Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The ghost of the audience

Ever since I first watched "Ghost", I've been planning to write about a unique aspect of the movie. "Ghost" was such a hit that even Paramount was surprised and asked moviegoers who had seen the movie several times to get in touch. For me, the formula of this feature film's success is quite clear.

The secret dream of any spectator or reader is to get inside the story and lead it to the desired ending. There are many times when, while watching a movie or even reading a book, we feel the urge to speak to a character. To tell him or her that he or she is falling into a trap. Or even to materialize in the plot and beat up the villain. But there is nothing we can do. We are mere watchers, invisible, unable to cross the barrier that separates our reality from the fiction we're watching. "Ghost" fulfills this impossible dream through its main character.

When Sam (Patrick Swaize) dies and becomes a ghost in the movie, he turns into a mere watcher just like us. He sees everything, he makes comments, he complains, he gets mad, but he can do nothing about it. At that moment, a connection is established between him and the audience. Sam becomes an agent for the spectators in the movie, one of us, anxious to communicate with the other characters and prevent his wife Molly (Demi Moore) from being deceived by her false friend Carl (Tony Goodwin). But, just like us, he can only watch and do nothing.

But, by the time Sam's ghost is able to make contact and interfere with the story, it's as if each and every one of us were there, participating in the movie, helping Molly and leading the plot to a happy ending. From that moment on, we get immense pleasure out of each of Sam's triumphs, as if we had been responsible for them. This feeling that we are conducting the story is reinforced by the fact that, once Sam takes control of the situation, everything happens exactly like we expect. Not all movies are like this.

In "Heaven Can Wait", we experience the frustration of Joe Pendleton's amnesia soon after he takes the body of an injured player. The movie ends with him becoming another person, not remembering his girlfriend when he sees her. It's not the ending we hoped for, even if it hints at an eventual resolution. Just like we wish Jenny would not die at the end of "Love Story" or that Romeo and Juliet would live happily ever after. "Ghost" provides the audience with an almost orgasmic sense of fulfillment by giving it exactly what it wants from a certain moment until the end.

I'm not a movie expert. I don't think I'd be a good movie critic. But there are a few movies that I consider perfect in terms of entertainment and "Ghost" is one of them.

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