Humanities in film: a reflection on cinematic characters' grief responses.

Date of Award


Document Type



Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Letters


This dissertation joins a vibrant conversation in an interdisciplinary study encompassing disciplines from the humanities and social sciences about the challenging nature of grief responses as well as discussions about self-awareness and self-actualization. Using eight films, it explores how cinematic forgiving characters accept themselves and reach self-actualization and how cinematic avenging characters are stuck in the anger stage of Kubler-Ross' grief cycle. Collectively, the films articulate how complicated grief can be. From this perspective, the project demonstrates a new application of social cognition theorist John Bargh's automatic discourse theory as applied to examine each cinematic character's respective behavior. This dissertation expands the range of grief responses making them more dynamic, as a form of cultural currency, that can be better understood by applying Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory. Maslow's self-actualization process helps to explore, in particular, why cinematic forgiving characters possess the qualities necessary to grow and cinematic avenging characters do not. As an advocacy piece and didactic tool, the selections from the films featured aim to gently assist the readers through the grief processes, when applicable.