A State of Suspense

In Contemporary Film with Dr. Heinzl last Spring, I was introduced to Midsommar, a pagan folk horror film directed by Ari Aster. Some 148 minutes later, I sat back in awe with only two thoughts: “So, that’s what the bear was for!”… and “I’ve never seen a film that engaged my imagination quite like this one.” After writing a midterm paper regarding the myth that underlies Midsommar, I distinctly remember Dr. Heinzl announcing open calls to the Film and Media Studies Undergraduate Symposium during class. I’d never presented at an academic conference before, but I thought, “What do I have to lose?” As it turns out, I honestly can say that the real question I should have asked was “What do I have to gain?” 

Presenting “Mythsommar and Femininity: A Bittersweet Empowerment” at the Symposium was the tip of the iceberg regarding my burgeoning interest in horror film analysis, but more importantly a mentorship that has taught me so much about gaining new perspectives through collaboration. When discussing the CUTF with Dr. Heinzl, he displayed enthusiasm and optimism in supporting my contemporary horror interests, guiding me as I prepared to lead two short horror units, one about trauma & violence, one about taboo sexualities. I didn’t know where to start when it came to other contemporary horror films, and Dr. Heinzl suggested films by directors leading the genre: Ari Aster, Jordan Peele, Julia Ducournau, and Brandon Cronenberg, to name a few. Finding a mentor who could point me in the right direction and help me form my own original opinions— instead of predetermined ones—has been incredibly eye-opening.

Notably, Dr. Heinzl’s method of mentorship by questioning has shaped my own interactions with students in the class as a UTA. Somewhat Socratic, such a method has modeled the discussions we have. Just last week as we began the horror units, I posed a question to the class: How do you define horror? I was nervous myself, in front of the class, with all eyes on me, but I took comfort in knowing what it’s like to be in the student’s seat, feeling the exact same suspense. While hands began sparse and hesitant, a few minutes later, I could see the excitement in their eyes as multiple hands shot up, after I posed question after question from student comments. My own enthusiasm caught up to me, as I wanted to give everyone a chance to speak within our allotted time. After class, I asked Dr. Heinzl for any pointers to handling future discussions, and he said what I had been thinking of myself: the engagement was amazing, keep asking questions – but keep an eye on the clock. And honestly, I can’t think of a better issue to have. 

To any student trying to identify a mentor, my biggest piece of advice is this: ask them a question, and if you leave that meeting with even more questions than you began and a mutual enthusiasm for finding the answers – you’re on the right path. 😊

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