What is it about the monster archetype we find so compelling? I recently re-watched a few of the Aliens movies starring Sigourney Weaver. These movies are a fascinating exploration of the concept of monster. There is the actual monster, the alien, but also a variety of people who have monstrous qualities. There are the saboteurs, the profiteers, and the deniers. These are all aspects of the monster. It is hard to piece out what is the most disturbing aspect, the visceral fright of a monster leaping out of nowhere, or the slow erosion of hope when the truth is not believed. These different faces of the monster are also encountered in daily life, which makes a movie about monsters very relatable.
I freely admit to being scared by these movies. Of course it doesn’t take much, I have an active imagination and a heightened sense of empathy. So I wonder why I watch in the first place. Part of it is the sense of relief when the monster is conquered. The huge turmoil that is stirred up by the movie ends when the movie finds it conclusion; the heroine has won. We can all relate to the sense of peace that descends when an obstacle has been overcome.
Scary movies also provide a relatively safe place to explore extremes of emotion, that most people do not normally encounter. There is a thrill involved. I think there is something about the adrenaline rush, no matter what its source, that keeps us coming back for more. This is shown with a quick scan of the top box office hits on IMDB.com. It quickly becomes clear that a big scary monster, or a monstrous situation, captivates audiences. It is also clear that a resolution of the fright is an important element in how popular a movie becomes. I think without the resolution the movie becomes more like watching the news than entertainment.
For me, I know that I carefully select how much adrenalin producing movies I watch. I love film and cinematography. I love a good story. But I also love my peace of mind. Images can stick with me for days afterwards. There are still lines from ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ that I cannot hear, even though I only watched the movie once when it first was in the theatres (gasp, that is 21 years ago). Most of the time, I deliberately choose fluffy movies that are formulaic and hopefully a little funny. Are they great stories? No, and that is just fine by me. I am quite happy sticking to to a romantic comedy. I guess that is the final piece of why I watch these movies, someone else is watching them and I would rather spend time together and be agreeable than to politely bow out and save my sanity. I can say no (I’m good at that now), but I want to be a tough girl and not be scared by the monster. Of course, I almost always am scared.
My reaction to movies probably puts me in the ‘too sensitive’ category in life. I used to spend a lot of time trying to toughen up, trying to become immune to the horrible parts of the earthly experience. Trying to emulate the toughness in characters like Ellen Ripley or Sarah Connor. If I could just get lean muscles like they had, I could maybe defeat the monsters in my life. Of course, most of my monsters were pretty tame in comparison, but no less adrenalin producing. Unlike movies, my challenges could not be defeated by a flame thrower, but by steady, persistent internal work to silence the negative self-talk that hounded my every decision.
When I gave up trying to be tough, I found the great beauty in being soft. The absolute gift of being flexible and sensitive is the basis of my work. I can see and sense things that most people miss. I could not do that if I was too tough. I was fortunate to have stumbled upon some wonderful teachers and authors who revere the benefits of the sensitive type. Cheryl Richardson is one of those teachers and gives a great discussion about sensitivity in this video:
So, I will probably continue to watch the occasional scary movie, but I will always embrace the gift of being scared. The sensitivity is worth it.