was her reply. It made me wonder why. I mean, Coulson was the second-most expendable character, he hadn’t been developed much throughout the film or its precursors and anyone who’s seen more than ten movies should have known right away that as soon as Other Random Female S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent was introduced either she or Coulson was going to bite it. So why the tears when he died? Why get upset over any character dying/reuniting with a family member/betraying those with whom they are closest in any movie ever?
Mostly it’s the music. You already know this but maybe you’ve never actually thought it out: humans very easily associate emotion with music. Even without lyrics you’ll readily identify a song as “sad” or “angry” or “energetic.” You better bet that film-makers are well aware of this. And we’ve been making music now for approximately one bagillion years so it’s easy to find someone who can make a song that 99.9% of people will identify as “sad.” Go back and watch an emotionally charged scene on mute; I bet it doesn’t have the same impact.
The other major factor (that I can think of before my deadline) is reaction shots. You’ll never see an emotional event on-screen without a shot of one of the other characters reacting. And this is because we’re programmed (sociopaths aside) to react to emotion in other people. Even if you don’t know why a person is upset or happy you’ll feel a reaction when you see them that way. Add some context and a dash of humanization, simmer for 45 minutes and you’ll get some instant tears, every time.
Maybe this silly doesn’t fall at the film-makers’ doorstep, maybe it’s all of us. Maybe we’re the sillies, getting all silly emotional over silly fake things happening to silly fake people. You silly, you.
Why Are They British?
I read an article some weeks back that asked this question of the series Game of Thrones. It seemed a bit weird since the obvious answer is most of the actors ARE British (or Irish, Welsh and Scottish; same dif though, right?). Except for Peter Dinklage; he’s as American as some kind of pie. But Tyrion Lannister, to judge by his accent, is British. The answer the article proposed was pretty much “That’s what American audiences expect from fantasy, British accents.” I’d go a step further; I’d propose it’s because Americans don’t have a folk history that goes back into the medieval era, which is where most fantasy takes place. We know this and so it would be strange to see Americans traipsing about in ring-mail and dagged sleeves. But our closest cultural cousins do; they’ve been around for as long as being around was all that people did. So American fantasy = British accents, seems legit.
But they pop up elsewhere for seemingly no reason. If you’ve seen Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which I do not recommend you do, you know one of the characters has a conspicuous British accent. Or maybe you don’t; maybe you’ve gotten so used to characters being British for no apparent reason you didn’t even notice. Granted, Dominic Cooper actually IS British but actors learn to speak in different accents all the time. Why this Brit is hanging around in middle America is never explained. In fact his ancestry isn’t even casually mentioned.
Then there are entire casts of people who speak with British accents even though their characters are plainly not British, or even American. If you haven’t noticed this yet watch Enemy At The Gates again. Almost every Russian character in the film speaks with a British accent. Why? Ok, the actors are British, got it. But why do we take this at face value? Like I said before, actors can and do learn to speak in different accents. Are we really so collectively dull that we just accept “British” as the catch-all “foreign” accent? Do people really think it sounds “smart”? Apparently yes, and that’s darn silly if you ask me.