Toward a Poetics of Cinematic Disgust

Julian Hanich


This essay tries to categorize the range of artistic options that filmmakers currently have at hand to evoke bodily disgust. It asks: If we examine the variety of disgusting scenes at the movies, how can we usefully distinguish them? I present five categorical distinctions indicating choices filmmakers often implicitly make when disgust comes into play. (1) Temporality: Does the filmmaker confront us with the disgusting object suddenly or anticipatorily? (2) Presence: Does the director allow us to perceive or imagine the source of disgust? (3) Character engagement: Are we affected via empathy or sympathy? (4) Synaesthetic audiovision: What other senses – apart from seeing and hearing – does the scene address? (5) Affective co-occurrence: What other emotions come into play during the disgusting scene? It will turn out that cinematic disgust is not as simple as it might seem at first sight. In fact, we might even attest to its unforeseen complexity. This unorthodox finding, in turn, complements an insight recent studies on affective responses at the movies have yielded more generally: the more we know about cinematic emotions, the more we have to conclude that we still know very little.


Digust, poetics

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