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Daniel Jimenez
Dr. McLaughlin
WR13300
10 October 2016
Communitys Correlation to Happiness
People commonly perceive happiness as consistent well being, everlasting pleasure, or
perpetual satisfaction with ones condition. These interpretations also rely on the idea that
happiness is tangible or a reachable destination. People commonly associate this elusive concept
with wealth or status. The movie Happy argues against these notions and instead argues the
importance of community. By utilizing first-hand testimonies, clever shot composition, and
complementary sound, the movie Happy tries to convince the viewer of the importance of this
pillar of happiness. It identifies happiness as relative to each person and his/her situation, while
maintaining that there is a trend for general well-being. In that, the movie provides a global
perspective filled with varying backgrounds and situations to assert that regardless of a persons
circumstances, he/she can ultimately reach happiness; all that is required is a conscious effort on
his/her part. Similarly, Simon Burnett defines happiness as a concept to which humankind can
aspire . . . and those seeking it must take self-responsible, proactive and decisive steps towards
securing it (9). And so the question remains: how do you achieve it? Studying this question
through rhetorical lenses might prove useful in answering said question. So what is rhetoric?
George Kennedy defines it as the energy inherent in emotion and thought, transmitted through a
set of signs, including language, to others to influence their decisions or actions (Herrick 5).
Simply put, rhetoric is persuasive communication, and so, as a form of media, this movie calls
upon rhetorical analysis.

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Through the use of interviews, the movie shows us how influential positive human
interaction can be. The testimonies of the protagonists as well as those of expert psychologists
and neuroscientists, add a source of credibility to the movies claims. By interviewing
established scientists, the movie tries to create a logical appeal for the viewer by turning the
argument into a scientific one. Dr. Ed Diener stated: We studied some of the happiest people,
and we found, without exception, that all of them had close, supportive family and friends
(0:27:53-0:28:00). This theme of a social backbone is present throughout the movie in an almost
unanimous fashion. Statements like this one are critical in overcoming the most important
critique of the movie. The constraint, or thing that is a part of the situation and has the power to
constrain decision and action needed to modify the exigence (Bitzer 8), is the relative nature of
happiness. In other words, what works for some, might not work for others. Even though the
movie supports the statement that happiness is relative, it attempts to superimpose the notion that
it is most likely linked to community support. By establishing this link, the creators of the film
are dismissing the skepticism that their audience might feel about its claim.
Moreover, the protagonists testimonies are key in furthering the importance of
community. Who better to talk about achieving happiness than he/she who has it? A few key
examples are the sequences that depict the Indian and Danish families, as well as the old lady
from Okinawa. In each segment, the protagonist admits to the hardships of living in certain
conditions, but reassures that those setbacks do not infringe on his/her happiness because they
have their friends and family near. The Indian man recalls that his job as a wagon driver is
tiresome and that his clients are even abusive at times, but he remembers, with a smile on his
face, the joy he feels when his son calls out his name as he arrives home. His love for his son is
what drives him and allows him to make it through the day. Moreover, he assures the interviewer

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that he feels rich. He says that he and his family have everything they need and that they find
happiness through their tight knit community (0:01:30-0:04:00). The juxtaposition between what
he says and what the sequence shows is interesting. The scene descriptively shows that the mans
home is far from comforting, at least by Western standards, as they lack food, insulation,
clothing, and sanitation. Clearly, these seemingly basic needs vary by the nature of the beholder,
so he and his family are able to live with smiles on their faces despite said disadvantages. Later
on in the movie, the lady from Denmark, who lives in a communal come with her daughters,
explains that she was unhappy when she felt isolated. She continues to explain that when she
found a community to which she and her daughters belonged, she felt a surge in her well-being
and that of her daughters (0:39:13-0:43:40). In a slightly different context, the old lady from
Okinawa lacked an immediate family but had a community of friends and neighbors who filled
those roles. During the interview she recalled how she lost her husband while she was very
young. She explicitly states that her friends, whom are shown in the sequence, have been the
ones who have kept her afloat (0:49:30-0:50:35). Their love and support has been fundamental in
her life, and so she carries on, with obvious pain but an unmistakable charisma.
Inversely, as much as the movie argues the importance of finding community, the movie
also argues the importance of providing community to others. Relationships, whether familial,
friendly, or romantic, are two-sided. Both parties benefit from the experience and so the movie
shows that by lending a helping hand to those who are struggling, the helper can also benefit as
much as he/she who is helped. If the viewer pays close attention to the words and demeanors of
the family members of the Indian man and the Danish woman, as well as the friends of the
Japanese lady, he/she will notice that they too radiate with positivity. They seem to enjoy life as
much as the protagonists themselves, carrying on with laughter and smiles. A more direct

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example of comes in the interview with Andy Wimmer, a volunteer at a home for the dying and
destitute in Kolkata, India. The scenes accompanying the interview make it clear that he is living
in an underdeveloped region with limited resources. He recalls that he has lived a fun life, filled
with wasteful habits. He traded that life for a nobler one 17 years ago, claiming that those things
arent important anymore. His selfless decision to ignore Western standards of comfort and
dedicate his life to caring for the sick, elevates his sense of purpose. He he feels a need to care
for the poor and sick since he and his family were never that unfortunate. His demeanor reflects
how much that decision meant to him, as he smiles while talking to the camera about his
experience and the reasoning behind his decision (1:07:00-1:10:24). He says My life is like a
loan given from God and I will give this loan back, but with interest (1:10:07-1:10:14). This
compassion for others creates a feeling of unity with other and ultimately elevates our own
happiness.
Through a more technical approach, the film tries to subconsciously convince the viewer
of its point. Its cinematography creates visual support for the claim that community is essential in
achieving happiness. Through their content selection, shot composition, camera work, and
editing, filmmakers guide what is seen, for how long, and in what order (Lancioni 109). The
filmmakers deliberately prolonged scenes that showed people rejoicing in community, while
cutting short those sequences that do not. They were also careful in placing the subject in the
foreground while his/her support group carried on in the background, interacting cheerfully. This
registers in the mind of the viewer as subconscious support for the claim that relationships equate
to happiness. For example, when the Danish lady spoke about her and her familys positive
experience at the communal home and their currently joyful condition, her voice narrated a scene
in which everyone from the home was eating together, seemingly enjoying each others

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company. Conversely, when the movie touches on lack of happiness or hardship, the background
of the shot does not show any support group. In the interview with the Japanese widow, she is
alone in the shot as she spoke about the emotional toll her husbands death had on her (0:32:000:34:28). The filmmakers intentionally exclude any indication that the lady has a support system
to help her through the trauma. They insinuate that this contributes to her unhappiness.
On a different note, in the segment that takes places in Tokyo, Japan, in which it is
established that Japanese men work themselves to death, the camera focuses on creating a
drowsy and slightly gloomy portrayal of the Japanese capital. By using prolonged close ups of
people sleeping on the subway and wide shots of crammed, and obviously fatigued, subway
passengers, the filmmakers create an atmosphere of discomfort that the viewer correlates with
unhappiness because the narration spoke of death and depression (0:30:54-0:32:00, 0:34:500:35:54).
Furthermore, the movie denounces the commonly held belief that consumeristic settings
and tendencies bring about happiness. In the Tokyo sequence, a man who would rather go to
work on his birthday rather than spend time with his family and friends is interviewed (0:30:050:30:43). Prior to that sequence, the filmmakers interviewed a young man on the streets of New
York City and asked them what him what he wanted in life. He responded with money
(0:23:55-0:24:15). This interview, along with the shot composition of those sequences also
created a feeling of discomfort, as the camera depicted the hectic nature of metropolitan cities. It
is interesting to note that most of the unhappy sequences take place in crowded places, while
most of the happy sequences take place in suburban or rural areas. This can be interpreted as the
movie directly criticizing urbanization and the consumerist culture that comes with it.

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Complementing the shot composition, the films auditory support furthers the theme of
the movie. By appealing to both senses, seeing and hearing, the film does a more efficient job at
capturing the viewer. So, the filmmakers placement of voiceovers, varied selection of music, and
amplification of landscape sounds all provide indirect support for the movies claim. In the NYC
sequence where people confess that they want money, the background is filled with noise from
the bustling city. Contrasting this, in most of the sequences when happiness is being discussed by
a protagonist, the background lacks noise. The inclusion of unwanted noise also complements the
already present feeling of discomfort, while the lack of nose reinforces the notion that happiness,
brought upon by relationships, brings tranquility. Additionally, in the various sequences in which
people are speaking of happiness, the film plays joyful music in the background. When hearing
catchy, upbeat music, the viewer feels in a better mood which he/she associates with the message
that the movie is conveying. The most obvious example is the scene in which the Louisiana
family is eating together, laughing and enjoying each others company (0:26:00-0:26:53). Here,
the movie plays music that is stereotypical to the setting. This lifts the mood of the scene even
more and reinforces the notion that communion equals happiness.
Although there is sufficient evidence to support the claim that happiness is achieved
through community, there are a few examples that contradict this idea and instead stress the
importance of individuality. The sequence in which the surfer, Ronaldo, describes his happiness
while surfing is powerful. He says that he views surfing as a religion and doing so puts him at
ease. (0:11:30-0:13:49). The sequence shows him alone at the beach, riding waves. By not
showing any family or friends in the sequence, the film reasserts importance of his hobby. His
love for surfing represents his love for himself, as he constantly does what makes him happy,
even though its a solitary activity.

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Happiness is an intricate feeling not many can define, or better yet, reach. Its importance
cant be denied however. And that importance is highlighted in Rojo Belics film Happy. He
successfully uses first hand testimonies, deliberate shot composition, and supplementary sound
to avow that community is the utmost important anchor to happiness. A directors decision to
include certain elements within the frame of the camera, while excluding some, adds a powerful
effect to the scenes. This, along with the careful incorporation of sound adds a degree of depth to
the scenes that appeal to the viewer subconsciously. Nonetheless, his argument wouldnt have
been as convincing had he not included expert testimony to counter the viewer's natural
suspicion of said claims. This scientific credibility complements the first hand accounts perfectly,
as the emotions the protagonists feel are logically explained by the neuroscientists and
psychologists who were interviewed. Needless to say, the argument presented is a compelling
one, but no matter how strong it is, the viewer is still left with the question: will this work for
me?

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Works Cited
Bitzer, Lloyd F. The Rhetorical Situation. November 1966, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
Guest Lecture.
Happy. Directed by Roko Belic, Passion River Films, 2011.
Herrick, James A. "An Overview of Rhetoric." The History and Theory of Rhetoric. 2nd ed.
Boston: Allyn and Beacon, 2001. 1-25. Print.
Lancioni, Judith. The Rhetoric of the Frame: Revisioning Archival Photographs in The Civil
War. Western Journal of Communication, vol. 60, no. 4, 1996, pp. 397414.
doi:10.1080/10570319609374556.