The use of modalizers in a film review: The Passion of the Christ


The purpose of this essay is to analyze a film review titled “Good and Evil locked in Violent Showdown” which was published by the New York Times on-line on February 25, 2004. This film review, whose author is A. O. Scott deals with Mel Gibson’s last movie: The Passion of the Christ. The analysis will focus on the use of modalizers following some theoretical basis developed by Geoff Thompson and Randolph Quirk. In the first section I will provide the theoretical framework used for this analysis and the following section will be devoted to the discussion proper.

Section 1: Theoretical Basis
For this analysis I propose Thompson and Quirks’ theoretical basis in that they give an adequate framework with which to focus on modalization. It is possible to say that any text denotes an interaction between the writer and the reader. For this interaction to lead to a successful reading of the text, the writer must take into account the existence of a real reader, what Thompson calls the awareness of the audience (2001:1). When dealing with the interpersonal metafunction of language, Thompson(2001:2) identifies two specific types of language resources: On the one hand, the interactive devices help to guide the reader through the text; interactional resources, on the other hand, involve the reader cooperatively in the process of decoding and construction of the text. Thompson believes that the reader-in-the-text, i.e the inclusion in the text of a voice that is intended to be attributed to the reader, is a central form of interactional resources because the writer constructs a reader-in-the text with sets of shared attitudes and knowledge so that it does not appear that the writer is presupposing ideas which might be unacceptable for the real reader. For the purpose of involving the reader colaboratively in the interpretation of the text, the writer needs to make use of modalizers so as to be cautious rather than categorical. Generally absolute assertions do not leave room for other possible points of view and cause the reader not to feel comfortable and willing to go on reading. Randolph Quirk (1985:218) makes a general but useful distinction of modalizers which he calls downtoners in that they have the function of diminishing the force of what is being said. According to Quirk, downtoners can be divided into four groups: compromisers, which denote a slight lowering on the scale; diminishers which denote a downward scaling and mean \'to a small extent\'; minimizers, which denote the lower extreme of the scale and aproximators, which serve to express an approximation to the force of the verb.

Section 2: Discussion
In the film review proposed for analysis, it is possible to observe a good use of modalizers on part of the writer. We can assume that he is conscious of the fact that he is writing an argumentative type of paper which requires caution and avoidance of categorical assertions. It is also possible to notice that he is aware of the presence of an audience. The film review seems to have a predictable pattern of argumentative essay exploited by the writer and easily followed by the reader. Some of the evidence shows that there are explicit elements signaling the fluent dialogue between the writer and the reader which is brought to the surface by the use of modalizers. To exemplify signals, I would like to point out some instances where modalizers are used. Diminishers such as seem and tend ( as for example in “…the movie seems to insist…” in the sixth parahraph and “…earlier American movies about Jesus…have tended to be palatable…” in the third paragraph) are consistently used to mitigate the perlocutionary force, and by this we mean the effect on the receiver. The use of this kind of downtoners shows us the writer\'s willingness to involve the reader colaboratively in the development of the text so as to easily achieve the argumentative goal of persuading the reader to think in a certain way. Some other diminishers such as something like in the fifth paragraph and somewhat abstractly in the following one are also used with the same purpose. In the sixth paragraph, the modalizer "often" is used to downgrade the