[Spoiler alert: Scene description from the movie “Double life of Veronique” ]

In this post, I describe few theories on Identification by Berys Gaut, how they associate with my first hand experience and then I examine how the theory is applicable to HCI, including drawing elements from Kickasola’s interpretation/description of the movie ‘Double life of Veronique’


Berys Gaut says

(A). “The act of identification is aspectual. To identify perceptually with a character is to imagine seeing from his point of view” (pg. 263)

(B). “Empathy requires the viewer actually to feel what a person (or a character fictionally) feels” (pg. 264)

(C). “And while the point-of-view shot may have some tendency to get us affectively to identify with the character concerned, it is not as effective in this respect as the reaction shot, and the latter is vastly more effective in engaging our empathy and sympathy” (pg. 265)

I want to give a first hand experience relevant to these concepts which I had during the ‘Double life of Veronique’ movie.

It is the scene where Veronique runs back after meeting with Alexandre. When she runs back, she stumbles/skids/falls down on the footpath.

At this point of scene, I felt literally falling down because my foot moved away from me at this scene. According to (B), it seems I had empathized with her in this scene.

However, in other scenes where she was crying or jumping, I was not doing/exhibiting the corresponding feeling. May be (A) accounts for me empathizing on selective aspects with her. This leads to me question what was the aspect I share with the character to identify myself with her and empathize with her. Gaut mentions several examples of identification aspects such as perceptual (seeing from her POV), affective (imagining her feeling), motivationally (imagine what the character wants), epistemically (imagine believing what the character believes), etc.

Since my feeling was highly perceptual(because my feet moved and I was about fall down), it must have been a POV shot to create identification. However this was a second-person view shot, which makes it interesting and kind of goes back to theory (C) why the scene was still powerful enough to make me feel fall down.

The question still remains for me what was the tying aspect between me and the character which evoked empathy in me? One possible assumption for me is that all the scenes leading up to this have fused both of our worlds so much that I can feel her emotions. This is closer to the epistemic identification (imagine believing what the character believes). Also since only some aspects are involved between me and Veronique while still creating empathy, can we call this as Aspectual Empathy ?


Now, when we translate or look this phenomenon in HCI, when we do user research, we try to identify with users so that one can genuinely develop empathy with users. And as in the above example, there could be a lot of ways to identify but as my own experience shows epistemic identification (imagining believing what the user believes) seems to be what we all are doing and probably it’s the limits of user research in practice, as you cannot imagine believing what your user does not believe.

Kickasola provides the interpretation of the movie scenes and explanation behind each of them. Looking at the reading, this is fairly a very complex & intense process. It seems to involve setting of scenes, including recurrent themes, adding elements which will set up the next scene, creating scenes which will make the viewer reflect the past scenes, using metaphors which indicate a deeper meaning, semiotics, etc. Although I agree with the fact that we as interaction designers may need to create complex interactions similar to what Kieslowski has done in the movie, one part I think is assessing the level of complexity which our users can comprehend (which I faced in Experience design project myself)

I’d like to know your thoughts on Aspectual empathy in user research as well as how we can make use of Kieslowski’s approach to create interactions.