If you know me well, you’ll know that I’m crazy about crime shows. These days I’m hooked on The Mentalist – or more specifically, I’m hooked on Patrick Jane, the oh-so charming main character. One thing I noticed while watching this show is that my favorite episodes are when Patrick Jane gets hurt.
And it’s not just this show. Another example would be when Frodo gets stabbed in Lord of the Rings – this was one of my favorite scenes too.
I know, sounds morbid.
This got me wondering. Why do I enjoy it when favorite characters get hurt?
Here’s one theory I came up with as to why we (I) experience thrill when the protagonist is placed in danger:
A protagonist’s appeal is amplified during a near-death scene (You know he/she will be OK in the end, but the other characters don’t know it). These scenes allow us to observe how other characters react to this high stress situation. Some will break into tears or stare into space, totally shocked by the possibility of losing the protagonist, and others might express their desperation by yelling out for help – all of which demonstrates that the protagonist is darn important and special to everyone.
This leads to the next question: Why do we love it when the wounded protagonist gets all the attention?
It’s possible that when we’re invested emotionally in a protagonist, we end up living vicariously through him/her. The thrill we feel when we watch a protagonist severely injured might then be akin to watching our own fake funeral. You get to see characters suddenly letting down their guard, confessing how much they loved you but never had the chance to say so; you see what a significant role you played in their lives as grief/panic/fear clouds their expressions. All the characters realize through this how important you are to them.
In other words, readers/audience get a false ego boost by living vicariously through an injured protagonist. Yes, we understand on a conscious level that what we’re watching or reading isn’t real, but we’re still able to indulge in the emotional reactions as though it were actually happening to us. And that’s why we LOVE it when protagonists are placed in danger.
So this is my theory – what’s yours?
What other shows/films/books depicts thrilling near-death scenes?