The Character’s Body and the Viewer: Cinematic Empathy and Embodied Simulation in the Film Experience

Adriano D'Aloia

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Establishing an intimate relationship between fictional characters and the viewer is of primary significance to the narrative film. In this chapter, I conceive film viewing as a quasi-intersubjective relationship between the viewer and the (main) character—two bodies involved in a physical, mental and emotional experience, while mediated by a third quasi-body: the film. To explore the nature of this complex relationship, I adopt a phenomenological perspective and rely on the notion of cinematic empathy: a pre-reflexive and ‘immediate’ psycho-physical process through which the viewer experiences a character’s perceptions, thoughts, actions, and emotions via embodied simulation. When conflating the bodily expression the character and the bodily perception of the viewer, a ‘shared experiential space’ emerges. My analysis of a scene of Alfonso Cuarón’s space-exploration film Gravity untangles this notion, placing particular attention on the character’s physical appearance and behaviour (e.g., body postures and facial expressions) in relation to the viewer. I depart from a phenomenological account of cinematic empathy and an ‘embodied’ conception of simulation offered by Belgian experimental psychologist Albert Michotte van der Berck, and subsequently explore relatively new assumptions from neuroscientific research.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEmbodied Cognition and Cinema
EditorsMaarten Coëgnarts, Peter Kravanja
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Albert Michotte
  • Embodied cognition
  • Embodied simulation
  • Empathy
  • Film experience
  • Film studies
  • Film style


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