Character Identification and Empathy

In his interview on talk sense radio Alex Vesely had said (see Friday’s post) that a movie director is a director of emotions He also said that movies can be used therapeutically by focusing on which characters we identify with and why.

It follows that a director will want to facilitate our identification with the characters.

This made me wonder about the choice of winning film at the Jerusalem children’s film festival where my daughter’s film was submitted. The nine and ten year old judges picked “Sedek” [crack], a film about a boy who went to the woods to nurture and protect an egg so that it would hatch.

The judges explained the reasoning behind their choice. They felt it was endearing. They found it meaningful that a child is being protective of something and there is the theme of a mother’s comfort in the end when the egg shell breaks and he walks sadly home and we see his mother embracing him in the distance.

I wondered how they felt about the film Yekutiel’s Room (see Friday’s post). Like “Crack” it too had a deep enduring meaning and a powerful ending. I believe the judges did not choose it for the grand prize because they did not identify with the characters.

They would have had to identify with a character who is experiencing something they have most likely never experienced – having an older sibling who has cut off communication with them.

A child can identify with something he or she has already experienced. Only an adult can put himself in the place of someone else to imagine how he must feel.

Furthermore although the film was about children, the meaning was too subtle for children to grasp.They would have needed to appreciate the subtle message that sometimes something needs to be destroyed in order for a new reality to be made possible.

I was touched by the film. It was bittersweet and humorous at the same time. “I guess I’ll just go away and never some back” says the younger brother after causing his older brother’s experiments to be destroyed. The older brother hesitates for a fraction of a second and then goes out of his room to be with his younger brother. In short he decides to be a brother again.

And the younger brother says “Ever since then he’s started coming to my room. (pregnant pause…) Did I tell you he was my favorite brother…?”

The strongest impact of meaning is in the understatement: a simple straightforward comment by the character that brings an internal emotional stirring in the listener.

This leads me to conclude that character identification is not only a measure of personal experience but of empathy, which is a product of emotional and spiritual maturity.

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