Jan 13

Sad-Film Paradox: One Example Is the New “Selma”

In a previous post I mentioned a phenomenon known as the sad-film paradox, “when we value but don’t exactly ‘enjoy’ certain films.”

Research by Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick concluded that movie-induced sadness “instigates life reflection.” Life reflection leads to greater appreciation of your own relationships. Greater appreciation of your close relationships leads to increased happiness. And voilà.

Mary Beth Oliver, Penn State, conducted a different but related study about the sad-film paradox. She “argues that a key part of meaningful entertainment is that it elicits a sense of elevation, or the warm sentiment we feel when we witness acts of moral beauty or characters who embody moral virtues. People flock to sad stories not for the sadness, Oliver says, but to experience these feel-good moments that sadness brings out” (Sam McNerney, Big Think).

“Elevation” involves not only happiness but also such feelings as being “moved” and having a desire to help others.

A couple movies reviewed on this blog in the past year that have fit this criteria for many viewers are The Fault in Our Stars and the award-winning Boyhood.

Another, which I recently had the “pleasure” of tear-soaked seeing, is Golden Globe nominee Selma, about “Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965” (IMDB).

Or, as Tina Fey quipped during the opening of the Golden Globe Awards ceremony two days ago, “The movie Selma is about the American Civil Rights movement that totally worked and now everything’s fine.”

You can see the trailer below:

Selma has been highly regarded by both critics and general audiences. In its representation of sad-film paradox elements, I couldn’t have found a better movie review than A.O. Scott‘s in the New York Times: “’Selma’ is not a manifesto, a battle cry or a history lesson. It’s a movie: warm, smart, generous and moving in two senses of the word. It will call forth tears of grief, anger, gratitude and hope. And like those pilgrims on the road to Montgomery, it does not rest.”

Singer John Legend and hip-hop artist Common won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song (Movie) for Selma‘s “Glory, which makes a poignant appearance at the film’s end. This is it set to video:

But let’s not stop there, as Common’s powerful acceptance speech—in which he acknowledged important benefits from his involvement in Selma (he also had an acting role)—was also mightily “elevating”. An excerpt:

I realize I am the hopeful black woman who was denied her right to vote. I am the caring white supporter killed on the front lines of freedom. I am the unarmed black kid who maybe needed a hand but instead was given a bullet. I am the two fallen police officers murdered in the line of duty. ‘Selma’ has awakened my humanity.

And as I heard him speak these words, again the tears.