What makes film especially meaningful to Highly Sensitive Men? I think it starts with the idea that film is the most complete art form. It combines sound and sight, light and motion, emotion and feeling all into a neat package. It allows the viewer to become the omniscient observer with a dynamic viewpoint, giving us the opportunity to take both passive and active roles in the unfoldment of a story. It can inspire and uplift and allow us to vicariously experience living a fantasy through the characters, plot, and action. I mean, what’s not to like about that?
Films cover a panorama of emotion from sadness, to anger, love to loss, joy and fulfillment, horror and surprise. We respond as if the events were real, with engagement that hangs on the precipice of mutual experience with the characters. This is a great opportunity for naturally empathetic people to explore emotions within a safe and controlled environment. We respond to the sequence of images flashed upon the screen in story format and get lost, I dare say, hypnotized, by what our eyes and hears behold. It may be the greatest thing to happen to storytelling, since the campfire.
Watching movies does have a direct psychological effect on the viewer. Studies are showing that there are distinct physiological responses to plot points within the story. Whether its increased blood pressure or heart rate, tears or heavy breathing, we have all felt the visceral effects of being at the movies. Movies can have positive effects on the viewer from a cognitive standpoint. You may see something inspiring or moving and this reaction can contribute to positive feelings you may have towards yourself or others.
This phenomenon can be triggered by what scientists refer to as mirror neurons in the brain. These neurons help us to mirror the activities of others and can contribute largely to social cooperation and encourage empathy. This sounds exactly like something that highly sensitive people would be drawn to and that’s why I think HSPs in general, like myself, enjoy the movie experience. HSPs are thought to draw heavily on mirror neurons to create our great empathetic nature.
Now wrap this all around with an emotionally charged and moving soundtrack, and you have an experience unlike anything else in entertainment or education. Studies are showing the emotional effects of music in movies on the audience, which those of us enthusiastic movie fans, have known for years. A sound score carefully and artfully done can elevate a story and film to heights of emotional vibration that cements the experience for all viewers.
What’s really interesting about the score is that it often rides just below conscious awareness. We know it’s there, just like we know there’s someone sitting two rows down from us, but we don’t consciously care. A good score, I believe, affects and guides your subconscious more than you think. It charges and cues the emotion centers within, which ultimately can make a movie memorable or not.
What kind of movies do men prefer? Well, in word: action. Most men are looking for action, sex, and nudity. It all appears too much like the primal objective takes over for men in the movie house. Men like “real men” in the movies, doing real men stuff, which is often involved with blowing stuff up, driving fast cars, or bedding beautiful women. Although a couple of those sound interesting to me, they can’t hold my attention for two hours. Now as men mature, I would hope that at some point they would expand their horizons a bit, and start taking plot and characterization into account, but, perhaps, that’s asking too much.
As an HSP male, I find myself a little bit out on island. I like a good plot, a good story, good directing, writing and acting and in the end, something that moves the emotional meter. I just want to feel something from the movie. Relatability is key to me. And, I will add, I want to walk out of the theater thinking about the movie afterwards, over coffee, or dinner. Or even to be left speechless --like after watching 2001, A Space Odyssey, way back in the day. I don’t care about seeing a single car sacrificed, or a super hero demolish a city single handed, I just want the movie, to well, move me emotionally, viscerally and to create a lasting memory. I suspect most HSMs feel the same.
I don’t like trashing whole genres of film. Art is art, whatever form it takes, and I begrudgingly admit some great action movies have been made and yes, I enjoyed them. But, the corporate cookie cutter approach to film making which basically takes the Pavlovian approach, if a dog salivates at a bell, we are going to make movies about bells and bells only, doesn’t work for me. And there are many out there who agree, including producer, Stephen Simon (Somewhere in Time and What Dreams May Come), who has been an advocate for bringing back character and plot driven movies. See his website: http://theoldhollywood.com/ .
Another question is, are there HSMs in the movie industry? Of course, it’s an art form. HSMs are and can be sensitive artist types as we all well know. I would dare say that a majority of male actors in Hollywood, perhaps worldwide, are HSMs. I have no scientific proof of that but map the profile of being an HSM to being an actor, and well, it overlaps pretty nicely.
At least that applies to the really good actors, directors, et. al. (pardon my smugness here). I’m thinking of people like Robin Williams, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, George Lucas, Bruce Joel Rubin, and geez, I’m not even scratching the surface, but you can see what I mean. You can practically start rattling off names of prominent Hollywood males and derive your own list.
Are HSMs portrayed often in movies? Yes, but not nearly enough. Some of the best movies, the male protagonists have been to some extent, sensitive men. I’m thinking of movies like Forrest Gump, Dead Poets Society, Dances with Wolves, Field of Dreams, It’s a Wonderful Life, Good Will Hunting, and the list extends back into the history vaults at TCM.
What you often see in movies is the male character showing some sensitivity as a means for character growth, but often not explored deeply enough (as we HSMs would want). Hell, even John Wayne, played a sensitive character in The Quiet Man, but couldn’t get out of the movie without a half hour fist fight with his nemesis. I’m sure at the time; the male audience would have abandoned the theater if he didn’t start slugging away at some point.
I would be remiss, without mentioning something about violence in movies. HSPs in general, do not like watching violence. The more graphic, the worse effect it has on our systems. Over the years, I grew up with increasing violence in films. Long gone are the days, when a cowboy shot a bandit and there was no blood. The Sixties ushered in more graphic and gratuitous violence and the door has been open ever wider since.
I suppose there is some desensitization that occurs if one watches violent movies, but still, like cars blowing up, I don’t much care for seeing people blow up either. Maybe high sensation seeking HSMs find this appealing, but not me. We have enough in the real world; I don’t care to see it on my day off. I get that sometimes it’s important to the plot, but I think Hitchcock did it best, by suggesting, hinting at violence and letting the viewer’s imagination take over (okay, forget about The Birds).
I love the movies; I suspect many HSMs do as well. Here are some things; I think movies should do for the viewer:
Bill Allen currently lives in Bend, Oregon. He is a certified hypnotist and brain training coach at BrainPilots.com. He believes that male sensitivity is not so rare, but it can be confounding for most males living in a culture of masculine insensitivity which teaches boys and men to disconnect from their feelings and emotions. His intent is to use this blog to chronicle his personal journey and share with others.