Back in 1997, millions upon millions of people flocked to the theaters to watch the story of two star-crossed lovers as they instantly fell in love and then fought for their lives, despite already knowing the ending.
The ship sinks.
Titanic brought in a then-untouchable $1.8 billion in worldwide and $600 million in domestic revenues. I say then-untouchable because Avatar has since shattered the record at $2.782 billion and $760.5 million, respectively. But Titanic will look to close that gap next week when it is re-released in 3D. Once again, millions will flock to the theaters to shed a tear.
I can understand why people want to go see the first true 3D film – an epic story of war, faith, nature, love and eventual triumph. But why do people enjoy sobbing in a theater so much?
Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick from the Ohio State University thinks she has an answer.
In a recent study, Knobloch-Westerwick had 361 college students view an abridged version of 2007’s tear-jerker Atonement, where two lovers are torn apart by a childish act and separated by World War II. Before, during and after the movie, participants were asked to report how much they were feeling various emotions, how well they liked the movie, and what it had led them to think about.
One theory on tragedy is that some people glean happiness by putting their life in perspective. By seeing how life can utterly destroy two people, their own situations don’t seem as bad and they look on the bright side for a bit.
That’s not how this goes.
Knobloch-Westerwick found this theory to be false. Instead, she found that the people who experienced the most sadness during the movie were more likely to reflect on the real people in their own lives with whom they have close relationships. By turning introspective and dwelling on the ones they love, their spirits were lifted after the film despite the brief sadness that it evoked.
According to the researchers, when life is good and people are happy, they tend not to think much about the issues in their life. They just go with the flow and enjoy their prosperity. But when tragedy strikes, negative emotions make people think more critically about their lives.
“So seeing a tragic movie about star-crossed lovers may make you sad, but that will cause you to think more about your own close relationships and appreciate them more,” said Knobloch-Westerwick. “Tragedies bring to mind close relationships, which makes us happy.”