The mystery behind movie humour


I went to see Catching Fire the day after it came out and a lot of people had the same idea. I had never been to a theater that full before and it was a new movie watching experience.

The audience’s multitude of children and teenagers produced many sounds and reactions throughout the film. Laughter stood out to me most.

For those whose who are not familiar with Catching Fire, it is a dark, disturbing film based upon a book about a competition in which the government puts children in an arena and forces them to fight to the death– which doesn’t sound very funny.

Yet the messages, motifs, and dark themes the movie explored were difficult for the teen audience to understand. And this is the reason why they laughed.

Laughter is an interesting reaction that most people would associate with humour, but many studies have shown that that is not the case.

Robert Provine from the University of Maryland studied over 1,200 cases of laughter and found that 80% of them were not based around humour. So the question is, what causes these fits of laughter?

You laugh when you are tickled, but I’m pretty sure you don’t find anything humorous about that. It’s your body’s way of coping with a situation it doesn’t understand.

Scientists at the University of Tuebingen described tickling as an action that your brain associates with pain– regardless of the fact that it does not actually hurt. They say that you laugh to deal with the affliction that your body anticipates hurting, but it actually does not.

Laughter, like crying, is the body’s natural reaction to any extreme emotional experience. In many cases, it’s a coping mechanism used when you’re in a complicated situation.

Have you ever laughed when you are nervous, excited or even sad?

This relates back to Catching Fire because the multitude of themes the movie explores — mistreatment, ruthlessness and rebellion– are found in the world we live in today. Thus setting the mood for a very emotional and intense night at the theater.

Of course, you have to remind yourself that it’s just a movie. Thus, bringing us to the reason why people have a hard time knowing how to react appropriately to violence in movies. Based on Suzanne Collins young adult novel, the most of the audience was under the age of 20. The majority that probably hadn’t interacted with these dark themes and therefore are unable to empathize with Katniss, the main character.

This kind of compassion and understanding is not common among the films fanbase; the inexperienced young population.  When presented with death in a movie, people are forced to think about what this action means for the movie’s plot, but also for themselves. How are they going to react? Even experienced teens are usually not mature enough to accept it. This confusion and lack of understanding leads to nervous laughter and giggles, like the movie-watchers seeing Catching Fire.

Les Miserables was a popular movie in 2012; it was nominated for an Oscar in several categories including best motion picture. The film’s romantic, twisted story and artful portrayal as a musical accumulated a large following.

After seeing the film several times, I laughed at things that weren’t supposed to be humourous. Including the most dramatic scene of the film when Javert committed suicide and threw himself off of the bridge.

I was with my dad, and it was my third time watching it. You could feel the tension in the room, and I became worried and unsure of how I was going to react to that scene.

I let out a nervous laugh, receiving some judgemental looks from my father who clearly had more understanding of death and the situation, while I had a harder time fully acknowledging the power of the scene.

Although I had experienced death in my own life, this was just a movie, so I refused to try to understand it. Like those in the Catching Fire audience, I don’t have the maturity to fully accept the scene’s meaning, and therefore lacked compassion towards the characters. My father on the other hand, is more mature and had a much easier time respecting the drama of the scene.

When teens watch dramatic movies that can pull something out of their own lives, they tend to experience an extreme emotion which later develops into confusion. The struggle between the situation that is fiction but the themes that are incredibly real, causes this confusion, and your body’s natural reaction to this confusion is to laugh.

So Katniss bowing sarcastically after hanging a dummy that symbolized her hatred for ‘the man’ might make you laugh– few people comprehend the extreme pain and hatred Katniss had or are afraid to question ‘the man’ in their own lives.

The audience knows that that action triggers the emotions inside of them, even if they don’t want it to. And it seems like the only way they can shed light on the complicated situation is to laugh.

People just laugh at things that they don’t understand.


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