ma-ni-pu-la-tive – a province in India.
No, wait. My eye jumped on the page. That’s “Manipur.”
ma-ni-pu-la-tive – a province in Central Canada…no, it jumped again. That’s “Manitoba.” I need, like ruler or something, to stay in line.
One more try. (And you know the third try always works.)
ma-ni-pu-la-tive – 1: of or pertaining to manipulation.
Well that wasn’t worth the wait. Let’s look at the next one.
man-ni-pu-la-tive – 2: serving to manipulate.
Thank you, that was very helpful. Can I get my money back on this dictionary?
Oh wait. There’s a “3.” (Here we go again.)
ma-ni-pu-la-tive – 3: influencing or attempting to influence the behavior or emotions of others for one’s own purposes.
Finally. They couldn’t have put that one first?
WEBSTER: We like to build up the suspense. Otherwise, it’s just words and their meanings.
Fine. Have your fun.
I am watching a movie. And it comes to a point where something’s going on on the screen and I find myself choking down sobs, rather than sobbing uncontrollably, because I’m a grown man, and it’s embarrassing enough to be sobbing in a movie theater at all.
The thing is, looking back a very short time afterwards, I could not even vaguely remember what I had been sobbing about. I could not, in fact, even remember the movie. (NOTE: We shall not include the “aging process” in this conversation.)
A week later, it came to me. The movie was Philomena, an entertaining enough trifle about a woman (played by Judy Dench) teaming up with a somewhat cynical journalist (Steve Coogan) to try and find the son the nuns in the convent she had been banished to when she became pregnant had stolen from her and sold into adoption fifty years earlier.
Not to give anything away, the two sob-inducing moments I experienced involved the woman’s initial discovery of something crucial and agonizing (every acting student should study the way Judy Dench masterfully pulled it off), and at the end, when she comes face-to-face with his name on a thing in a place. I think I handled that “not giving away” thing quite skillfully. And by the way, I almost teared up again recollecting that second one.
So here’s the question. Something happens in a movie, you respond to it effusively “in the moment”, and then that moment instantly disappears from your emotional “Memory Card.”
What was that? What it simply a consciously constructed cinematic moment? A deliberately manufactured empty jolt to the heartstrings? Is that all there was to it? Was the movie simply being
ma-ni-pu-la-tive, “Number Three”?
What is that about? And when is it acceptable and even admirable and when is it shameless and unforgivable…
(NOTE: Terkjerkery, of course, it only one form of emotional manipulation. Fear is also an emotion, along with its brutalizing relatives, terror and dread. I cannot discuss this matter with authority because I do not attend movies of that nature. With the “Production Code” protecting delicate spirits like myself long gone, my first question to people who’ve attended a recent release is, “Is it scary?” and knowing me well, they can immediately inform me if that movie is for me. With the now virtually unlimited possibilities available to them, today’s directors are entirely in control of whether I will die of fright watching a movie.
Not long ago, I saw a Saudi Arabian picture called Wadjda where, against that culture’s anti-female injunctions, a young girl finally gets her dream bicycle, and goes out for a glorious solo ride. Had the director so chosen, as the climax of the movie in a devastating ironic twist, the girl could easily have pedaled over an IED and blown up. Fortunately, she didn’t, preserving the uplifting spirit of the movie, and preventing the necessity of calling for paramedics to resuscitate me with oxygen.)
Help me with this, will you? I realize all art is a form of manipulation. The work, be it a painting or a poem or any other communicative medium is inevitably trying to elicit an emotion. But when it that effort legitimate and praiseworthy, and when is it just crap?
In definition “Number Three”, the dictionary includes at the end of “influencing or attempting to influence the behavior or the emotions of others the phrase “…for one’s own purposes.”
Is manipulation always, as the dictionary asserts, self-serving, and nothing else?
Is there a scale of worthy and less worthy examples of manipulation? I am thinking about Peter Pan, when Tinkerbell’s light’s going out and Peter entreats the audience to clap their hands if they believe in fairies, to bring the fast-fading “Tink” back life.
Was that good or was it “Gimme me a break!” (And if it “works”, is that all that matters?)
Consider that closing moment in Field of Dreams, when the Kevin Costner character asks his now returned-to-life ballplayer father, “Hey, Dad…you wanna have a catch?”
What would you call that, legitimate or hooey?
I really don’t know. What I do know is that I do not like being manipulated and at best I want to know, not that everyone else felt manipulated too, but that there was a sincere intention in the communication. I once saw a Jackson Pollock painting that made me cry because it appeared that, through the painting, the artist was saying, “There is something deeply disturbing going on in my brain!” That didn’t feel like a manipulation. It felt like he couldn’t help himself. That, in writer’s parlance, was where the story was naturally going.
If that doesn’t cover it, perhaps the closest I can come to a glimmer of an observation is through a story I once heard about the comparison of two actors who played the role of “Cyrano de Bergerac”, which went like this.
“When Christopher Plummer played Cyrano, he cried. When Jose Ferrer played Cyrano, the audience cried.”
Maybe it’s in there somewhere.
Or maybe Jose Ferrer was just a more gifted manipulator.
Any ideas on the subject?