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Cinema & the Arts as Sermons: Horror and Fear, Sight and Sound?

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

Horror and Fear, Sight and Sound?

I typically do like horror movies. Yet I have always found Alien to be not horror as such but classic science fiction. The writers have extrapolated science and biology concerning an extraterrestrial life form and came up with this creature. It of course would not have been as convincing where it not for the macabre art of H.R. Giger. Ridley Scott of course is perhaps one of the best directors alive along with Fincher, Villeneuve, Spielberg, as examples.

Alien checked the boxes in many areas and as this video shows sound was a major force in the cinematic art box.

Sound like words can paint a picture and be filled with tremendous nuance. Sound whatever it may actually be interacts with our mind and conscious self. Sound is a qualia!

What is qualia?

"Quale and qualia

When one looks at a house, the vision of the house appears in one’s mind, and one can be aware of the vision and experience it in one’s mind. When one listens to a song, the sound of the song appears in one’s mind, and one can be aware of the sound and experience it in one’s mind. When one smells a rose, the odor of the rose appears in one’s mind, and one can be aware of the odor and experience it in one’s mind [Figure 3.1]. Likewise, similar phenomena related to other kinds of sensory perception (taste, touch, pain, etc.) can appear in one’s mind, and one can be aware of them and experience them in one’s mind, too. Moreover, other mental phenomena that are not related to sensory perceptions, such as the thought, the happiness, and the recalled past memory, can appear in one’s mind, and one can be aware of them and experience them in one’s mind, as well." from the article: Qualia, Conscious Awareness, and Conscious Experiences

I have come to understand that our yearning for alien life etc. is another quest for a savior.

We have an authentic Savior yet in in sin and broken natures we turn away from him. If we look at the "red of tooth and claw" condition of the animal kingdom we can see how unforgiving animals can be. The imagined extreme of the Alien is perhaps not to far off yet we must realize that how God would create a creature is very different than what we can imagine.

Enjoy this very well done video from Empire of the Mind.

"In 1979 a film was released that was so terrifying that one might say it took over the bodies of its audience from the inside out, causing people to faint and run from the theater to vomit. That film was Ridley Scott's Alien—a film so iconic that it is hard to believe it almost failed completely. During initial screenings of the film in LA and St. Louis, audiences were lukewarm, viewing the film, it seems, without the hysteria of later audiences. Why the difference? According to filmmakers, it all came down to a problem of sound: the theater speakers were not functioning properly. This serves to illustrate an important point. Sound is absolutely crucial when it comes to gripping the audience. All of the other factors of the film, be they ever so brilliant or horrifying, fall flat without sound. No matter how terrifying the design of H.R. Giger's xenomorph is, or how revolting its gestation, none of it works if the sound isn’t working. In this essay, I analyze the sound design of Alien, attempting to uncover what exactly makes it so effective. I hit the following major points. (1) We are more afraid of what we HEAR than of what we see; sounds from an unseen source terrify us with uncertainty and act as an practical infinity. (2) Sound is crucial for jumpscares, which rely more on a sudden change in sound than a sudden change in image. (3) Alien uses sounds from our own bodies (breathing & heartbeats) to get inside our heads, making US the victims. (4) By blurring the line between organic and mechanical sounds, Alien creates an uncanny effect, confronting us with loss of self, and loss of volition, literally 'objectifying' living beings. (5) Using Edmund Burke's book A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful as a guide, I analyze the self destruct sequence as the auditory climax of the film, containing elements that Burke identifies as creating a 'sublime effect' in the viewer: loudness, sudden silence, rhythmically repeated sounds, and screams of distress. You may notice that I conclude the essay with a quote from Søren Kierkegaard's pseudonymous work Stages on Life's Way: “…I would rather not have inconvenienced either the professor or the pastor but would rather have heard the howling of the wolves and learned to know God.” It has always stuck with me. It is a powerful invocation of immediacy, as well as a strange but thought-provoking assertion of a connection between 'knowing God' and the experience fear, isolation, and danger: in this case, the experience of SOUND. Make of it what you will. Alien was directed by Ridley Scott, written by Dan O'Bannon, and distributed by 20th Century Fox. It tells the story of the crew of the Nostromo who, upon encountering a hostile alien life form, fight to survive its deadly onslaught. The film won the Academy Award for best visual effects, and is generally considered to be one of the greatest films of all time, spawning an entire franchise of films, including Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992), Alien Resurrection (1997), Prometheus (2012), and Alien: Covenant (2017)." from video introduction.

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