Thursday, January 29, 2009

Responses to Amélie

One's emotional response to a work of art is revealing. More important than the response itself, however, are the reasons why you feel a certain way--and this is particularly true with Amélie. Thus, asking for one's emotional response to the movie, is a very good start to get a sense of who (what kind of person) someone is.

The world that Amélie lives in--and which we as viewers experience--is a stylized one where glasses dance on tables and where every scene just happens to be beautiful, where people's actions are driven by intense likes or dislikes, and where one hears nothing but happy, whimsical, near-magical music.

The emotional response by many people who like the movie for this reason amounts to something like "this is the world as I experience it, or as I would like to." Because they got to experience a world as they think it ought to and should be--they love this film. And they come back to watch it again and again to reconfirm or win back their own sense of the world.

The emotional response of people who don't like this movie, again for the above reason, amounts to something like "this is not the world as I experience it, or would like to." Because their sense of the world is not beautiful, or stylized, or filled with the type of people and colors and sounds that one experiences in Amélie, they criticize it.

"It's not real!" is in fact the dominant cry among the movie's few critical reviews--who then go on to focus on the particular ethnicity of lead characters (of which none are minorities) or the likelihood that Amélie wouldn't be able to live that close to work (at current prices it would be very hard).

Leaving aside the question of whether art should be judged by such standards--which would obliterate the concept of art entirely--I'll just say that in a sense these reviewers are right. The sense of the world that Amélie portrays is not their own, and probably will never be.

The above are two different emotional responses to a sort of implicit philosophical theme--a view of the world. Its happy ending, after Amelie makes the right choice, completes the above (positive) sense of the universe by adding that people can achieve success and be happy in it. Even extremely shy people like Amélie--if they have courage enough.

Again, this usually makes one kind of person greet the ending with a light-heart and a smile, as opposed to the other kind of person who greets it with visible tension and a smirk. Whichever way they greet it, again particularly if you ask and hear why, allows you to know a lot about them.

The movie also deals with philosophic issues, and in judging the film many rank these above all other issues. But, as with any complex work of art, the fact that a person likes it, doesn't mean agreement with its explicit theme or any of the ideas in it at all. (I'm a huge fan at once of Victor Hugo's The Man Who Laughs, Fyoder Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, and Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.)

In the case of Amélie, in fact, I think many would disagree with or at least downplay the actual theme--which shows the need to enter reality (rather than live in one's imagination) and to find the courage to pursue one's own deeply held values.

What many do however find fascinating about the movie and agree with is its plot-theme--the decision Amélie makes in particular to fix the lives of those around her--and the imaginative, impish manner in which she carries out this goal.

Again, knowing what someone responds emotionally to is important--and the more reasons you know why they have those feelings the better. This is why art is such a great tool to use to get to know somebody. And especially art that focuses on different values and different choices.


Note: this is the last post in the series on Amélie and Philosophy. For the first post, click here.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Daniel,

    I featured this excellent series on my blog NOT PC recently.

    And I'd love to feature it too in my New Zealand magazine 'The Free Radical.' (

    If you have no objection, could you email me on organon at

    Peter Cresswell