Affectless Empathy, Embodied Imagination and The Killer Inside Me

Is it possible for an emotionless psychopath such as Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford (played by Casey Affleck), the mild-mannered murderer in Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me (2010), to experience empathy? [1] This article analyses the interface between the spectator and the screen in this potent film, a crime thriller adapted from Jim Thompson’s brutal novel of the same title (1952). [2] It tests the characteristics, boundaries and significance of cinematic empathy by examining the narrative’s central character, and it questions how the audience’s epistemological alignment with this deranged protagonist complicates responses to the film. In this way The Killer Inside Me furnishes a limit case or thought experiment about empathy’s affective, cognitive and ethical dimensions.

As Carl Plantinga notes in his influential work on the emotional experiences of film spectators, a bewildering array of definitions of empathy abound, many of which are entangled with sympathy. [3] For the purpose of this article, empathy can be broadly understood as an emotional process that “occurs when the observation or imagination of affective states in another induces shared states in the observer.” [4] While this definition comes from neuroscience, it encompasses key aspects of empathy that have been the focus of research into the emotions in film, philosophy and psychology: cognitive processes such as imagination as well as perceptual processes and shared feelings or affective states are important components of empathy. There is another aspect worth adding to this definition: moral philosophers and moral psychologists understand empathy to involve other-oriented processes such as position taking, which fosters intersubjectivity and may inform altruistic behaviour. [5] The strong judgments and visceral reactions people have to The Killer Inside Me and its psychologically disturbed protagonist suggests it is a complex case requiring an interdisciplinary approach that considers the neural basis and ethical potential of empathy, while giving equal consideration to its affective and cognitive dimensions.

The Killer Inside Me is part of a long tradition of serial killer films dating back to Fritz Lang’s M in 1930, but it also belongs to a more restricted clutch of screen texts such as Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960), American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000), Dexter (2005–), and Mr Brooks (Bruce Evans, 2007) that focalise the narrative through the perspective of a serial killer who blends into the cultural mainstream. Locating a seemingly innocuous killer as the primary locus of audience engagement is far less common than following a detective, a victim or a monstrous murderer who is characterised as unnatural and abject. As a member of this subcategory, The Killer Inside Me presents an interesting problematic for character engagement – particularly due to the chilling way in which the killer actively attempts to imagine and to feel what his victims are experiencing.

The Killer Inside Me follows Lou, an affable Texan whose bland façade conceals the vicious killer that lurks inside him. The film plays with the conventions of film noir, presenting Lou as a homme fatal who enacts dual roles as an officer of the law and a murder suspect. [6] Shot in the sun-bleached, dusty landscape of Oklahoma with Winterbottom’s trademark handheld camera, the film might be described as cowboy noir; it looks as much like a western as a noir thriller, yet it disrupts expectations about the kindhearted prostitutes, schoolmarms, fatales, lawmen, outlaws and shady detectives that populate these genres. Accentuating this off-kilter tone, the soundscape alternates between a disturbing classical underscore, diegetic piano music played by Lou himself, and honky-tonk songs that work in ironic juxtaposition to undercut the film’s sinister subject matter. The unfiltered light and overexposed backgrounds repeatedly pull focus to Lou’s impassive face and draw the audience into his dark inner world. The naturalistic aesthetic works against the stylish generic markers to invite a more serious engagement with the film in much the same manner that Lou’s reasonable, courteous demeanour is in tension with his antisocial, violent impulses.

The Ethics of Affect: Reactions to The Killer Inside Me
A prolific filmmaker, Winterbottom is known for stylistic and formal innovation, the aforementioned naturalistic aesthetic, powerful, improvisational screen performances, and the emotive deployment of music in films that span literary adaptation, biographical studies and factually based stories, and genre cinema. In their book about his wide-ranging work, Brian McFarlane and Deane Williams pick up on the British director’s unflinching attention to suffering and human resilience, stating: “Winterbottom’s oeuvre constitutes a contemporary moral voice in troubled times.” [7] Indeed, Winterbottom is well established and highly respected for being a director who does not pull his punches, yet in an utterly literal sense it is precisely this attribute of the film that outraged critics.

The film’s reception was dominated by moralistic debates about whether the graphic violence was justifiable. As Peter Bradshaw, seasoned reviewer for Britain’s The Guardian, states: “It has been widely condemned for the scenes in which women are brutally assaulted and, for many, this film will be just hardcore misogynist hate-porn with a fancy wrapper.” [8] Ultimately, Bradshaw respected the film’s raw representation of the consequences violence, but other viewers did not. Incensed by what she perceived as the glorification of protracted and pornographic violence against women, an audience member reportedly yelled abuse at Winterbottom during the public question and answer session following the film’s premiere at Sundance. According to Winterbottom, “The gist of her argument seemed to be that because the violence in the film was upsetting, it was immoral. That seemed to me to be wrong. As though films in which violence is more throwaway are more moral.” [9] Rather than picking up on questions about the relationship between moral sensibilities and thresholds for screen violence or considering the complexities of audience engagement with perpetrators and victims, many reviewers expressed an unfiltered affective response to the film. Rachel Cook’s account in The Observer is representative of this type of reaction: “I was so queasy, I had to go and stand outside. I thought I might actually faint.” [10]

The British Board of Film Classification ascertained that: “Although there are portrayals of strong sexual and sadistic violence and sadomasochist sexual behaviour, the scenes in question do not eroticise or endorse sexual assault or pose a credible harm risk to viewers of 18 and over.” [11] Despite this assessment, insisting on a shocked and nauseated response, it seems, is what anchors spectators and reviewers to moral high ground because emotions or “gut reactions” are taken to express a singularly authentic form of evaluation – in this case the critic literally embodies the judgment that inflicting pain is terribly wrong, even in consensual sadomasochistic sex. In How Emotions Work, sociologist Jack Katz argues that emotions provide a kind of corporeal knowledge that indicates what people value and believe to be important, which points self-reflexively to information about ourselves and our connections to others. [12] This suggests emotion is characterised by a specific form of cognition that is associated with discerning value and salience.

The connection between cognition and emotion does not mean emotions cannot be irrational or unreliable. Rather, it recognises that mental processes like imagining or believing are central to emotions such as jealousy; similarly, evaluations of right and wrong are core aspects of remorse and anger. As the moral outrage of viewers who reviled The Killer Inside Me indicates, affect – the felt, sensory component of emotion – is also grounded in cognitive judgments. Bodily reactions such as the recoil response and nausea that are integral to disgust reflect socio-moral judgments that the object of disgust is bad or impure. [13] In this capacity, affect has epistemological significance: it offers a form of embodied knowledge that is pivotal to ethical insight because it reveals beliefs and values. It is difficult to imagine, then, that empathy could exist in an affectless form if it is in any way involved in altruistic behavior and ethical life, yet this is a question the film invites when it represents a killer who is apparently able to dissociate thought from feeling; it is also a question being explored at the vanguard of empirical research into empathic reactions to cinema.

In the career of Winterbottom, a director distinguished by his unflinching willingness to tackle confronting and highly politicised material while treating the subjects of his many films with both compassion and verisimilitude, it is significant that this particular film caused shockwaves. It is not so much the killings that upset viewers, for contemporary media culture is saturated with gore and inundated with tales of bloody murder; rather, it may be the visceral quality of the violence combined with the discomfort of being closely aligned with a cold-blooded killer that disturbed the moral imagination of the audience and triggered such outrage. [14] I read the acute nature of viewers’ reactions as indexical: the strong responses to the film point to a mismatch between cognitive and affective components of emotion that usually work more harmoniously to shape reactions to film characters, people, and events.

Noël Carroll argues that audiences typically desire positive outcomes for good characters and negative outcomes for villains, and tend to feel disgruntled when these expectations are thwarted and the emotional payoff is withheld. [15] The Killer Inside Me elicits emotional responses that don’t quite conform to this model, partly because its main characters are complicated, ethically compromised, and emotionally or psychologically disturbed. Although Lou acknowledges his victims do not deserve their grisly fates (“No one has it coming to them,” he says, “which is why nobody sees it coming”), he points out that they are, in their own ways, as culpable and as capable of harming others as he is. For instance, Lou’s lover, the conniving prostitute Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba), threatens to drag his name through the mud and have him incarcerated if he leaves her. Elmer Conway (Jay Ferguson), the lovelorn client Joyce intends to dupe, lives off the ill-gotten gains of his father’s construction company and the Conways were implicated in and benefited from the death of Lou’s upstanding adopted brother. Even the innocent schoolmistress, Lou’s sweetheart Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson), is so intent on securing the respectability of marriage that she is willing to protect – and elope with – a man she strongly suspects is a lying, cheating, murderer.

The complicity of the victims in their own mistreatment tangles judgments of right and wrongdoing, which in turn complicates emotional reactions to the film and its characters. In his review of the film, Bradshaw claims that Winterbottom intentionally makes the victims “appear to be grateful and submissive” and “the film devises a scenario in which violence is meted out against a victim who is in some sense a consenting partner.” [16] Similarly, Cook states, “what’s offensive is not so much the ‘pointlessness’ of the violence as the way the women characters seem to invite it.” [17] Indeed, Joyce opens her arms to Lou and tells him not to say he is sorry when he first belts her, and later she says she loves him even as he is beating her to death. For these critics and for the secondary characters in the narrative that attempt to bring the killer to justice, it is disturbing to think the women invited and enjoyed the pain, as though that somehow compromises their innocence. The Killer Inside Me places the audience in the uncomfortable position of considering such judgments about victims whose choices and feelings may make little sense.

The film itself provides a dialogue clue to the most obvious way in which the audience’s engagement with a deplorable character is solicited. When the hotshot lawyer Billy Boy Walker (Bill Pullman) convinces Lou to confide in him and confess his crimes, he does so by drawing an analogy with the principles by which plants are categorised as good or bad. “A weed,” Walker says, “is a plant out of place. I find a hollyhock in my cornfield; it’s a weed. I find it in my yard; it’s a flower. You are in my yard, Mr Ford.” This statement, made as it is by a lawyer of questionable scruples, suggests that the justice system rests on a foundation of moral relativism wherein an action or a person might, like a plant, be deemed good in one context and bad in another. By manipulating narration and perspective to situate Lou in the central position that the hero so often occupies in genre movies, the film plants Lou Ford right in our own backyard, so to speak. It draws him in close, troubles the audience’s ability to classify him as “bad”, and unsettles emotional responses by aligning the audience with the perspective of a character with whom we have no moral allegiance. Deploying conventions such as voiceover narration that typically offer a sense of insight and affinity, The Killer Inside Me locates the audience inside Lou’s world, drawing viewers deeply into the fractured psyche of a paranoid psychopath whose encounter with a prostitute who has an appetite for violent sex unleashes sadistic desires. The relationship with Joyce also triggers buried childhood memories of Lou violating a young girl when he was just a boy himself, following his own traumatic sexual abuse at the hands of his father’s spurned lover, the family’s housekeeper.

This interplay of subject positions, affective reactions, and ethical perspectives also works on more subtle levels to elicit discordant responses to the film. The perceptual and conceptual shift that is required to step aside from one’s customary subjective viewpoint in order to experience another person’s perspective does not automatically occur when voiceover narration tells a certain character’s story or the camera shoots from their point of view. Adopting someone else’s perspective takes an act of imagination and a reach of understanding, and the depth of engagement with screen characters is an important aspect of this process. In his work on character engagement, Murray Smith distinguishes between “imagining from the inside,” as though an experience happened to oneself or to a person or character with whom one has a close connection, and “imagining from the outside,” from a more impersonal, objective standpoint. [18] In concert with these imaginative acts of emplacement and position taking, Smith rightly notes that:

Spectators are also provided with visual and aural information more or less congruent with that available to characters and so are placed in a certain structure of alignment with characters. In addition, spectators evaluate characters on the basis of the values they embody and hence form more-or-less sympathetic or antipathetic allegiances with them. [19]

Allegiance, with its connotations of alliance and loyalty, refers to the audience’s ethical and ideological judgments concerning characters and their actions. [20] It is a cognitive evaluation that does not involve replicating the character’s emotions, though it may well include an affective aspect such as outrage or horror when the actions of a character like Lou are judged to be abhorrent. [21]

Smith’s work offers a means of analysing how the audience is positioned in relation to screen characters and how this affects ways of navigating through a film’s emotional terrain. For example, Smith would point out that the gut-wrenching scene in which Lou acts on his plan to kill Elmer and Joyce affords several levels of imaginative and experiential engagement with the characters. It is possible to imagine Lou Ford as we see him in the film or read about his actions in the novel, pounding his fist into the dough-like flesh of a woman’s abdomen or splitting her face as though smashing a pumpkin. One can also imagine being Lou in that situation, perhaps clinically detached or caught in the grip of adrenaline and psychotic compulsion as he pants with exertion, apologising to Joyce and telling her he loves her as he punches her; or one can imagine oneself in that situation, as the victim of violence experiencing a fist swinging toward her like a battering ram, or as the perpetrator, toeing her inert, crumpled body and peeling back an eyelid to check for vital signs.

The careful attention cognitive film scholars give to the audience’s shifting position in relation to characters and how this might inform reactions to the film differs markedly from the British Board of Film Classification’s summary of this scene, which states: “There is some focus on the ‘infliction of pain and injury,’ including a long sequence featuring a strong beating to a female character’s face. This is shown from the perpetrator’s point of view.” [22] As Smith’s approach reveals, the most viscerally violent scene in The Killer Inside Me effectively uses camera placement and sound perspective to harness acentral and central modes of imagination by alternately aligning the audience with the perspective of the killer, Lou, the victim, Joyce, and a tight, shaky third person point of view that locates the viewer at the scene of the crime. Far from unambiguously aligning the audience with the perpetrator, a scene like this demonstrates that part of film’s affective power lies in its singular ability to shift the audience between different perspectives so we experience a complex form of intersubjectivity.

Having examined how affective reactions to film are intrinsically connected both to the depth of character engagement and to judgments about characters’ actions, it is worth investigating more closely the components and underpinnings of the particular form of intersubjectivity that empathy can instantiate.

Mirroring Feelings: Empathy, Intersubjectivity and Embodied Imagination
Marco Iacoboni’s study of empathy finds that mirror neurons provide the neural foundation of motor mimicry and the biological mechanism by which people are able to gain insight into the subjective states of others. On this basis he claims neural mirroring facilitates social and altruistic conduct by making intersubjectivity possible. [23] Mirror neurons are activated when a person performs and observes an expression or action; furthermore, the way people develop a direct, experiential understanding of emotional states in others is also mediated by neural mirroring. [24] Smith argues that in film spectatorship, as in everyday life, “Mimicry of basic actions and emotions may scaffold the imagination, including the empathic imagination, of more elaborate, finely-specified states of mind.” [25] Thus, mirror neurons can be understood to be the biological locus of empathy and we might think of the affective mimicry they produce as a form of embodied imagination. [26] In his research into subjectivity Joel Krueger argues that if consciousness is genuinely embodied, “it should not come as a great surprise to find that the body’s expressive dynamics may in some cases be a critical part of our processes of thinking and feeling.” [27] This indicates that the role of the body in displaying and mimicking emotions and facial expressions, postures, and gestures makes subjective states available to others in ways that may activate the ethical and altruistic potential of empathy.

Cinema can play a role in engendering empathy and intersubjective understanding because as viewers tune in to their subjective responses and observe the expressive performances on screen, films augment attention to information that the body and the senses communicate about oneself and other people. However, The Killer Inside Me is a film in which the calculating central character patently lacks the capacity for empathy or for normal emotional expressivity and responsiveness. Since it is also a film in which antipathetic reactions, not empathy, dominate audience responses, its role in the remainder of this article will be to test prevailing understandings of empathy in relation to the work of three film theorists who push the boundaries of commonly accepted notions of cinematic empathy. Jennifer Barker’s phenomenological account of kinaesthetic empathy raises questions about whether there could be a form of empathy that consists only of affect, and whether it is possible to empathise with a non-sentient subject. Matthew Campora’s concept of epistemological empathy opens onto questions about affectless empathy through alignment with a cold-blooded killer’s experience. Finally, after reviewing what Amy Coplan calls an other-oriented, narrow conceptualisation of empathy, I will take up research in neuroscience that demonstrates a high degree of connectivity between affective and cognitive empathic processes and the regions of the brain to which they relate.

Aesthetic philosopher Alex Neill characterises empathy as “feeling with” a character in a way that “depends on our imagining what her beliefs, desires, and so on might be,” stating that “empathizing with another is at least partly a matter of understanding how things are with her.” [28] In both the novel and the film, The Killer Inside Me depicts Lou himself as attending thoughtfully to the plight of his victims and wondering how they must feel. Before he delivers what he believes is a deathblow to Joyce in the brutal scene described earlier, he tells her, “Hold on, it’s almost over.” She looks at Lou in shock and fear, whimpering in pain as we hear the sound of his gloved fist smacking into her face and a savage match on action shows her limp body hit the wall. In a moment marked by the sinister classical underscore, a mild smile crosses Lou’s otherwise expressionless face as he gazes fondly at Joyce. “I’m sorry, baby, I’m real sorry. I love you. Good bye,” Lou murmurs sorrowfully, yet the apparent sincerity of his words and even the fleeting moment when he seems touched by emotion is cancelled out by his callous actions. Despite what Lou’s words might indicate about his capacity for fellow feeling and his ability to understand how things are for his lover, his attack on Joyce is chilling in its deliberation and the crucial ethical link between empathy, ethics, and altruistic action is broken. A 2013 study led by neuroscientist Harma Meffert shows psychopathic criminals are not completely immune to empathy: they do not spontaneously experience empathy, yet psychopaths do have a distinctive capacity to curb or enable empathy at will in order to regulate vicarious responses to another person’s pleasure or pain. [29] Given that goal-directed self-interest can override the deliberate activation of empathic processes, this research suggests that empathy only effectively inhibits harmful, antisocial behaviour when it is an automatic response. [30]

Later in the narrative Lou again deliberately attempts to place himself in the position of one of his victims. In Thompson’s novel Lou reflects on his dying sweetheart, Amy Stanton, musing, “she hadn’t had a real breath now in almost thirty minutes, and it was hard as hell on her. I knew how hard it was and I held my own breath for a while because we’d always done things together.” [31] On screen the physiological mirroring is palpable as Lou’s chest, and perhaps also the spectator’s, moves in time with the sound of Amy’s labored breathing, but once more a slight smile plays at the corner of Lou’s mouth as he watches his fiancé clutch at her purse and lose control of her bladder as she draws her last gasp. Although Lou deliberately uses motor mimicry for the purpose of sharing Amy’s experience and understanding how it feels for her, it is not enough to produce the kind of vicarious affect through which empathy can inhibit harm. This lends support to Plantinga’s claim that motor mimicry and facial feedback “may affect mood or may contribute to the intensity of an emotion” but are not by themselves “sufficient to elicit a full-blown emotion.” [32]

In Tactile Eye, a phenomenological account of sensorial responses to the film experience, Barker argues for the broader significance of motor mimicry. Barker sees empathy as an affective relationship between the audience and the film, rather than the audience and screen characters, and she understands this responsiveness to cinema in terms of empathic muscular reciprocity. [33] Cinematic identification, according to Barker, differs from the affective mimicry that cues viewers to mirror a character’s emotions:

Viewers’ bodily responses might be mimicry in another sense: not mimicry of characters, but of the film itself. Perhaps viewers respond to whole cinematic structures – textural, spatial, or temporal structures, for example – that somehow resonate with their own textural, spatial and temporal structures. [34]

This is qualitatively different from the type of fellow feeling commonly associated with empathy: the shared feeling of what it is to be ambulant and oriented toward an object of interest and attention relates solely to the affective dimension of empathy without its cognitive, evaluative aspect.

Barker uses chase scenes in films to illustrate how what she calls “empathizing with the film’s body” stems from “the fact that the film performs basic actions with which we are familiar, such as seeking, fleeing, and chasing”; furthermore, she argues that the audience and the film “share a tendency toward forward movement and uprightness, for example, but other muscular habits and patterns as well.” [35] Tracking shots that enact the reciprocal gestures of fleeing and following are prominent examples in Barker’s analysis of how audiences empathise with the movement of the camera or “the film’s body.” [36] The scene near the end of the movie in which Lou chases a tramp whom he intends to frame for Amy’s murder exemplifies Barker’s concept of muscular or kinaesthetic empathy. Immediately after he kills Amy, Lou hands a vagrant who is attempting to blackmail him a wad of marked bills that he knows can be traced to the death of Elmer Conway. Lou lunges at the homeless man after staging Amy’s death so that it will look as though he caught the man attempting to rape her, but he slips in the pool of blood and urine surrounding Amy’s body. As the vagrant flees, Lou chases him down the street to the rapid tempo of a jangly country western tune that belongs in a different genre. This incongruously comedic tone is reinforced by visual allusions to Charlie Chaplin movies, with the hapless tramp pelting helter-skelter down the street, his hat toppling off as children look on in astonishment. Lou follows, hot on his heels, in a fast-cut sequence that alternates between tracking shots that follow behind the tramp, hand held shots that keep pace with him like a running mate, and reverse tracking shots that show Lou gaining on the vagrant, yelling “He’s a murderer – he killed Amy Stanton!” Barker is not wrong to say that a “hand-held tracking shot or a quickly edited flurry of shots might express the film’s urgency, uncertainty, or loss of control, just as unsteady movements on our part might do,” [37] but is it accurate to say that the audience empathises with the film at such moments? It seems more apt to say these camera movements and editing strategies induce a kind of embodied simulation that communicates a sense of the characters’ urgency and loss of control; hence, it is the characters’ desperation with which the audience may empathise.

In support of her claim that audiences empathise with the film, Barker writes that, “In chase films, the film is to our body like car is to driver: we live through it vicariously, allowing it to shape our own bodily image. It becomes our proxy, our vehicle for movement and action.” [38] To a degree, the audience’s physical relationship to cinema is indeed like the extension of perception that occurs during an embodiment relationship with technology. Yet it seems counterintuitive to say that drivers empathise with their vehicles or audiences empathise with films because cars and films lack emotions with which we can share a sense of fellow feeling. Given that empathy is an other-oriented emotional process, I would argue that it requires attunement to the emotional life of a sentient being. While it seems reductive to call kinaesthetic affiliation with the film’s formal elements empathy, Barker’s conception of the relationship between the spectator and the screen does point to the importance of an expanded concept of motor mimicry and its role in cinematic empathy.

Kinaesthetic empathy and motor mimicry are forms of affective mimicry that neuroscientists refer to as “embodied simulation”, which is “an automatic process of vicariously sharing or ‘resonating’ a bodily state of an observed agent.” [39] Embodied simulation is related to empathy via the function of mirror neurons; thus, it is also related to other mimetic reactions governed by mirror neurons that we would not normally term empathic, such as yawning when you see or imagine someone yawning. If the concept of empathy is limited to this kind of affective mimicry, and particularly if it is dissociated from character identification, it loses its emotive and ethical dimensions. To say that the moviegoer experiences “fellow-feeling with the film’s body” because “we and the film make sense of space by moving through it muscularly in similar ways and with similar attitudes” [40] denudes the concept of empathy by reducing it to a physiological act of mimesis.

While I agree that audiences share physical and sensory properties with film and experience kinetic alignment with camera movement or with techniques such as slow motion and racking focus, it may be a stretch to say audiences empathise with the film itself rather than with screen characters. In sum, the idea of kinaesthetic empathy is productive, but muscular mimicry and empathy cannot be conflated.

Affectless Empathy, Epistemological Alignment and Neural Connectivity
Campora is another film scholar who has considered how cinema’s textual and temporal structures relate to empathy. Campora coined the term “epistemological empathy” to refer to sharing the sources, structure, and nature of another person’s or character’s knowledge. He details how this works in Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000) when the film’s complex narrative structure establishes a sense of epistemological empathy between the audience and Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), a character with anterograde amnesia who has unwittingly become a serial killer during his quest to avenge his wife’s death:

This empathy is the result of the inversion of cause and effect created by the reverse-chronology of the film. The audience of Memento is placed in a similar epistemological relationship to the story world of the film as Leonard. They do not know the immediate causes of the situations Leonard finds himself in throughout the film, and neither does he. [41]

Campora’s account of how the protagonist and the audience share the struggle of piecing together meaning from the temporally fragmented narrative of Leonard’s experience in Memento is persuasive, yet if epistemological empathy is to be understood as a mode of identification predicated on shared, experiential knowledge, it is only partially applicable to The Killer Inside Me.

Again, the term empathy implies that we come to know and understand the character’s experience by sharing in their emotional life and while the audience does share the piecemeal nature of Leonard’s knowledge, we do not share his emotional need for vengeance. Similarly, The Killer Inside Me immerses audiences in the protagonist’s subjectivity by means of voiceover narration, point of view shooting, and internal subjective imagery in the form of hallucinations and flashbacks that reveal Lou’s childhood trauma to the audience when and as he remembers it, but this psychological insight and perspectival alignment does not necessarily entail emotional access or emotional affinity. For this reason I think the term epistemological alignment is a more accurate term than epistemological empathy.

However, like Memento, whose protagonist cannot remember he has become a murderer and is therefore incapable of revealing telltale signs of feelings such as guilt to the audience or to other characters, in The Killer Inside Me Lou’s affable façade is secured by his inability to feel emotions the way people ordinarily do. Consequently, because perceptual access to Lou’s own emotions is masked by the social charade that he enacts, mirroring his expressions cannot activate the neurological basis of empathy in the audience. As an actor, Casey Affleck maintains an implacable, genial demeanour throughout much of the film, except when expressing physical exertion or deliberately performing outrage or affection for the benefit of others. If members of the audience share in Lou’s dispassionate way of knowing and experiencing his world, and if the way we form this understanding is by feeling something of what it is like to be emotionally disengaged, then perhaps the term “epistemological empathy” or even “affectless empathy” is apt. Once more, this raises questions about what the term “empathy” can stretch to encompass.

It is certainly possible to feel coldly calculating, blank, disengaged, or numb and it is equally possible to align audiences with a character whose external appearance does not reveal true feelings, as films like The Killer Inside Me and television programs like Dexter demonstrate. It follows that it could be possible to empathise with an apparently emotionless person or character. This might approximate a form of affectless empathy if emotional dissociation itself is understood to be an affective state, as is the case for people who experience trauma, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Borderline Personality Disorder, and some mood disorders. [42] However, affective processes unfold in time and, as Fritz Breithaupt suggests in a model of empathy that he applies both to narrative fiction and to everyday scenarios, previous positive or negative experiences of a person influ­ence one’s capacity to empathise with them because “the brain reacts with less empathy when the observed person in pain has previously been perceived as being unfair.” [43] If we apply Breithaupt’s insights to film characters it seems improbable that viewers reacting with condemnation for Lou or concern for his victims when he beats Joyce and burns the homeless man’s hand will then feel coldly detached much later in the film, feeling with Lou as he chases the homeless man and frames him for Amy’s death. In short, members of the film audience may come to understand how Lou feels, but they would be likely to feel quite differently themselves. [44] While the negative experience early in the narrative is likely to override empathy for Lou as the film progresses, by the end of The Killer Inside Me the audience has experienced sustained perspectival alignment with a villainous character. In such cases, according to Breithaupt, “Legitimization of choosing the villain’s side can also take place, against moral feeling,” at least to the extent that “one may empathize with the villain’s attempt to escape punishment.” [45] This complex interplay of alignment, allegiance and affect goes some way to explaining strong and sometimes contradictory responses to the film and its characters.

Scholars such as Joel Krueger have questioned whether affectivity or other-directed feeling actually needs to be present for empathy to occur, arguing that it may not be a necessary condition for empathic understanding even though it is an integral part of the social relations that underpin empathy. [46] Recent scientific advances provide reasons to consider whether Krueger may be right and whether it may soon be necessary to revisit the issues to do with sentience, technologically mediated bodies, and empathy that I raised earlier in relation to Barker’s work. For instance, Ros Picard’s work on “affective computing” involves programming robots to recognise and mirror the emotions of the humans they interact with, or to respond by expressing appropriately congruent emotions; meanwhile, other researchers are “attempting to model artificial mirror neurons in robots.” [47] To tap into the ethical aspect of empathy and emotion, roboticists are even working to construct “moral machines”, claiming that “Traditional symbol-processing approaches to artificial intelligence and more recent approaches based on artificial neural nets and embodied cognition could provide technologies supporting functional morality.” [48] This work in affective computing and robotics has a kinship with cinema that extends beyond science fiction scenarios. Like the experiments with emotionally perceptive and responsive technologies, film also records audiovisual information about human emotions and projects it back to us for the purpose of both expressing and eliciting emotion.

Having explored the limits of empathy by examining perspectives that focus on affect (Barker’s muscular empathy and the concept of embodied imagination) and, at the other extreme, on cognition (Campora’s epistemological empathy and the concept of affectless empathy), I now want to look more closely at the relationship between affect and cognition in ordinary experiences of empathy.

Philosopher and film scholar Amy Coplan makes a critical distinction between self-oriented perspective taking and other-oriented perspective taking that contrasts with the ways cognitive film theorists describe the imaginative processes involved in empathy. [49] Coplan defines “empathy proper” as an “imaginative process through which an observer simulates another person’s situated psychological states while maintaining clear self–other differentiation”. [50] Imagining oneself in someone else’s situation is the “central” or “personal” form of imagining that many film theorists associate with feelings of empathy, yet Coplan calls this “pseudo-empathy” and restricts “genuine empathy” to other-oriented perspective taking. Self-oriented perspective taking does not, according to Coplan, afford the ethical benefits of genuine empathy because it can either lead to misunderstandings based on false assumptions about interpersonal similarity or it can result in being overwhelmed by one’s feelings. [51] For example, centrally imagining yourself feeling what Joyce or Amy feel in The Killer Inside Me could lead to aversive responses triggered by personal distress, as was the case for Cook, the reviewer who left the cinema because the violence made her feel sickened and faint. [52] This raises the important point that experiencing empathy does not necessarily transform people’s perspectives and lead to positive behavioural change: indeed, affective reactions may in some circumstances interfere with the clear conceptualisation of another person’s plight or with ethical, altruistic responses to their situation.

Coplan’s critique is insightful, though I do have reservations about defining empathy in a way that implicitly privileges imagination over affect. Such an approach may rest on assumptions about the need to be impersonal, impartial, or objective in ethical reasoning, whereas emotions – as argued above – can play a productive role in cognitively processing matters of value and salience and vicarious affect can serve empathy’s capacity to inhibit harm. While Coplan emphasises the mental process of imagining another person’s perspective rather than sharing their feelings, she does acknowledge the importance of affect. She presents an informative overview of research that divides the neural processes involved in empathy into affective empathy, which she calls a “low-level system involving emotional matching or mirroring” and cognitive empathy, which she refers to as a “more advanced system involving perspective taking and the cognitive understanding of others’ mental states.” [53]

In parallel with Coplan’s differentiation between affective and cognitive empathy, Breithaupt makes a distinction between “hot” empathy – which entails “the simulation of the experience or emo­tion of the other within one’s neuronal network” – and “cold” empathy, which leads to understanding another person’s “mind, reasoning or emotions, without simulating the experience in one’s own neuronal networks.” [54] Breithaupt’s model of empathy analyses how factors like forming moral judgments about a person’s actions, taking sides in a dispute, and learning from positive or negative experiences can block or enable empathy and modulate its cultural impact. The experiential qualities of “hot empathy” (which is similar to what I have termed embodied imagination or central imagining) prolong and intensify side-taking, whereas “cold” empathy or affectless empathy involves the conceptual reconstruction of a causal sequence of events in order to imagine how another subject thinks and feels. [55] Affective empathy or hot empathy can lead to the experience of emotional contagion, whereas cognitive empathy or cold empathy is less likely to do so.

Because the act of mirroring can generate a weak copy of the emotion that is being mimicked, it is possible to “catch” another person’s emotional state. According to Coplan, on a physiological level the automatic, unconscious process of emotional contagion “occurs in the absence of any cognitive evaluation” [56] and does not offer the kind of intersubjective understanding or insight into another person that characterises genuine empathy. In Coplan’s view, the somatic mirroring involved in affective empathy is not “empathy proper” because the subject is not necessarily aware that what they are feeling mirrors the emotional state of another person: they experience the emotion as their own. Two objections might be raised in relation to Coplan’s theory: first, even if there is no conscious process of rational deliberation involved, emotions are preceded by some kind of appraisal, however rapid and automatic it may be; second, recent research in neuroscience provides evidence that affective mimicry is much more tightly interconnected with cognition and with empathic understanding of other people’s emotional states than previously thought.

In 2013 neuroscientist Gal Raz and colleagues published the results of a study of viewers’ empathic responses to personal loss in feature films. They found that when viewers experience empathy for screen characters, there is a high degree of neural connectivity between the regions of the brain associated with “mentalising” – the cognitive aspect of empathy – and the regions that govern “embodied simulation,” the affective aspect of empathy. [57] The authors understand empathy as the interconnected processes of embodied simulation and mentalising that foster understanding and sharing of another person’s emotional state. [58] They do not see cognition as an antonym of the term affective; instead, their study shows the two are inseparable and function as networks. [59]

The study of modes of cinematic empathy found that both cognition and affective mimicry can drive the intersubjective sharing of emotions and film viewers switch flexibly between more cognitively regulated modes of engagement and more affective modes of empathy. [60] For example, in Sophie’s Choice (Alan J. Pakula, 1982), affective mimicry is activated when Sophie (Meryl Streep) is forced by a Nazi to either relinquish both her children to the gas chamber or choose one to survive. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) brain scans showed that when viewing this scene, spectators experienced “automatic emotional resonance” [61] and adopted a “‘first-person’ involvement” in the character’s choice. [62] The study also reinforced the fact that familiarity is an important factor that affects empathy in that responding to the feelings of a stranger involves mentalising to a greater extent than the tendency to share the emotions of a friend. [63] In addition to close familiarity with the protagonist, Sophie, film style affects empathic reactions, too. The harrowing scene in which Sophie makes her impossible choice show’s Streep’s expressive face in close-up, overwhelmed by anguish and shock, her mouth agape as her daughter is dragged away screaming in terror. This close-up provides a strong cue for affective mimicry, which in turn triggers cognitive processing of Sophie’s emotional experience.

Whereas cognitivists such as Coplan privilege the conceptual processes involved in empathy and phenomenologists like Barker emphasise perception and affect, the “Modes of Cinematic Empathy” neuroscience study found that dynamic connectivity between the mentalising and affective regions of the brain intensifies during empathic responses to film. [64] This unprecedented finding means that irrespective of whether affect or cognition dominates empathic engagement in response to a particular event or scene, the emotional sharing involved in empathy is based on the interplay between affective mimicry and cognitive-empathic processes to a greater extent than was previously thought. [65] Separating cognitive position taking from the affective, mimetic components of empathy – as we see Lou himself do in The Killer Inside Me when he says he is sorry for Joyce without feeling remorse or when he mimics Amy’s laboured breathing without any thought of alleviating her suffering – points to an impoverished understanding of empathy. Furthermore, I have argued that when these aspects of empathy are in tension rather than in interplay with each other, the spectator’s emotional and conceptual engagement with film can be derailed.

It may be inaccurate to call kinaesthetic and epistemological affiliation with a film’s formal elements empathy, but Barker and Campora’s conceptions of the relationship between the spectator and the screen illuminate how cinema facilitates intersubjective understanding by enabling audiences to share ways of being in, moving through, and knowing the world in an experiential manner. Irrespective of whether we term it empathy, it is possible to respond to something like restricted narration, disjunctive editing, musical rhythms, or camera motion with somatic mirroring or epistemological alignment that may, in turn, “scaffold the imagination” and facilitate other dimensions of intersubjective understanding, including sympathy. [66]

Breithaupt notes that the commonplace association between empathy and altruism occurs because empathy usually corresponds to making moral judgments in someone’s favour and taking their side, yet he argues is possible to empathise with someone for whom one feels no sympathy: “Psychopaths, for example, do not seem to lack the ability to have theory of mind [mentalising or imaginatively simulating someone’s subjective state], but they do not ‘care’ for the other”; that is, they do not combine cognitive insight with sympathetic affect. [67] Uncoupling empathy from ethical allegiance goes some way to explaining how viewers might feel moral condemnation for Lou’s brutality while empathising with his desire to escape punishment. Furthermore, Breithaupt’s point about psychopaths, which explains the chilling combination of concern and callousness exhibited by Lou in The Killer Inside Me, is supported by research that indicates psychopaths aren’t incapable of empathy – they just excel at blocking the amygdala’s capacity to inhibit aggressive behaviour by associating it with feelings of the victim’s pain and fear. [68] Breithaupt’s claim that psychopaths experience “cold empathy” or insight into other people’s experience without actually feeling for or caring about them suggests that affectless empathy is an apt descriptor for the experience of someone for whom the cognitive and affective components of emotional experience have been rent asunder, leading to a dispassionate appraisal of others’ suffering and a detached attunement to their feelings. For Lou Ford, derailing the interplay between affective and cognitive empathic processes may be just what it feels like to have the killer inside.


[1] Psychopathy is a personality disorder associated with diminished empathy and elevated aggression: where the vicarious experience of victims’ negative emotional reactions normally inhibits aggression, psychopaths’ violent, antisocial behaviour is related to their limited ability to empathise with those they harm. See Harma Meffert, Valeria Gazzola, Johan A. den Boer, Arnold A. J. Bartels and Christian Keysers, “Reduced Spontaneous but Relatively Normal Deliberate Vicarious Representations in Psychopathy”, Brain, 136.8 (2013), p. 2550–51.

[2] Jim Thompson’s novel was first published by Fawcett in 1952. The edition used in this article is Vintage Books, 1991. The novel is dominated by interior monologues and descriptions of the subjective state of the central character to the extent that it was long considered a challenge to film. An earlier version was filmed in 1976, directed by Burt Kennedy.

[3] Carl Plantinga, Moving Viewers: American Film and the Spectator’s Experience, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), p. 99.

[4] Boris Bernhardt and Tania Singer, “The Neural Basis of Empathy”, Annual Review of Neuroscience, 35 (2012), p. 3.

[5] Empathy is not necessarily linked to prosocial behaviour. Fritz Breithaupt points out that in some instances the kind of insight and understanding that empathy provides could actually be used to figure out how to compete with a person or, for some individuals, feeling another’s suffering might augment a sense of schadenfreude. See Fritz Breithaupt, “A Three-Person Model of Empathy” Emotion Review 4.1 (2012), p. 88. Suzanne Keene is another researcher who does not take the empathy-altruism hypothesis for granted as she questions how empathy might function in relation to narrative fiction and whether reading novels (or, I would add, watching films) necessarily elicits empathy for fictional characters and their real-world counterparts in ways that encourage prosocial action and virtuous conduct. See Suzanne Keene, “A Theory of Narrative Empathy”, Narrative, 14. 3 (2006), p. 224.

[6] Samantha Lindop, “The Homme Fatal and the Subversion of Suspicion in Mr Brooks and The Killer Inside Me”, M/C: Journal of Media and Culture, 15.1 (2012), <>.

[7] Brian McFarlane and Deane Williams, Michael Winterbottom (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009), p. 46.

[8] Peter Bradshaw, “The Killer Inside Me”, The Guardian, 3 June 2010, <>.

[9] Rachel Cook, “Michael Winterbottom on The Killer Inside Me”, The Observer, 23 May 2010, <>.

[10] Ibid.

[11] British Board of Film Classification, “The Killer Inside Me”, 2010, <>. Thanks to Stefano Baschiera for directing me to the BBFC and discussing the film with me at the 2013 SCMS conference, where an earlier version of this paper was presented.

[12] Jack Katz, How Emotions Work, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), p. 7.

[13] See Carl Plantinga, “Disgusted at the Movies”, Film Studies, 8 (2006), pp. 81–92; and Julian Hanich, “Dis/liking Disgust: The Revulsion Experience at the Movies”, New Review of Film and Television Studies, 7.3 (2009), pp. 293–309.

[14] A representative IMDB review by a viewer in Copenhagen grapples with complex and ambivalent viewing position that the film creates for its audience: “How on earth did anyone manage to make me feel sympathetic towards the main character, who’s an occasionally psychotic, cynical and brutal sadist? […] Now, it’s not an uncommon ambition for a director to construct ‘bad’ characters with compelling sides that awaken your sympathy, but this is beyond my comprehension. He’s not a character you feel sorry for, he’s not playing the victim anywhere, he’s a sadist out of control. He plans things carefully to serve his own purposes and explodes in violence. Still, you want him to make it. You are left for hours thinking and discussing why on earth you found yourself supporting this character. Why would anybody?!? I don’t know how this was done, it is, as I said, disturbing” (“signemarie” 17 July 2010).

[15] Noël Carroll, “Film, Emotion and Genre”, in Philosophy of Film and Motion Pictures: An Anthology, Noël Carroll and Jinhee Choi (eds.), (Boston: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), p. 224.

[16] Bradshaw, <>.

[17] Cook, <>.

[18] Murray Smith, “Imagining From the Inside”, in Film Theory and Philosophy, Murray Smith and Richard Allen (eds.), (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), p. 413.

[19] Murray Smith, “Altered States: Character and Emotional Response in the Cinema”, Cinema Journal, 33.4 (1994), p. 35.

[20] Ibid., p. 41.

[21] Smith, Engaging Characters: Fiction, Emotion and the Cinema, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), p. 85.

[22] British Board of Film Classification, <>.

[23] Marco Iacoboni, “Imitation, Empathy, and Mirror Neurons”, Annual Review of Psychology, 60 (2009), p. 666.

[24] Murray Smith, “Empathy and the Extended Mind”, History and Philosophy of Art Seminar, (University of Kent, 2007), p. 4.

[25] Ibid., p. 5.

[26] I have borrowed the term “embodied imagination” from Vivian Sobchack’s essay, “Is Any Body Home? Embodied Imagination and Visible Evictions”, first published in Home, Exile, Homeland: Film, Media, and the Politics of Place, Hamid Naficy (ed.), (New York: Routledge, 1999), 45–62; subsequently revised and reprinted in Sobchack’s Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004). Here I use the term to suggest that the affective processes of empathy interplay with a species of imaginative activity to generate new ideas or understandings of other people’s states through embodied knowledge, as opposed to merely reproducing sensory experiences.

[27] Joel Krueger, “Seeing Mind in Action”, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, special issue: “Empathy and Intersubjectivity”, Rasmus Thybo Jensen and Dermot Moran (eds.), 11.2 (2012), p. 169.

[28] Alex Neill, “Empathy and (Film) Fiction”, in Philosophy of Film and Motion Pictures: An Anthology, Noël Carroll and Jinhee Choi (eds.), (Boston: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), p. 252.

[29] Meffert et al., “Vicarious Representations in Psychopathy”, p. 2551.

[30] Ibid., p. 2560.

[31] Jim Thompson, The Killer Inside Me, (New York: Vintage Books, 1991), p. 185.

[32] Plantinga, “Moving Viewers”, p. 126.

[33] Jennifer Barker, The Tactile Eye: Touch and the Cinematic Experience. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), p. 73.

[34] Ibid., p. 74.

[35] Ibid., p. 109.

[36] Sobchack’s concept of the “film’s body,” as taken up in Barker’s work, rests on the sense that the film is a perceiving subject with its own intentionality and its own mode of movement and expression. This body includes cinematic technology such as the cameras, microphones, cranes, and editing suites that enable the film to look at things, listen to things, and move through space and time; it also includes the bodies of the filmmakers and audience members, as each engages with these technologies and contributes to the construction of meaning. See Vivian Sobchack, Address of the Eye: A Phenomenology of Film Experience, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), pp. 203–5.

[37] Barker, Tactile Eye, p. 109.

[38] Ibid., p. 110.

[39] Gal Raz, Yael Jacob, Tal Gonen, Yonatan Winetraub, Eyal Soreq, Tamar Flash, and Talma Hendler, “Cry For Her or Cry With Her: Context-Dependent Dissociation of Two Modes of Cinematic Empathy Reflected in Network Cohesion Dynamics”, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, (advanced access 24 April, 2013), p. 4. When discussing kinaesthetic empathy or embodied simulation, film theorists tend to favour the terms “affective mimicry,” which refers to an involuntary neuromuscular response in which one perceives and reflexively simulates another person’s emotion (Smith, Engaging Characters, p. 99) or “motor mimicry,” which is “a weak or partial simulation of someone else’s physical motion” or of their facial and body movements (see Julian Hanich, Cinematic Emotion in Horror Films and Thrillers: The Aesthetic Paradox of Pleasurable Fear, (New York: Routledge, 2010), p. 182).

[40] Barker, Tactile Eye, pp. 75–76.

[41] Matthew Campora, “Reverse Chronology in Memento: A Response to David Bordwell”, Screen Culture: Ideas and Intuitions about Screen Cultures and Futures, 20 August 2010, <>.

[42] Norah Feeny, Lori A. Zoellner, and Edna B. Foa, “Anger, Dissociation, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Among Female Assault Victims”, Journal of Traumatic Stress 13.1 (2000), pp. 89–100; and

H. Glover, “Emotional Numbing: A Possible Endorphin-Mediated Phenomenon Associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders and Other Allied Psychopathologic States”, Journal of Traumatic Stress, 5 (1992), pp. 643–76.

[43] Breithaupt, “Model of Empathy”, p. 86.

[44] Thanks to Jens Eder for developing this point in response to an earlier draft of this article.

[45] Breithaupt, “Model of Empathy”, p. 89.

[46] Joel Krueger, “Empathy”, in Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Social Sciences, Byron Kaldis (ed.), (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2013), vol. 5, pp. 247–50.

[47] See Rosalind Picard, Affective Computing, (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997); and Colin Allen and Wendell Wallach, “Moral Machines: Contradictions in Terms or Abdication of Human Responsibility?” in Robot Ethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Robotics, Patrick Lin, Keith Abney, and George A. Bekey (eds.), (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2012), p. 75.

[48] Wallach and Allen, “Moral Machines”, p. 58.

[49] Coplan’s concept of empathy owes much to Smith’s work on central imagining or imagining from the inside. She argues that the imaginative simulation of another person’s subjective state “can provide experiential understanding of another person, or understanding of another from the ‘inside’”; however, Coplan stipulates the importance of maintaining a distinct sense of self–other differentiation, stating that “Perspective taking requires mental flexibility and relies on regulatory mechanisms to modulate our level of affective arousal and suppress our own perspectives” (see Amy Coplan, “Will the Real Empathy Please Stand Up? A Case For A Narrow Conceptualization”, The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 49 (2011), p.58). An important difference between Smith’s and Coplan’s positions is that Coplan excludes self-oriented perspectives from her definition of empathy, whereas Smith argues that during the empathic process of central imagining, “either we ourselves or another person (or character) can be the ‘protagonist’ of our imaginative project” (Murray Smith, “Imagining from the Inside”, in Film Theory and Philosophy, Murray Smith and Richard Allen (eds.), (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), p. 413). On this point, Smith is more persuasive.

[50] Coplan, “Real Empathy”, p. 44.

[51] Ibid., p. 57.

[52] Keene argues “Empathy that leads to sympathy is by definition other-directed, whereas an overaroused empathic response that creates personal distress (self-oriented and aversive) causes a turning-away from the provocative condition of the other” (“A Theory of Narrative Empathy”, p. 208). Empirical research substantiates Keene’s argument: “Empathy may also induce aversive distress responses that can lead to withdrawal behavior motivated by the desire to protect oneself from negative emotions” (Boris Bernhardt and Tania Singer, “Neural Basis of Empathy”, p. 3). See also, Nancy Eisenberg, “Emotion, Regulation, and Moral Development”, Annual Review of Psychology 51 (2000):  p. 674.

[53] Coplan, “Real Empathy”, p. 51.

[54] Breithaupt, “Model of Empathy”, p. 88.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Coplan, “Real Empathy”, p. 46.

[57] Neural connectivity is the coordination of physiological systems via interactions of specialised neural circuits. Mentalising is the ability to imaginatively represent and think about another person’s feelings by attributing beliefs and desires to them, which is an ability neuroscientists refer to as “Theory of Mind” or ToM (Raz et al., “Modes of Cinematic Empathy”, p. 4). Embodied simulation is an involuntary process in which mirror neurons and parts of the brain that govern interoceptive awareness stimulate affective mimicry (visceromotor mirroring of another person’s emotional state) when anticipating or observing someone’s expression and bodily postures and gestures (Raz et al., “Modes of Cinematic Empathy”, p. 4). Interoceptive awareness refers to nerve receptors that register subjective feelings of one’s internal bodily state, visceral reactions, and sense of wellbeing.

[58] Raz et al., “Modes of Cinematic Empathy”, p. 3.

[59] Ibid., p. 5–6.

[60] Ibid., p. 22.

[61] Ibid., p. 19.

[62] Ibid., p. 22 and p. 20. Other studies have also examined responsive empathy in relation to Sophie’s Choice. See Carolyn Adams-Price, Jim Codling, Mark Goodman, Kevin Kern, C.M. Kleinmann, Bonnie Oppenheimer, Rebekah Ray, Porter Roberts and Pete Smith, “Empathic Resonance and Meryl Streep”, Journal of Popular Film & Television, 34.3 (2006), pp. 98–106.

[63] Raz et al., “Modes of Cinematic Empathy”, p. 19.

[64] Ibid., p. 17.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Smith, “Empathy and the Extended Mind”, p. 5.

[67] Breithaupt, “Model of Empathy”, p. 88.

[68] Meffert et al., “Vicarious Representations in Psychopathy”, p. 2559.

© Jane Stadler and Screening the Past August 2013

About the Author

Jane Stadler

About the Author

Jane Stadler

Jane Stadler is Senior Lecturer in Film and Television at the School of English, Media Studies and Art History, University of Queensland. She is co-editor of Pockets of Change (with Hopton, Atkins, and Mitchell, 2011), author of Pulling Focus (2008), Screen Media (with McWilliam, 2009), Media and Society (with O’Shaughnessy, 2012), and articles on phenomenology, ethics, aesthetics, identity, and landscape.View all posts by Jane Stadler →