I Dare You…

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | August 30, 2009 12:04 am

..to watch the final scene from Cinema Paradiso without breaking into a smile.  Sure it’s possible, but assuredly not easy.

Any scientific guesses as to why?


Comments (17)

  1. Pete

    Can hormones shift in concentration from visual stimuli?

  2. And audio stimuli. The music is key to our emotional reaction to this clip.

  3. Adam

    What struck me most was the absolutely perfect music choice.

  4. Adam

    Heh, I should have refreshed before adding my comment. I agree totally with Pascal.

  5. Egaeus

    Done. I didn’t even have to try not to smile, as I saw nothing to smile about. I even watched it full screen.

    If your curious about what went through my head as I watched it it was something like as follows:

    Scenes of people kissing from old movies…ok….
    Who’s that guy in the seat?
    More kissing….
    Why is that guy so uncomfortable in his seat?
    What music is this? It’s familiar, but I don’t know the name of it.
    More kissing…whoa, big lip close up….
    More guy squirming.
    More kissing…Is this really supposed to make me smile?
    Why is he smiling? Did I miss something?

    What do I win? Curmudgeon of the year or something?

  6. Pete, Adam, and Pascal are all onto something, but there’s more going on in our bodies as well…

    Egaeus, despite your steadfastedness, I enjoyed reading your reaction. 😉

  7. Sorbet

    I did not smile. In fact I felt sad since it was nostalgic and spoke of a time that won’t ever come again.

  8. I smiled at 1:38 because it pictured someone throwing a woman out of bed and that amused me.

    Though I should confess that I noticed that at the start I inadvertantly was pressing my hand to my lips. Although that could have been to rest my head, it’s also plausible that I was either mimicking the main actor of the film, or was surrogate kissing my own hand.

  9. I noticed that at the start I inadvertantly was pressing my hand to my lips

    That’s a very interesting observation. Could be by chance, but there certainly may be more involved…

  10. I immediately stopped doing it once I realized what it might mean.

    The only other possibility that seems introspectively plausible to me is what one might call “emote-censoring”, i.e., instinctively attempting to cover up facial expressions so as not to a) cause other people distress in conversation, and b) not embaress oneself by giving too much information away. (Is there a real word for this behavior besides the one I just made up?)

  11. Mark F.

    Well if you ever watch this scene within the context of the whole movie, you’ll more likely have a tear or two come to your eyes rather than a smile. Cinema Paradiso is one of my all-time favorite movies. I highly recommend it for those who’ve never seen it. If you have the time and/or inclination watch the original theatrical release and then watch the director’s cut. Yea, yea I know, director’s cuts often are more hype than anything else, but in this case, big swaths of the original film were removed for the theatrical release. When they are put back in, it COMPLETELY changes the arc of the movie. It’s the only time I’ve seen a director’s cut do that in a movie.

  12. I’ve only seen the director’s cut and when I heard what they removed, I was very surprised. Definitely opt for that if renting the film. CM and I agree this is the best kissing film of all time.

  13. Allan

    I’m not sure it takes a lot of science to figure out our attraction to these images.

    I collect movie memorabilia, and the most common image on lobby cards, one-sheets, and stills, not to mention movie trailers, are scenes of a man and a woman kissing, about to kiss, or with their faces very close.

    I have dozens of these two-shots on lobby cards alone and it was no passing fad. The images persist from the beginning of film promotional materials until today. Those sales merchants know we are attracted to romantic or sexual intimacy. They aim right for the driving forces that get people to the box office.

    The movies allow us to be voyeurs and vicarious participants at the same time. The experience is immediate, yet evokes our own past experiences, especially in a compilation such as this, an effect enhanced by the music.

    But boiled down, the images speak to our need for love, romance, sex and intimacy.

  14. Mark F.

    Personally, I preferred the theatrical release of Cinema Paradiso. It has a much greater emotional impact compared to the director’s cut because of how the movie plays out with the missing material left out. I’ve always suggested that people see both versions, and to see the theatrical release first.

    But that’s just my opinion.

  15. Pete, Adam, and Pascal are all onto something, but there’s more going on in our bodies as well…

    If the answer has something to do about the science of kissing, you are the expert, and I can not wait to read your thoughts.

    As for audio however, let me try to explain, with the best English I am able of, what I meant. Any video-sound editing, be it in movies, television or even the simplest Youtube productions, has the potential to elicit an emotional reaction: laugh, or tears. But the magic is in the mixing of the audio and the pictures: because the same pictures, without the music, would not have that emotional effect.

    In some cases, it takes the perfect choice of music to create that magic. But surprisingly, with some types of video products, many musics can elicit the same emotional feeling, and I am thinking here of sound-image editing that people can do on their PC with their travel pictures or family pictures. If you show to other people your travel pictures in sequence, it will be dull for a lot of them. If the same pictures are showed with a nice music editing, it suddenly gain an entirely new emotional value.

    Without any doubt, with Cinéma Paradiso, we are many, many steps ahead of this Youtube-kind-editing. But the basics are very similar.

  16. Erasmussimo

    I had the same reaction as Egaeus. Now I’m worried that I must be sick or something. I’m still trying to figure out what it was all about.

    And no, I’m not going to ask a question about why people are so fond of pressing lips together. I’m not THAT far out…

  17. Ian

    I haven’t seen the movie for a while now, but I can remember that scene. For me, what made me smile was the gift itself, not the kisses.

    Despite the censorship that was being exercised in that Italian town, the older man was keeping the clips of romance and had collated them. For the viewer the timing was right, he was older, supposedly wiser, and had lost his sense of romance.

    It’s the gift.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.


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