What Is The Paradox Of Suspense?

By Antonia Čirjak on April 28 2020 in Answer

You know when people say they can not handle the suspense? Well, it turns out we actually can handle it.
You know when people say they can not handle the suspense? Well, it turns out we actually can handle it.
  • The paradox of suspense appears when we feel the tension of a narrative, although we already know the outcome.
  • This phenomenon defies the fundamental premise of any suspense, which is uncertainty.
  • If you think of it, and this is a very dark twist on the paradox, is not life just one huge suspense? We all know that it will end, we just do not know when it will happen. However, no second chances here, no cinema for that yet!

You know when people say they can not handle the suspense? Well, it turns out we actually can handle it, even if we know what comes after an emotional build-up. This phenomenon is called the paradox of suspense, and it explains how people can experience tension that is existent within a particular narrative if they already know the outcome. 

Do Not Rush The Good Parts!

What are the possible explanations for this? Well, first of all, one could argue that the world of blockbuster movies rely on this constant interplay between suspense and release. Even something as short as a movie trailer can contain enough visual and sound stimuli, so we can get a feel of what is the driving force that leads a movie to its resolution.

Let us take a look at what are some of the necessary prerequisites for something to be described as suspense, or at least a series of narrative moments that create a suspenseful atmosphere upon witnessing. 

Where Is The Suspense?

First of all, every feeling of suspense is accompanied by a sense of uncertainty. When you watch a movie for the first time, even if it is something that falls into every cliche category and from the standpoint of novelty, does not offer any real surprise, you still experience suspense. Movies are if we look at them as a work of fiction, a product of somebody’s imagination. In this context, you are the one that is, for lack of a better word, consuming the content. 

very feeling of suspense is accompanied by a sense of uncertainty.
Every feeling of suspense is accompanied by a sense of uncertainty.

The paradox of suspense suggests how the unease, although in the form of a movie plot, can appear and be very much real as the first time you experienced it. You know what the endgame is, you know who the killer is, you know all of the character story outcomes, but you still feel the bumps on the road that took you there.  

Suspense In Contradiction Or Contradiction In Suspense?

Some other arguments approach the paradox of suspense from a viewpoint that focuses on memory. Due to the fictive nature of the world, or a narrative we are involved in, we can often forget the details of the story. Sometimes even important details, small breaking points that created tension in the story. So, if you find yourself still feeling the cliffhangers when watching a movie for a second time, your mind may be compensating during the reiteration, continually trying to fill in the gaps in the story you may not remember vividly.

Another factor that should not be dismissed when we talk about the paradox of suspense is the fact that people like to predict something, even if the chances of them missing the right answer are non-existent. Simply put, it is only human to enjoy knowing the correct answer, even if it contradicts the idea of a ‘’thriller’’ as such.

Finally, the internal desire to change some of the elements of a presented narrative is a hard one to avoid. We are not talking about movie critics who will dissect the possible flaws in the overall effect of suspense. The contradictions appear when you watch a movie for the second time. You are well aware of the fact that one of your favorite characters is going to die, yet your desire leaves you wanting an outcome that will suddenly change.

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