Friday, 31 July 2020

What do you call this feeling?

There is a certain sensation which has no name that I am aware of, but which I am sure you are familiar with. It is the feeling of atavistic thrill that runs down your spine and makes your pulse race when you see something that it has hitherto been suggested to have awesome and almighty power suddenly reveal it to devastatingly destructive effect.

I was reminded of this feeling recently when re-watching Laputa: Castle in the Sky. If you have seen the film, you will know the scene I am talking about - it is the one in which the half-damaged robot, which had previously been thought defunct, is suddenly activated and single-handedly destroys an almighty fortress and, presumably, kills hundreds of people in the process. Sadly, YouTube only has this short Metallica-ized clip, which doesn't do it justice, but still:

Miyazaki loves these moments - his earlier films are full of them. But so does Hollywood. You will be familiar with these examples:

There are plenty of others - in literature as well as film (China Mieville, for example, has always struck me as a writer with a keen instinct for this sort of scene).

Where does this feeling come from? Partly, it is pure child-like love of destruction. Partly it is a kind of received glory: as though one is somehow vicariously edified by a naked display of power to which one is not subject. Partly it is sheer anticipation, combined with a feeling of hidden knowledge: you know what is coming when the Terminator walks out the door of the police station, but the police - those poor fools - do not, and that can't fail to excite. And partly, perhaps, there is even a sense of the sublime in these moments - a sort of transcendant beauty in the aesthetics of strength and might. 

In summary, human beings like watching a god-like entity squish things. But we don't appear to have a single word, at least in English, which describes the sensation. 


  1. Is this an aristeia? (

    But if you are referring to the feeling of witnessing an aristeia, then, perhaps there is no word for it.

    1. I had never heard of that word before. I think what I am talking about is wider than an aristeia because it includes the actions of anything, not just a hero, but definitely moments in the Iliad, especially Achilles' rampage, count. But anyway, yes, I'm talking about the vicarious thrill of witnessing such a moment rather than actually participating.

  2. Hollywood knows the value of this sort of scene for sure.

  3. I'm not a native english speaker, but I think that "awe" is quite close.

    1. I am, and I agree. I'd go with "awe" (in the primary sense). Those scenes are intended to be *awesome*.

    2. Awe seems broader to me. Awe is looking at the Grand Canyon, or the Basilica of St Peter.

    3. But it is the kind of feeling the US Army meant when they talked about "Shock and Awe", isn't it?
      Also you use the term awe for St. Peters Cathetral, and the Grand Canyon because they are suposedly show you the "awesome" power of the Church/God.
      But I might miss the nuances here, because I'm a German speaker and the German translation for awe is Ehrfurcht, which obviously contains the term Furcht (fear).

  4. I was immediately reminded, seeing these examples, of the time I got up at three AM to see a derelict hospital be imploded.
    Good times.

  5. Puny noisms like see Hulk smash.

    No good, that’s six words. Try again Hulk!

    1. I suppose he could just go "raworrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!", which does just about sum it up.

  6. John Wick seems like a good example as well - he's teased, narratively set up, then we see him over 2/2.5/3 fights (depending on whether you count the transition from the backroom to the dancefloor as a scene change in the Red Circle) completely let loose and show just how good a team Reeves and the rest can be. Unfortunately, no fight in the rest of the film quite hits that high...

  7. I think the slightly archaic meaning of awe fits, though it shades into something more like fear, or foreboding of destruction, rather than the release of destruction itself. Older uses of awful seem closer. From Milton:

    So spake the Cherub; and his grave rebuke,
    Severe in youthful beauty, added grace
    Invincible. Abashed the Devil stood,
    And felt how awful goodness is, and saw
    Virtue in her shape how lovely; saw, and pined
    His loss; but cheifly to find here observed
    His lustre visibly impaired; yet seemed
    Undaunted:—"If I must contend," said he,
    "Best with the best, the sender, not the sent,
    Or all at once; more glory will be won,
    Or less be lost."—...

    Something like "vicarious power" or "vicarious efficacy" is probably more precise psychologically, but it may also apply in more limited contexts.