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In search of awe

Words: Anne-Marie Hoeve

Video: Edith Jorisch

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Awe – it’s a big emotion for such a small word. Almost too big to try and describe. So filmmaker Edith Jorisch used a cinematic approach to evoke those mind-blowing moments when we are filled with wonder at the world around us.

We’re so used to trying to make sense of the world in words. 

But sometimes words simply fall short. Like when we’re gazing up at a starlit sky in the dead of night, or immersed in a forest that’s been alive for aeons. A sublime violin solo or a lone seed suspended in a sunbeam also has the same effect. Awestruck, we stop in our tracks, caught in that thunderclap moment when we see the world anew.

Fascinated by this phenomenon, Edith Jorisch went in search of a way to define this most intangible of emotions, speaking to people the world over to find out more. What is awe exactly? What triggers it? What does it feel like? And is it something we all experience? These are the questions she explores in her film, Awe

“As children, we experience this emotion more often since wonder is usually linked to a first experience and it’s difficult to relive that sense of awe when having multiple experiences. My film is both a catalogue that gathers all our memories and a machine that allows us to re-experience them, infinitely,” Jorisch says. 

She hopes this film can remind us to be attentive to the beauty of the world and to remember to experience life through the lens of a child.

“Awe is the human reaction to the sublime, to the inexplicable, to the grandiose, the magnificent”

Edith Jorisch

Science calls this ‘the small self’ effect. And research shows it comes with powerful benefits, making us kinder, and more connected to each other and our environment. Faced with the enormity of the whole, we are able to transcend the ‘speck’ that is ourselves as it dawns on us that we are part of something bigger. In that sense awe can be a formative and transformative experience.

So what has Jorisch herself discovered during her deep-dive into awe?

Awe is the human reaction to the sublime, to the inexplicable, to the grandiose, the magnificent. It is a universal emotion, which is experienced differently for everyone. These moments of wonder become strong emotional memories that will stay with you forever,” she says.

“The forces of nature, the invisible, the microscopic, the immensity of the universe, life, art … there are so many phenomena that leave us without words and redefine our relationship to the world.”

Capturing it all in eight minutes of film, there’s only one word to describe the end result: awesome.

Discover what awe looks and feels like here, in the full film.