Chapter 5

Spectator’s
Engagement in the Cognition of Film

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5.1 Introduction

Film
as a medium of communication is important primarily because of two reasons:
one, it is an important art form, and two, comprehension and production of film
involves complex cognitive processes. As an art form it has structural
complexities and as the embodiment of cognitive processes it shows how crucial
the structural complexities are in activating relevant cognitive structuring
principles.

Therefore,
studying the relation between film and cognition will lead us towards a
holistic understanding of human cognition. This understanding will answer how
crucial the cognitive principles are in structuring schema, memory, etc. It
will also explain how assimilation and accommodation are shaping and reshaping
the existing structural resources, which is often considered as crucial in
explaining human capacity to learn.

5.2 Film as a derived and
intentional object

To
start with, we have the notion of ‘film’. We need to ruminate what film
actually is. Interestingly, scholars prefer either to be in silence or to come
up with different types of definitions addressing different aspects of film.
For the purpose of the research, film is a derived intentional object. It is
‘derived’ because it is not the literal presentation of the real world. It is
‘intentional’ because it is directed to someone.

Events
narrated in a film are ordered much like the way expressions are ordered in
utterances. This essentially suggests that film is the collection of
audio-visual syntagms. These syntagms are produced with certain type of communicative
intention which is crucial in layering meanings in different levels of
representations in case of film. These layers constitute the filmic
representation. While decoding this representation, spectator has to invoke
conventionalized experiences. Often, the spectator performs inferential tasks
to get hold of the intended sense of the director encoded in the film.

5.3 Film Spectatorship: The ‘conscious’
and the ‘unconscious’

What
follows then is the fact that film spectatorship is a cognitive activity which
is partly conscious and partly unconscious. Interpreting the perceptual
categories of the audio-visual stimuli and performing inferential tasks to
activate different schemes of cognition are directly guided by the various
principles derived from the daily experiences that the spectator has with
him/her. As an example, we can talk about the three dimensional interpretation
of the audio-visual representations when they are two dimensional in reality.
The gap between the percept and the concept here is bridged with certain types
of inferential behavior about which the spectator is hardly conscious. However,
being unconscious does not necessarily mean that the spectator is absorbed by
the film. In fact, spectator remains unconscious to the extent of not confusing
the boundary between the experience and one who experiences.

5.4 Film: a-modular in its nature

The
very basis of Noam Chomsky’s (1957) idea of innate nature of the human brain to
acquire linguistic capability gives rise to the theory that the mind is
actually organized into different modules and every module is assigned with a
different function. The claim of modularity is also supported and propagated by
Jerry Fodor (1980) who opines in his seminal essay, “Modularity of Mind: An
Essay on Faculty Psychology” which was published in 1983, that the human mind
consists of an array of input systems and “that the input systems constitute a
family of modules: domain-specific computational systems characterized by
informational encapsulation, high-speed, restricted access, neural specificity,
and the rest.” (Fodor, 1983)

The
basis of his hypothesis of modularity is the theory of innate language module
in human mind which was publicized by Noam Chomsky. However, it needs to be
mentioned that Chomsky actually went on to dissociate himself from the view of
Fodor as he claimed that the central system of the brain is inscrutable. In
stark contrast, Chomsky opined how the central system could be modularized.

The
most common and obvious proof of our brain being organized into various modules
is that people who suffer brain damage in certain parts of the brain can
actually forget how to talk, though they have their general cognitive functions
and intelligence stay like before and such people are still capacious of
playing chess and so on.

It
needs to be understood that the thesis of modularity (Chomsky) is not adequate
enough to explain film cognition. There is no specific, encapsulated, cognitive
module for experiencing the movements and gestures of fictional characters
projected on a screen, nor are there specific cognitive modules for aesthetic
experiences generally.

It
is also evident that film as a form of communication is multi-modal. Because of
being a-modular, the modular theories like the one proposed by Chomsky and
Fodor are not capable enough to explain the cognitive processes involved in the
production and comprehension of filmic language. In addition to this, our
current understanding of human cognition has no knowledge of any cognitive
module responsible for the processing of aesthetic experiences. Hence, the
research needs to traverse in some other avenue to comprehend how we cognize
films.

5.5 Coherence Theory and Blending
Theory for understanding film cognition

To
deal with this type of complexities often in cognitive linguistics, researchers
prefer to distinguish everyday experience from aesthetic experience, (much like
the way metaphors are classified as primary and secondary respectively.) The
assumption behind this type of dichotomization is simple, however elegant. For
instance, in case of metaphor, it is often argued that primary metaphors are
situated and grounded in our daily life experiences; whereas the secondary
metaphors are experiential only through the mediation of the primary metaphor.
Similar argument can also be put forward while discussing the embodiment of the
aesthetic experience – which is situated and grounded in our everyday
experiences. Production and comprehension of filmic language along with its all
aesthetic imports depend heavily on the experience of the daily life.

Two
theories can be taken to be explanatory of the process of cognition of films by
the human mind. These are COHERENCE THEORY which was propagated by Thagard (2000)
and Kintsch and BLENDING THEORY which was propagated by Fauconnier and Turner
(2002).

Under
this situation explaining film comprehension seeks an in depth understanding of
the category what we call spectator. To explain the cognitive processes
associated with the spectatorship there will be discussion about the two
different theories on film cognition, Coherence theory and Blending theory.

The
reason why these two theories have been selected instead of one is due to the
fact that Coherence theory is useful in explaining interrelation between the
structural constituents and the congruencies found among them; whereas the
significance of Blending theory lies with those subtle cognitive processes
which controls the inflow of commonsensical knowledge in the interpretation of
a film from the view point of a spectator.  

5.5.1
Coherence Theory

Perceptual
and conceptual are dialectically related: Mental contact with an object in the immediate
perceptual field elicits application of concept. Analogical involves the use of
one situational template to another one. A situation is marked as deductive,
when all propositions attributed to this situation are compatible. When
hypotheses and evidence correlate positively with one another explanatory coherence
comes into play. Attainment of desired goals and outcomes results into
deliberative coherence.

While
discussing the problems associated with film interpretation, coherence theory
identifies six different dimensions of coherence. These dimensions are
perceptual, conceptual, analogical, deductive, explanatory and deliberative.
Study shows that these six dimensions of filmic coherence reflects the
underlying meta-coherence found in various emotions namely contentment,
anxiety, happiness, surprise, sadness, anger, fear, pity, empathy or disgust.
It needs to be understood how this happens.

According
to coherence theory, perceptual and conceptual are dialectically connected –
because most concepts are “given” concepts; that is, mental contact with an
object in the immediate perceptual field elicits application of a concept.
Analogical coherence involves extracting a “template” from one situation and
applying it to another situation. A spectator’s ability to experience
continuity from scene to scene depends on analogical coherence, particularly at
the categorization point on the continuum. A situation attains deductive
coherence when all the propositions attributed to that situation are
compatible, whereas a situation fails to achieve deductive coherence when
propositions attributed to it contradict one another. A situation attains
explanatory coherence when hypotheses and evidence correlate positively with
one another, whereas a situation fails to achieve explanatory coherence when
hypotheses contradict one another or when a hypothesis does not account for
available evidence. A situation achieves deliberative coherence when it matches
our desired goals and outcomes. A situation fails to achieve coherence when it
contradicts or is otherwise incompatible with our desired goals and outcomes.

5.5.1.1
Spectator as per the Coherence theory

As
per coherence theory, a film attains emotional coherence when the evoked
emotional valences fit with a salient coherence dimension or set of dimensions.
However, it is also argued that incongruent emotional stages can also construe
a meaningful interpretation: Local emotional incoherence produced by warring
percepts and concepts is a salient property of our experience of fictional
representations in film accounting for ways we “resonate” with the story
(mimesis), with the artistry behind the telling of the story (diegesis), and
with the way the story and its medium may be relevant to the world outside the
theater (realis).

Fig. 5.1:
Spectator from the perspective of Coherence Theory

This
also explains the way our vision as an organ reads filmic messages under the
functional constraints imposed by cognition.

5.5.2
Blending Theory

This
theory has proven to be useful for describing various sorts of semantic and
pragmatic phenomena. The fundamentals of blending theory consist of mental
spaces and the processes involved in mapping one space over other to capture
the dynamics of human thinking. Mental spaces “contain” mental models of
entities, elements, and relations of any given scenario as perceived, imagined,
remembered, or otherwise understood by a speaker. Because the same scenario can
be construed in many ways, mental spaces are useful analytic devices for
partitioning incoming information about elements in the referential representation.
The virtue of mental spaces is that they allow the addressee to divide
information at the referential level into concepts relevant to different
aspects of the scenario.

Blending
theory works on the premise that the production and comprehension of signs
entails the construction of a large number of simple, partial, and idealized
mental models, each occurring by means of selective attention mechanisms and
working memory. Complex human thought and understanding develops as we cobble
together many of these simple idealized models, forming networks of mental
spaces that can give rise to what has come to be known as blended mental
spaces. A blended mental space combines conceptual structure to create new
inferences not available in the other spaces. In addition to this, blending
theory presumes spectator’s life-world (lebenswelt) determines the “natural
attitudes” taken when allocating attention (noesis) to a piece of film (noema).
This leads to an enquiry into the way different dimensions of awareness
involved into the very process of meaning construction.  To understand the way attention is allocated
we need to discuss awareness from three different viewpoints, namely medium
awareness, story awareness and world awareness.

5.5.2.1
Story Awareness Mode of Spectatorship

The
spectators become story-aware spectators when they experience the film as a
fully realized realm. The viewers are thus placed in the mental condition of
becoming story-aware more than any other modality and this is seen mostly in
classic Hollywood films. This mode of spectatorship is attained when the
spectator experiences the movie as a set of events which unfold before them as
if they were themselves present in the events which they are watching on the
screen.

The
network which has been presented in the figure shows how the presence of the
filmed objects constructs a presentation space which is much like the grounding
space and it lurks in the background. The mental space is the means of
representation in the film like the acting techniques, editing, cinematography,
actors, locale, plot, cinematic devices. It is the covert activation of the
presentation space which constructs the corresponding reference space which
actually goes on to foreground the main elements like the setting, scene, story
and characters. This is done through a series of representation-represented
mappings from the covert presentation space. The cross-space mappings are in
operation in accordance to the relevance array. Thus the representation and
represented get united in a spatial and temporal singularity. Hence the
ontological disparities between the spaces remain much below the threshold of
the conscious introspection of the spectator’s mind. 

The
conscious experience of the spectator is represented by the virtual and blended
spaces. The perceived actors are the characters, the perceived locale is the
setting and the plot which is perceived by the spectator gets experienced as a
real event in space and time. This is known as the virtual identity blend. This
virtual identity gives rise to a sensory illusion by which the people think the
events are actually occurring here-and-now in opposition to the there-and then.

This
mode of awareness constitutes the optimal viewing arrangement and the spectator’s
experiences are aligned to the experiences of the protagonist of the story.
This viewing arrangement is maximally subjective and the spectators have
minimum self-awareness of the events which are shown onstage.

                                                     Fig.
5.2: Story-awareness mode

The
perceptual field is restricted to the filmed environment and the attention is
allocated to the referent scene (R). However, the audience remains dimly aware
of the various representational devices that constitute the presentation space
(P). Spontaneous emotional reactions like flinching at a loud noise are
examples of story awareness mode.

The
people watching the film are actually virtual selves who interact with an
ontologically different realm as if they were present in that realm, though
they are unable to influence it in any way. 
It is often found that the perceptual disparity leads to conceptual
coherence for the spectator who watches the film in this mode.

Although
story-awareness is a common occurrence among spectators and is easier to
attain, it can be problematic to sustain for long stretch of time. Empirical
studies have been conducted by researchers regarding the shifting attention of
spectators and that suggests that the person with the most story-awareness can
only be in this mode for 60 seconds at a stretch, while 15 seconds is the
typical engrossment time after which subjects look away. (Prince, 1996)

Medium-awareness
and world-awareness modes keep on intruding and interrupting this mode of
awareness. The study should then traverse in the avenue of the other two modes
of awareness of the spectator to have a holistic understanding of how the
spectator comprehends the film and communicates with the filmic realm. These
two modes are quite different from story-awareness mode.

5.5.2.2
Medium Awareness Mode of Spectatorship

The
main difference between the cognitive underpinnings or story-awareness mode of
spectatorship and medium-awareness mode of spectatorship is the relative status
of the presentation space which has been described before. In this case, the
presentation space is the primary influencing space to the virtual and blended
spaces. Although there remains a link between the represented and
representation, the sense of virtual contrast develops in the blended spaces.
This goes on to define the cognitive disposition of the people watching the
film at that moment. It is due to the comprehension of the blend that the
spectators take the film as a multi-layered aesthetic object.

Here,
the spectator regards the actor as characters and the setting as the locale and
these identities are not presupposed. Thus, this mode of spectatorship can be
defined as a virtual contrast blend. The network operates so that the strong
links between the representation and the represented can be differentiated and
thus enables the spectator to identify and think about the techniques of the
filmmaking process and the plot, action, etc.

Fig. 5.3:
Medium-awareness mode

This
mode of awareness also enables the spectator to make analogical coherence via
inter-textual comparisons between films. The viewing arrangement remains
subjective in this mode. In medium-awareness, the spectators delve deep into
the affective style of the movie. They can take note of the causal connection
in the sequences of the film. In the subjective arrangement the audience
remains unaware of their involvement and hence is outside the objective scene.
In the objective arrangement the audience gets placed inside the objective scene.
However, a virtual contrast blend is constructed in both these instances and
interrogation of the representation-represented mappings is thus accessed.

5.5.2.3
World Awareness Mode of Spectatorship

In
the world-awareness mode of spectatorship, the audience utilizes the diegetic
world of the film as the reference point for reasoning about the real or
non-diegetic realm. This reference can be from the past, present or future and
can also be real or imagined on the part of the spectator.

The
cognitive network of mental spaces for this mode is made up of the presentation
space for the filmic realm and the reference space which determines the facet
of another realm which is either real or envisaged.

The
spectator then goes on to integrate the two spaces into a blend which can be
termed as the virtual reference point space. As a result, there is a
compression of the relations like identity, cause-effect and space into the
scene of the film which is unfolding both in the virtual and the blended
spaces.

The
reference point blends go on to create analogical links with the real or
envisaged world and thus the spectator starts having coherent deductions or
hypotheses about the events. The Hindi film Aandhi, which was directed by Gulzar, was a
film which could be related to the Prime Minister of India of that time, Indira
Gandhi.

Fig. 5.4:
World-awareness mode

Distraction
can be taken as the cognitive result of allocating attention to the factive
grounding space. In the case of world-awareness mode, the grounding space
pertains, while the remaining of the mental space gets faded in the background.
It is in this particular viewing arrangement that the spectators are maximally
aware of their own being and the immediate perceptual field. The audience
actually blends the facets of the fictive and the factive world in this viewing
arrangement of film. The impulse of the mode is to relevantly unite the facets
of the immediate situation which is being shown on the screen with some other
situation which is displaced in space and time.

Thus,
these three modes of film spectatorship in unison provide a scheme for
describing the conceptual, emotional, perceptual, deductive as well as the
deliberative dispositions of the audience while they endeavor to make sense of
the film which they see. These modes represent the relationship among the realm
of the story which is being told, the medium through which the story is
portrayed and the realm which lies outside.

5.6 Conclusion

Thus,
it can be comprehended that the cognition of films is a very complex process
which needs the involvement of many features on the part of the mind. There can
be no experimental proof to the functions of the mind which are involved in the
cognition of films.

 However, it is possible to try and comprehend
the process theoretically making use of the frameworks which can be drawn from
the discourse of cognitive linguistics. Much advancement has been made over the
years in this field in recent past and this thesis attempts to contribute in
some way to the endeavor of deciphering the complex processes involved in the
cognition of films.

There
obviously remains further scope for research in this field as the cinematic
techniques are improving with time and 3D films have become a rage all over the
world. Even 7D films are at their stage of infancy. It can be expected that in
the upcoming years, film will become the power powerful form of communication
across the globe surmounting the cultural barriers of communities and nations.

The
thesis has amalgamated the various theories, views and opinions regarding the
matter and has tried to advance toward a holistic understanding of cinema as a
language, the frameworks of cognition of films and the complications regarding
cognition which are involved and the other ways in which people make sense of
films which they see on the screen. Absence of experimental support and
abundance of theoretical speculations made in this thesis, in fact, shows the
degree and nature of complexity involved in the cognizing of film.