The uncertainties of mood : reflections on Brad McGann's POSSUM

Mette HJORT, Lingnan University, Hong Kong


In an article entitled "Five Parameters for Story Design in the Short Fiction Film," Richard Raskin (1998) argues that "depth" enhanced by "simplicity" is a factor that enables film stories to function optimally. Raskin provides three definitions of depth:

One way in which we experience depth in a short film is in the form of inner space within characters. ... A second way in which depth can be understood is in terms of the depth of emotion the film inspires in us. ... Yet a third way depth can be understood is in terms of underlying meaning, or openness to interpretation (199, 201, 203).

I am primarily interested here in the second definition of depth, which I take to concern the way in which narrative structure and visual style are designed to provoke certain emotions in viewers. Although emotions have emerged recently as key features of cinematic narration and response, little attention has been paid to the idea of emotional depth that Raskin foregrounds. What is more, the task of specifying exactly what emotional depth amounts to proves to be anything but simple. Is emotional depth a matter of the experience of certain kinds of emotions rather than others? Do the relevant emotions have to be experienced at a certain level of intensity to qualify as a form of depth? Or is emotional depth a question of provoking emotions that are rarely experienced and that somehow belong to the kairotic, rather than the more mundane moments of existence? Perhaps emotional depth arises when cinematic texts help to chart new emotional terrain, thereby guarding against what Susan Feagin (1997, 60) calls "emotional myopia." Emotional depth in that case would be intimately connected with the expansion of our affective repertoire, one of the functions, ideally, of artworks in Feagin's view.