For this exercise, we had to read an essay by Simon Morley entitled “Staring into the contemporary abyss” and then discuss a film, piece of art, music etc which relates to it and how it relates.
I found this exercise one of the more difficult ones as there is no one meaning of the sublime. As Morley states within his essay “sublime is just an empty word, one to which we can simply attach whatever meaning we need”. Throughout the essay so many different meanings are banded around and it really is a case of the individuals interpretation of the sublime.
Generally, the agreed uses of the word are to describe transcendence, terror, the uncanny, “altered states of the unconciousness” and the unpresentable in art.
The dictionary definition of the word sublime is inspiring awe, having a quality of greatness, magnitude or intensity beyond the possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation.
While I was reading the essay, I tried to think of a film, painting or piece of music that I could relate to it. However the one thing that kept coming back to me was the “monster” movie Jurassic Park. I have always been a fan of this franchise for its ability to thrill, amaze and frighten.
When it was first released, Jurassic Park amazed audiences and critics with its computer generated and life-sized animatronic dinosaurs and spectacular scenery.
Within the context of Simon Morley’s essay, the film covers a number of notions of the sublime Morley describes, such as
- Transcendence- the concept of the film is firstly beyond day-to-day experiences and very unlikely to ever occur, thus giving the viewer a chance to visualise a world that could be. When first viewing the film the viewer shares to awe-inspiring experience with the characters and instantly feels heightened and intense feelings astoundment and pleasure.
- The uncanny- as mentions in the previous point, the uncanny is about surpassing the ordinary or normal, which the film does by creating a theme park that would not realistically be possible.
- Terror- the viewer feels the fear and anxiety expressed by the characters when the situation within the film is turned into turmoil and the characters are left fighting for their lives. The the sublime also has the power to destabilise and unnerve the viewer. Morley begins his essay quoting Joseph Addison’s description of the sublime as something that “fills the mind with an agreeable kind of horror”
- Altered states of consciousness- when watching the film and the environment in which you watch the film in, alters your mental state this could possibly be by inducing flight or fight responses, giving you a heightened sense of fear etc. Morley talks about the “negative sublime” and how it is like entering a structureless and unsettling zone or as Wordworth describes it a “blank abyss”. This is not too dissimilar to walking into a cinema as it is very open however very dark and you are unaware of what will happen.
Before reading this essay, I listened to a podcast from Radio 4’s In our Life and within it they described the thin line between pleasure and painful pleasure which I feel drives us to watch films like this. Although we would not want to to happen to us, it feeds some people’s need for the thrills these films provide.