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Fear Essay, Research Paper

Fear is the quintessential human emotion. Some people live lives devoid of joy, happiness, and pleasure, but no one escapes the experience of fear and fear s companion, pain. We are born in fear and pain. Our lives are profoundly shaped by them, as well as our efforts to avoid them.

Fear, experienced by every being of the human species, is an utterly unavoidable emotion. The extent and range of fears varies from person to person, but the emotion is the same. One person s reaction of seeing a snake will be similar to another person s reaction of walking into a train station. The body is programmed to react in a distinct fashion once the stimulus is recognized.

With all or almost all animals, even with birds, Terror causes the body to tremble. The skin becomes pale, sweat breaks out, and the hair bristles. The secretions of the alimentary canal and of the kidneys are increased, and they are involuntarily voided The breathing is hurried. The heart beats quickly, wildly, and violently; but whether it pumps the blood more efficiently through the body may be doubted, for the surface seems bloodless and the strength of the muscles soon fails The mental faculties are much disturbed. Utter prostration soon follows, and even fainting I once caught a robin in a room, which fainted so completely, that for a time I thought it dead.

Why the body reacts this way, is a very technical subject that is not to be discussed over the duration of this essay. The brain is the most important organ of the human body; however, it is also the most complicated and the least understood. Although the physiological aspects of fear are being overlooked right now, the psychological points will be explored in depth.

What makes a person afraid? The amount of anxiety a person experiences at a given time is dependent on several factors such as culture, media, past experience as well as the unavoidable natural-born fear. An example of a cultural induced phobia is that a child raised in a highly religious, homophobic household is more likely to be homophobic than a child who is raised atheist with two mothers.

Alfred Hitchcock receives an angry letter from the father of a girl who refuses to shower after seeing Psycho. Such a phobia is a media induced fear.

The experiences of a person s past are extremely important constituents that affect a person s range, and intensity of fears. As it is explained in John Locke’s most important work, An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, the mind is analogous to a blank slate, a tabula rasa, on which the senses make impressions. If a young boy is chased and stung by a nest of bees, this experience will be kept in his mind forever; the slate is marked. Every action and every experience is marked on the tabula rasa. The slate is marked, whether the person consciously remembers or not; and there is no eraser. This theory also explains the irrational phobias that many people experience. Often, the affected can t understand why he is afraid, but through therapy he comes to an understanding of some previous event that had a traumatizing affect.

The human s natural-born fear is the fear that every human possesses. The fear is not of tangible consistency; it is a fear tied tightly with its partner, psychology. It is a fear of loss of comfort, as the human race knows it. Human comfort doesn t mean a nice house and comfortable bed, in fact, a large percentage of the world has never seen such a luxury. Human comfort is the comfort of knowing what is happening, and what is going to happen. It is the comfort of understanding how it is happening and why it is happening. When something awful happens, the first thing the unfortunate person often exclaims is Why me? Asking such a question isn t going to help the situation, but it is what the person truly wants to know, he wants to know why his comfort was upset.

As discussed earlier, every person faces fear, and it is fear accompanied by anxiety that shapes lives. Paradoxically, horror films and literature have been thriving since it has been technologically possible. Dating further back, scary tales have been passed through generations for centuries. What is it that makes society want to be scared?

Fear is inextricably bound to pain, but it is also linked with pleasure. Successfully overcoming a fear or emerging from a fearful situation unscathed can be a highly pleasurable experience, for surviving a scare can often trigger the release of a flood of opiatelike neurochemicals.

Simply, horror films make people feel good. It isn t unusual to see someone laughing, or feeling giddy after something scary has happened, whether it is real life or while watching a film. Such things make people feel more alive. Roller coasters are another example of things that give a similar dose of small-time euphoria. Film or roller coaster, either one has an addictive characteristic. To feel the same pleasurable feeling, the next time the dose needs to be anted. In some cases, it becomes so extreme that people attempt to climb Mr. Everest, or jump from high-rise to high-rise on a motorcycle. The process is similar of a drug user; over time, more and more of the drug is needed to produce the same effect.

Moving back to film, an audience s attention is captured through the method of horror. Horror films come in all types, ranging from dead men rising from the grave, created men rising from the operation table, and men rising out of bed in an attempt to kill the whole town. However, the classier horror films, the films that stand out in the sometimes considered B-grade genre, are films that deal directly with the human psyche. These films raise questions that can t be answered; they turn situations that happen to anyone into scream-inducing masterpieces. Like cheese that attracts a mouse, such films are able to draw out our deepest fears by simulating them in close to reality conditions.

Horror is the only genre that is not defined by certain character types and story elements. It can take place almost anywhere. It is defined instead by a mood or atmosphere and by how it makes the audience feel. Filmmaker David Cronenberg describes horror as the genre as the genre of confrontation which allows the viewer to confront things that disturb him or her It is the function of fantasy to encompass a real life fear and transform it into something that can be dealt with or obliterated.

Although there is a high percentage of people dealing with sectionalized phobias, the percentage isn t large enough to create a film only for such an audience. Most horror films, with the idea to confront the real life fears of a wide range of people, deal only with the so-called natural-born fears that are possessed by everyone.

Cronenberg s description of horror supports the idea that the scariest films are the films that dig deep into the human psyche. What the human race enjoys best is being able to control things. Political power is a never-ending battle, gang wars are the same; and it all comes back to control. An extreme example of this truth of life is an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia, where the person feels the need to exhibit radical control over his eating. What happens when people view situations in which some force cannot be controlled, at any expense?

It s not so bad when an alien on another planet is killed by some intergenerational spell, but what about when a young girl from an upper-middle class neighborhood is taken over by the devil? Or a middle age woman, because of weather, pulls into a motel and is killed? There are many young girls living in upper-middle class neighborhoods. In fact, the tagline on a film page reads: Something beyond comprehension is happening to a little girl on this street, in this house. Such a blurb gives the impression that it can happen to any little girl, in any house. Also, it isn t rare for drivers to pull over and spend a night in any motel that can be found. To see horrifying things happen in a situation in which one could sometime be involved, is scary.

The last and most frightening aspect of all commendable horror films is the aspect of the unexplainable. This facet reflects back to the concept of control; what cannot be understood can t be controlled. However, the unexplainable is an issue that is also more than control; it is an issue of the human comfort. Humans are naturally instigators, wanting to know why or how something happens is only normal. As the minds of young children become more complex they begin to ask more questions. Why? Why? is a common phrase of the 4-year-old.

For what reason does the government spend billions of dollars on space research? Is it possible, or hopeful, that at some point the other planets may contribute to the planet? Of course it is possible, but in the minds of many, taxpayers dollars are being wasted. People tilt their heads up, see the sun, moon and stars and want to know more; they want to see the bright lights up close, they want to know how far away those lights are. The questions will never end; the human is constantly on a quest for knowledge.

Fortunately there are answers for most things in today s world. When an answer isn t available, one is fabricated to calm society. However, once a person can clearly see that there is no answer, or that there is no way to find an answer, the person becomes very frightened.

The above discussed aspects of horror films are all portrayed in two of the centuries best known thrillers: Psycho (1960), directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and The Exorcist (1973), by William Friedkin.

Hitchcock s Psycho is the story of secretary, Marion, who steals $40,000 from her employer and flees. She is forced, by inclement weather, to pull into the Bates Motel. The motel is deserted except for a handsome young man, Norman Bates, who runs the motel and takes care of his mother. They have dinner, but it is after dinner, in her room, that the celebrated shower scene takes place. Marion is brutally murdered. The remainder of the film is composed of Marion s searchers and investigators trying to discover her whereabouts. One of the investigators is killed. Norman is eventually arrested and his mother is found dead and decomposing in his house.

The Exorcist, directed by William Friedkin, is the story of a 12-year-old girl named Regan who lives in Georgetown with her wealthy mother. She begins to act bizarre, and neither she nor her mother can understand why. The bizarre happenings become more prevalent and it is eventually obvious that Regan is no longer Regan; her body has been taken over by the Satan. Her mother calls in priests to do an exorcism, however the elder, faithfully strong priest is found dead in the girl s room. The younger priest intervenes, but allows the devil to enter his body. He then throws himself out the window. The daughter is cured.

An exorcism, which is rare, but still performed to this day is defined by the Catholic Dictionary:

The act of driving out, or warding off, demons, or evil spirits, from persons, places, or things, which are believed to be possessed or infested by them, or are liable to become victims or instruments of their malice; the means employed for this purpose, especially the solemn and authoritative adjuration of the demon, in the name of God, or any of the higher power in which he is subject.

By using an exorcism to force evil out of the young girl s body, Friedkin is pitting good versus evil.

The Exorcist s outcome, along with being very visually shocking, is quite scary. It is impossible to know whether the devil forces the priest to jump out of the window, or whether the priest jumps out of the window to try to rid the world of the evil. Either way, evil prevails. Two priests are killed in the process of ridding the devil from Regan s body. Seeing that priests, mediators between humans and God, aren t able to control such evil, leaves no hope for those of the lower classes of faith. No hope of controlling.

The nature of the human to control is an important factor in securing the film s success. However, what contributes greatly and really envelops the earlier mentioned facets, is the aspect of the unexplainable forces. Evil, to this day, cannot be explained. Why does evil come? In what forms does it come? Why does it affect the people it does? People of every profession express an effort at explaining the mysterious phenomenon. There are definitions of evil, there are so-called symptoms of evil, however, there is no proof to support any hypothesizing. The idea that such a mysterious and unstoppable force can take over and hurt any select person, along with all the people around him, at any time, is horrific.

Expansion on the idea of mysterious, unexplainable forces leads right into the film Psycho. The killer, Norman Bates, has some unexplainable psychosis. At first he appears to be normal, portraying the persona of a nice young man who takes care of his mother and the family business. In fact, it is Hitchcock s magical cinematography and thoughtful casting that convinces the audience to sympathize with Bates. When the viewers find out that he is a killer who has split personalities , the audience is mystified and upset. The audience chooses to sympathize with a psychotic killer instead of a rational businesswoman who makes a wrong turn in the conscious department. Can it happen any day? Bates seems normal, and it isn t until too late that it is found out he isn t.

Similar to The Exorcist, the other thing that captivates the audience while viewing Psycho is the theme of unexplainable forces. The workings of science, to this day, are unexplainable. Laws have been developed to explain what science does, yet there is no plausible justification for the mysteries of science.

In the case of Psycho, the art of science is specifically devoted to the brain. Norman Bates is a sick man and it is clear that his brain functions unconventionally. Why his brain functions in such a way is left unknown. Is there some chemical imbalance that alters his perception of the world around him? It is possible. However, why this imbalance occurs, and how it can be controlled is left open only to theory. His actions portray evil. He kills his own race, other human beings, and feels no shame. Any rational and healthy person would admit that it s not possible to be free of guilt after killing another man. This relates back to question of: How is it possible?

Similar to that in The Exorcist, this aspect of evil has almost mystical qualities. How can the devil take over a young girl? How can a human man be so inclined to kill his mother as well as female visitors that he feels he does no wrong? Such events exude feelings of inhumanity. And inhumanity leads right back to the issue of control, or lack thereof.

Psycho, a subtle, suspense-filled shocker, can initially be seen as an opposite to the high tension, overtly grotesque Exorcist. It is only when analyzed thoroughly that similarities can be established. Each film has its own distinct style for raising questions that can t be answered, and each film has its own distinct style for exhibiting the inferiority of humans to higher powers. However, it is because of the fact that both films raise questions that can t be answered, and because of the fact that both films exhibit the inferiority of humans to higher powers that they are considered similar. The two films, although different in endless ways, evoke fear using similar triggers.

The emotion of fear is a natural occurring emotion that is stimulated and then exhibited in many various forms. An acquired fear is a fear that is formed from a traumatic event, or from prolonged negative exposure. Because the entire human population does not have the same acquired fears, such fears aren t evoked purposely during film. However, the fears spoken about earlier, the fears humans are born with, are unavoidable, and quite exploitable.

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