Skip Navigation

When watching a film, do you generally try to empathize with the lead and immerse yourself, or do you try to watch it more objectively?

i feel like when i was younger i exclusively did the first thing, just relate to the main character. but now it's more fascinating to zoom out more.

ex I'm watching Black Swan atm and instead of being like oh dancing is hard the teacher wants to fuck me etc, I'm thinking about like, that's a lot of effort just to do ballet, which the opening 5 minutes establishes is a completely irrelevant art form

  • I don't 'try' to do either.

    Either the film's production and marketing draw me in the intended direction or they don't. When their vision and my experience fail to align, I expect I'm less likely to enjoy the film.


    ...That or film was garbage. YMMV

  • suspension of disbelief – I still use film / TV / movies as escapism so it’s not so much as empathizing with the lead as it is losing myself in the story

  • I do immerse myself in the story, but I don't necessarily emphasise with the protagonist. The most recent example of that would be Dune for me, where I've read the first two novels before the movies and therefore didn't really want Paul to succeed.

  • I've seen people reacting to movies say things like "oh you can't do that to me!" when something happens to the main character. I always thought that was a bit weird, but you're telling me that's a certain way people watch movies - to sort of put themselves in the main character's place and experience the movie from that perspective?

    Maybe it's me who's weird.

    • Well, yeah, that’s a pretty normal thing for people to do; living through somebody else (in this case a fictional character). Even if the circumstances aren’t the same, the feelings usually are, making it more relatable.

    • Or you're putting yourself in the director's place.

      That's the way I mostly see movies now, and while it gives you a broader window over the whole movie it also removes some of the fun.

  • I have the same experience as your observation, i.e., when I was younger I primarily just empathized with the main character and never went deeper. And now I can do both.

    Where I'm at currently, I still primarily empathize with the main character, especially on first watches. Although, I may be taken out of it by a really cool shot, or if I discover something important about the writing that takes my thoughts in that direction.

    It is on subsequent watches, when I already know what is going to happen to the characters on the surface level, that i start to think about why the movie is written this way, like a step deeper. That's when I will begin to think about the big picture things.

  • It depends on the film, characters and how the director chooses to portray them. I think there's a natural tendency for most viewers to feel aligned with the protagonist because that's the perspective traditional stories are told from and most good writers/directors aren't going to make characters who see themselves as unempathetic even if they're not behaving like great people objectively.

    Sometimes directors use this kind of bias to make us empathize with people we might normally not by giving context of a characters life. But other directors try to create empathy for morally grey/bad characters and it just doesn't work for me.

    For me, a director like Yorgos Lanthimos is really masterful at playing with that audience expectation/bias to create discomfort, tension or to foster a deeper feeling of empathy than I might get from other films. It's a bit ironic since his style of presenting characters is kind of robotic and almost alien, but it feels like he gets at something deeper than just showing characters emoting, he makes the entire world around the characters emote for them and it feels really all-encompassing similar to how feeling emotions in real life often does. My take away from his work is that a good director is able to evoke a sense of the character's internal state even if the actor does nothing.

    Terrance Malick is another director who can make me empathize strongly, but uses different tools. All of his films make me feeling like I'm a time traveling ghost that just kind of pops in and observes people's lives intimately. He's much more language driven than someone like Lanthimos, but his penchant for voice-over works really well at making the viewer feel like they're tapping into the live feed of the character's internal monologue.

    So, the short of it is; the degree to which I empathize with a character is based mostly on the skill of the director to make me lose myself in the emotion of the film.