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WJEC AS/A2 Film Studies Suspension of Disbelief Believing in Make Believe

Emily Hughes | Tuesday March 18, 2014

Categories: A Level, WJEC A Level, WJEC AS, FM1, WJEC A2, FM4, Section B: Spectatorship Topics, Hot Entries, Key Concepts, Audience, Film Language, Representation, Theory, Spectatorship Theory

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The movies: flickering images running past our eyes at 24 frames per second. They have the power to make us cry, make us sit on the edge of our seat, exhilarate and infuriate but how? The narratives that unfold in front of us are products, made up stories. The events we see on screen are just actors pretending to be other people, increasingly a lot of what we see is so devoid of reality that it is created on a computer through CGI, it’s all just make believe. So how then, does cinema make us believe in the worlds it crafts and care about the characters it creates?

To understand this we must go back in time to the era before cinema and look at literature - why did people care about worlds and characters that are made up of even less than cinema can offer, made up essentially from ink printed on paper.

The poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge stated in 1817 that when one reads a work of fantasy or watches a play the writer ‘yields us into a dream’, into a state where we can ‘suspend our disbelief’. By this he meant that the audience goes through a two-stage process - the first, being an awareness of the need to stop rationalising and the second, becoming immersed within the text. In a simple sense, suspension of disbelief is the process through which a film spectator can accept and enjoy events in film even though rationally we might not believe what is in front of us. In this article we will consider how film makers use specific techniques to help us suspend our disbelief and in doing so immerse us and provoke spectator response.

The most obvious genre to consider Coleridge’s notion of suspension of disbelief through is fantasy as it has the potential to be the least ‘believable’ and thus having the greatest potential to alienate the viewer.

Like many fantasy films, The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) uses children to introduce us gently into the...


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