Thesis finally complete!

by Toby Woollaston

Booyah! My thesis arrived back from the bindery the other day and has now been submitted to Massey University for examination. My work here is done … phew! The last couple of years have been, at times, very difficult and stressful. But it’s done with now and it feels great!

For those who are interested in what exactly I wrote on, here is the abstract:


The Cinema of Aronofsky – A Phenomenological Case Study

This thesis contextualises phenomenology in relation to film, exploring what phenomenology is and how it can be used as a tool to analyse film. Vivian Sobchack’s phenomenological framework (which promotes the embodied experience of the spectator) provides the method of inquiry into the films studied here. This method employs five hermeneutic rules that ask the spectator to first experience a phenomenon and then attempt to analyse it. An analysis of American director Darren Aronofsky’s first five feature films is undertaken using this phenomenological optic. Pi (1998), Requiem for a Dream (2000), The Fountain (2006), The Wrestler (2008), and Black Swan (2010) all elicit embodied responses in the spectator with the intention of using such responses as a vehicle to convey meaning. Theories of non-cognitive processes, such as emotional contagion, non-cognitive affective responses, and mood are presented as an explanatory model for the experience of embodied responses to film by the spectator. This research identifies and analyses four core elements within the structure of Aronofsky’s films that promote these embodied responses, and lead the spectator to identify so intensely with the protagonist. These elements are the musical score, colour complexion, visual composition, and the exposition of body. 

Key findings of this study reveal Aronofsky to be an auteur with existential concerns, akin to the nihilistic outlook described by German phenomenologist Martin Heidegger. This subtext is revealed through the practice of phenomenological viewing and is promoted by the physicality of Aronofsky’s cinema which prompts the spectator’s embodied response, which is then followed by an examination of “self”. Furthermore, this thesis suggests that the practice of phenomenological viewing could be applied to other auteurs’ work in order to expose new meanings and subtexts. The exposure of Aronofsky’s “nihilistic” subtext highlights Sobchack’s phenomenological method of cinematic viewing as a valid way to both experience and analyse cinema.



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