Tag: romance


The Human Brain Is Hard-Wired To Think In Genres

July 25, 2019

When scrolling through streaming services or wandering around Blockbuster Video if you’re from the past, what are your go-to genres? Science-fiction is usually my first choice but there’s something good in every genre. But why do we have these genres, and why do they exist in the form that they do? Danish film and media professor Torben Grodal might have the answer.


Professor Grodal makes a case for evolutionary psychology as to why we have the genres we do and why they have persisted. While The Iliad (an ancient Greek Poem) is thousands of years old and written in a culture drastically different to our own we can see that it has many elements that would overlap with modern storytelling – action, fighting, love, revenge etc. Grodal argues this is because evolution has made us susceptible to these sorts of stories and essentially we’re the same people we were when The Iliad was created – a few thousand years is nothing when compared to evolution.

For Grodal there are three basic emotional structures that help make-up, and then react to genres

  • The Reptilian Brain – fear, anger, lust, seeking
  • Caregiving – love, pair-bonding, family
  • Separation/Grief – dealing with death and loss

These three systems are not mutually exclusive and often overlap, this is particularly true of Caregiving and Separation/Grief but you can find films that hit all three systems.

Humans Are Weird Animals

The Lion King (123tix.com)

Unlike many animals, humans care for their young for years as human infants are essentially helpless and utterly dependent on caregivers. If we want our DNA to continue in future generates, which the Theory of Evolution says we do, then we must protect our children. Evolution has hammered into humans that caring for their offspring is of paramount importance, so many films also have this message. Films are full of parents making sacrifices, up to and including dying, to protect children. Sophie’s Choice is considered so heart-wrenching because the choice will lead to the death of a child.

For most animals it is only the female that bears the burden of caring for children, humans are different in that males continue to provide for them, they will protect them and hunt or gather food. Due to the huge cost of raising children in terms of resources this makes evolutionary sense. This lead to a very strong pair-bond between parents and a successful pair bond is very important. So we have romances, where finding true love is amongst the most important things in all of life. There are few films that lack any romantic component, with “love interest” being a familiar description of a character. Hot Fuzz is one of the few films I can think of that has no romantic component and with this film, there was a lot of focus on the “bromance” between the two lead characters.

Saving Private Nemo

Finding Nemo (cornel1801.com)

What is the defining moment of the film Bambi? I’m sure most people will think of the moment when Bambi’s mother dies. Finding Nemo is entirely about reuniting a parent and child. The film Aliens add a whole layer of emotion and drama by introducing a child for Ripley to bond with and then protect. Separation and loss in films can be emotionally devastating because these are terrible evolutionary outcomes. How will Nemo survive without his father? How will Marlin survive without his son? This is already after the genuinely horrific deaths of Nemo’s mother and siblings. When the two are reunited there is absolute joy. Sometimes the sacrifice of parents for children can be widened to a whole tribe, and today that could mean your country, and again, nobly sacrificing yourself for others who are part of your “tribe” is a staple of films and is the entire premise of Saving Private Ryan.

The Reptilian Brain

Then there is the influence of the “reptilian” brain, the part of the brain that developed first, that we share with reptiles. The four emotional systems we share with reptiles are anger, fear, lust and seeking – as in looking for food, for a mate, for a predator etc.. At least three of these factors are integral parts of action films – and often lust gets thrown in as well. Seeking, basically looking for what you want/need is present in action as well as crime and mysteries.

Action, crime and mysteries are also important in what Grodal calls HTTOFF Scenarios – Hiding, Tracking, to Trap, being Trapped, Observing, Fighting and Fleeing. In these scenarios, the protagonist is constantly working out the interactions between themselves and the world and other agents within it. Grodal points out that while few people watching films in the modern world will have to regularly fight, flee etc., those mental processes are still within us. A lot of children’s games involve HTTOFF scenarios, so Hide and Seek or play-fighting, it is enjoyable to recreate these situations in a safe way.


Films can act as shared, ritualistic experiences, so that seeing death, grief etc on screen prepares us for when they happen in real-life. This can also be true of comedy, a lot of comedy consists of bad or embarrassing things happening but in a film that’s okay, we know it’s not real, and in a sense is a form of playing and pretending.

An Alternative View…

The Godfather (padrino.fandom.com)

A little while ago on this site was published an article “The Formula of a Successful Film“, which looked at a different study which analysed thousands of films and found that they tend to fall into distinct categories like Rags to Riches, Cinderella and Icarus, describing how they handle emotion and the protagonist’s journey. So an Icarus film builds to high positive emotion and then drops down with a sad, or sort of sad ending. The most successful financially was found to be Man In A Hole. This is where a person falls at the beginning, leading to success/triumph at the end, the classic example being The Godfather. Michael starts happy, faces disaster and ends up winning. This research suggests something different going on to Grodal’s, here it is the journey of the character(s) that is crucial and evidently seeing someone triumph over adversity is very satisfying.

Taken (Empire.com)

Looking at all of this research I think potentially the film that should have been the most successful and critically acclaimed was Liam Neeson’s Taken. For Grodal it satisfies all three emotional systems – action, caregiving and separation and matches The Man In A Hole dynamic. While successful enough to spawn two sequels and a whole genre of older action hero films I don’t think Taken managed those heights.

Also Read: The Formula For A Successful Film


Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

September 22, 2018

This review contains some spoilers.

My wife and I sat down this week for a small-screen viewing of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which was recently released on DVD.

Admittedly, this genre wouldn’t normally be my cup of tea, but after only a little coercion from Christine (who very much does like films in this genre), we decided to try it.

Caffeine and apple pie at hand (didn’t fancy the potato peel version), we settled in.

The story

Guernsey (the full title’s a bit of a mouthful, right?) is an historical-romantic drama directed by Mike Newell, starring Lily James in the lead role as Juliet Ashton, a successful novelist in the post-war era (very post-war, actually, as the film’s set in 1946). While promoting her latest book with publisher Sidney Stark (Matthew Goode), through whom she’s been contracted to write stories for The Times Literary Supplement about the benefits of literature, she is contacted by Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman, of Game of Thrones fame) about buying one of her novels.

Dawsey resides on Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, where he is part of “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.” A prologue in the film reveals that the society was formed five years earlier during the German occupation when Dawsey and his friends make up the unusually-named book-reading group on the spot when stopped by the Nazis after breaking curfew. They’ve met every Friday night since and become firm friends.

After exchanging some letters with Dawsey, Juliet becomes fascinated by the Guernsey society and decides to travel to the island to meet with them – just to complicate things a bit more, her wealthy American boyfriend Mark Reynolds (Glenn Powell) proposes to her just as she’s getting on the ferry (sneaky move).

Shortly after arriving, Juliet meets the members of the society where she is treated as a great celebrity by the members: Amelia Maugery (Penelope Wilton), Isola Pribbey (Katherine Parkinson), Eben Ramsey (Tom Courtenay), and Eben’s young grandson, Eli (Kit Connor), as well as Dawsey Adams. The members tell Juliet that Elizabeth (Jessica Brown Findlay), who founded the group that fateful night in 1941, is overseas.

The rest of the film plays out gradually as Juliet uncovers more and more of the society’s story, particularly the circumstances around the mysterious absence of Elizabeth, with whom Dawsey (apparently) has a little girl called Kit. As you might expect, there’s more to Guernsey society than meets the eye, and Juliet soon finds herself fully invested in all of them, especially Dawsey, with whom she quickly falls in love.

The things I liked

First up, the cast is great. Lily James’ star continues to rise, and she’s well-worth her leading role credit here, playing an intelligent, compassionate young woman who you can’t help rooting for throughout. Wilton is fantastic as the troubled Amelia, doing her best to steal every scene she’s in with her intensity and brokenness; Courtenay balances her nicely as the warm, pleasant Eden, and I was thrilled to see Parkinson put in a subtle performance as the damaged and lonely Isola (I’m a huge IT Crowd fan and it was great to see Parkinson stretch her acting muscles some more here).

Mike Newell’s direction is understated but effective. His wide, establishing shots of beautiful Guernsey made me want to hop on the next boat there, and his subtle use of tone and light works nicely in the back of your perception of the narrative – of course, it’s a historical drama so there was never going to be anything overly flashy about it. I felt the pace of the film carries you along gently as you follow Juliet’s story.

The things that could have been better

Michiel Huisman’s performance is understated as the reserved Dawsey, but I think he holds back a little too much. While there is definite chemistry between him and Juliet, I didn’t quite believe that she would fall for him in such a short time, even ditching her fiancé in the process (the poor lad didn’t deserve it).

While the film is never boring, it sometimes lacks a little bit of humour or zest in the writing. There was scope there somewhere to have a comic relief character to lighten things up a bit (within reason, of course, in a film with such sensitive subject material) and some of the characters deserved more development. I would have liked to have seen a bit more closure around Elizabeth, and the final act felt slightly rushed and formulaic. These are very minor gripes, though.

The bottom line

Guernsey is a pleasant viewing experience. It deals with the tough historical subject matter in a way that can be absorbed easily – this is a film that successfully balances a narrative featuring menacing Nazi occupation with picturesque island farm life, all carried by a strong lead in Lily James.

Even if you don’t normally go for films in this genre, give this one a go. It’s worth the watch, and you’ll certainly pick up a bit more wartime history knowledge along the way, as I did!

Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)