Thursday, December 18, 2014


Feelings can really get in the way sometimes. Sometimes, all anybody wants to do is run away from their life and whatever they are feeling at any given moment. But films provide an escape without any running. By watching a cathartic film, the viewer is transported into someone else's problems, feels the release of said problems after experiencing them with the characters, and by the end of the movie it is as though their own problems have disappeared. A movie with mimesis doesn't quite have the same effect on the viewer's heart, but does have a similar effect in their mind. In representing the real world, whether it is for the sake of social change or simply for the sake of imitation itself, a memetic film provides food for thought as an option to escape the surface of the real world by looking deeper. The films Almost Famous, American Beauty, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind all exemplify both of these ideas. The three movies not only provide catharsis and mimesis for the viewer, and do so through a variety of film techniques.

In Almost Famous, the main characters go through a lot. To make everything feel more personal to
the viewer, a lot of the film is very closed form. In particular, the scene on the bus after Russell and William have been picked up from the party is very immediate to the viewer due to its closed form nature. Everyone is singing, everyone is rejoining each other through music, and nobody is upset anymore. This can feel very cathartic to a viewer. For most, it is the favorite scene of the movie. The function of the music is to bring everybody together, and as an audience member, being able to go through this experience of finding their friends again through the music along with the characters, this scene is very touching and cathartic. The emotional appeal of the music is also there, making the whole scene feel upbeat and happy, despite coming after a low moment. An interesting choice that was a part of this scene was to bring the background music more into the foreground of the scene, pulling everything together and making everyone a cohesive whole. Another very cathartic moment in the movie is
when Penny discovers that Russell, who she thinks is in love with her and who she is in love with, has bet her company in a card game in exchange for fifty dollars and a case of beer. She is very hurt by this information, and William immediately feels ashamed for volunteering it. This scene is very pertinent to some who have gone through something similar, finding out how much they are really worth to someone they thought they loved. The shot is kept tightly framed to keep her close to the audience, and it is a reaction shot to what William has said. Her tears, and her wiping away the tears, keep the movement in the scene minimal, but it is just enough to bring the viewer to the edge of tears with her. But knowing that someone else understands the feeling of rejection, the viewer will feel relieved despite the intensity of the scene. Now, while there is intensity in the film, there is also a sense of lightness, everyone acting with a devil-may-care attitude, without having a care in the world. This is where the mimesis comes in. The girls that trail after the band refuse to call themselves groupies, and say very adamantly that they are Band-aids. They are honestly just really, really big fans of the band, and they are following the band because they love it. It is unclear from the movie whether or not there are actually people like that, but even if there aren't, this aspect of the film is mimetic. The girls
get to follow the band everywhere, get to go to the same parties, hang out with the same famous people, be a part of all that comes with being a part of rock. The music genre itself feels free and uninhibited. In this shot with Penny, it shows how her life as a Band-aid is full of warm colors and comfort, but her expression shows how even her life, which may seem ideal, has its problems. The dominant contrast of the empty glass and the bottles of alcohol in the foreground add to that feeling of unhappiness in the shot. The band doesn't treat the girls very well, and that is the part of the mimesis of this film that begs social change. The movie uses the girls to portray how women are often used in the entertainment business, and that underlying current throughout the film provides a critical look at the world of entertainment and inequality. The movie Almost Famous makes the viewer can feel at home with the band while still questioning their morals. This makes for not only a cathartic film to wipe away all worries but also a film that makes the viewer question the real value of entertainment. 

American Beauty feels more like realistic cinema than Almost Famous, probably because very few people have actually gone touring with a rock band but many people live in a little suburban neighborhood and are stuck in a boring, dead-end job. This film is also more mimetic than cathartic, since it gives the viewer a lot more to think about than it gives them emotions they would like to experience. At the very beginning of the movie, there is some cutting to continuity with establishing shots to show the simple little street, with its stereotypical little families that are all hiding dark secrets. One of the images shown in the cutting to continuity shots shows Carolyn Burnham in her
garden, with her matching shears and shoes and the perfect red roses she is cutting. She looks as typical a suburban mother as can be - loosely framed with a nice lawn and a minivan, nice makeup, cutesy apron and a little basket for the roses. She is even being friendly, waving to the neighbors. After seeing this altogether too-perfect image, the viewer is then shown how nothing that looks this perfect can actually be this perfect. This image can symbolize most of the movie - a boring, seemingly perfect family that actually has rotting roots of affairs and lies, like the American Beauty rose. The perfection juxtaposed with the horror within also gives the movie an impersonal, open form feeling that causes more mimesis than catharsis throughout. Anything that involves the neighbor boy, Ricky Fitts, is mimetic. He doesn't see the world the same way everyone else does. He watches everything through the lens of his camera, and yet he is the
most grounded person in the film. Ricky makes the viewer think a little harder about everything they see, and everything he sees throughout the film. The kinetic symbolism of him raising or lowering his camera is him raising and lowering the shield between him and the rest of the world, which he usually has up. Here, he is also symmetrically framed between Jane's and Angela's heads, showing how he is thought of as either crazy or amazing throughout the film. When the viewer sees him, they are forced to wonder how he can possibly see things so differently from everyone else, but when he explains it to Jane, the audience understands a little more how even though people that seem very different at first are different from everyone else, it's not necessarily a bad thing. And it's not like he doesn't have feelings. He changes how the viewer sees Jane, just by loving her. She is closed off from everyone at the beginning of the film, but as it progresses the audiences sees her coming out of her shell more and feeling a more personal connection with her. In one scene where
she and Ricky are together and he is filming her, she mentions how much she hates her family. This is a very intimate setting, and the way that the shot is handheld and grainy and is all just one take of her talking to the camera and the person behind it makes it intimate to everyone. Even though the dialogue is very juvenile, the feelings hit home. Something about how innocent being a teenager is makes it feel more personal. Also, the way that she is framed dead center even when she moves around and how it zooms in on her face when she is talking gives the viewer a sense of how Ricky is so devoted to her, and that also makes the scene feel more intimate. All of American Beauty feels close to home, because the viewer doesn't know whether or not their next-door neighbors have secrets as dark and as dirty as the ones in the film. But the movie does also provide feelings to work through and an odd sense of relief when those feelings have run their course.

The only truly formalistic film out of the three is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. True, American Beauty has its formalistic moments, but at heart it is realistic. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a story told in reverse, though the film itself is still running in linear order. And, of course, it is about love. The audience gets to watch the couple fall back in love as Joel's memories are erased, moving backwards through their entire relationship. Essentially, the entire film is a series of flashbacks that are also running in backwards order. The last scene to get erased is the day they met.
It has the two of them together on a set of stairs leading to the beach, and she goes up and steals some of his food right off his plate, like they already knew each other. Clementine, with her bright name and her colorful outfits, brings life to Joel's gray world. Here, framed symmetrically and side by side in a dialogue shot, the difference in their personalities is painfully obvious. Even the things they talk about seem far too different. How could two people as dissimilar as these two possibly get along? But they do, and this memory, rather than being awkward, is looked back on with fond remembrance for that day they met and shared some food. The viewer may be remembering the story of how they met their significant other, or the promising meetings of a new partner than grew to be sour and unpleasant memories as time went by. However, in the context of the movie, this scene in particular is heartwarming. Another scene that causes the viewer to recall a lot of memories and feelings is when
Joel and Clementine go out to the ice for the second time in the movie but the first time in their relationship. The shot remains a close-up, whereas before (or after, depending on the perspective of the timeline) the shot was the iconic aerial shot to show them flat on their backs on the cracking, thin ice. But here, where their relationship, though just beginning, was still solid, there are no cracks to be seen, and they are sharing a nice, quiet moment alone on the frozen river. This may bring to mind memories of a similar excursion where the viewer had never felt happier, or, conversely once again, a memory that was very nice at the time but now may be wished to go away. Much of this movie depends on the perspective of the one watching it and whether or not they have been hurt by love in the past. But this film does have a mimetic aspect to it. Clementine and Joel both go to get their memories erased. In this helpless-feeling high angle shot of Joel, the viewer is left to feel
uncomfortable and, though perhaps not confused as they have seen why he wanted to go through with it, a little thoughtful. Is there really any relationship that absolutely nothing but negativity was gained from? Should erasure actually be an option, would anybody want to go through with it? In society, many people may do something like this as a rash, quick decision, but that doesn't make it a good one. The viewer has to question the society of the film and the society of today, all because of the movie's questions of whether or not someone should be erased. By the end of the movie, it would even seem that erasing someone from their memory has no effect on true love. But Joel and Clementine agree to try again, and that is inspiring to any failing or failed relationship.

Almost Famous, American Beauty, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind provide not only a lot of feelings but a lot of deep thought to sift through once they are over. All three of the films are very cathartic, dragging the viewer along through thick and thin with the characters and giving the viewer different experiences to replace the problems they are feeling in their everyday lives. But the films also provide a lot to think about with their portrayals of everyday life and hopefully inspirations to people to make social change. These three films are excellent examples of how something as simple as a movie can be well-made and thoughtful and feeling. Movies are a very good vehicle to promote things like social change to the world. Movies also always are there to offer a way for anybody to feel better about their own life by slipping into someone else's for a bit. Movies simply have their own special magic to transport people to different places and different times.

Monday, December 15, 2014

American Beauty

 Sound played an important part in American Beauty. In all of the dreamy fantasy sequences, there is an excellent use of atonal sound to make the scene feel uncomfortable. Atonal sound in prominent in the first daydream, where Angela and Jane are dancing with the cheerleaders and Angela winds up in a spotlight. The music is very rough and has a jagged sort of feel, to show how although Lester is getting pleasure out of what he is seeing, the viewer is being reminded that he should not be fantasizing in such a way. This idea is especially prominent in the third fantasy. Angela is in a bathtub with rose petals completely covering the water, and she is saying some very suggestive things. Lester reaches for her in a way that is very taboo. His mind creating such scenes is meant to feel very awkward and wrong, a feeling that is increased with
the use of atonal music. The music in this scene in particular is very jarring, lending the feel of wrongness to the scene. Overall it is a good use of atonal sound, especially due to the fact that the subject matter itself is not something that most people enjoy thinking about.

Another good use of sound paired with images is the beginning shots and the ending shots. They are almost identical, with the exception that one zooms into the street to begin the film and the other
zooms away from the street to end the film. In the beginning, Lester's voiceover sets the tone for the whole film. He announces that he is going to die, which does sort of spoil the ending. The viewer is left feeling slightly disoriented; the movie is only starting, how could the main character already be dying? It brings up the interesting juxtaposition throughout the film. The viewer knows that Lester is going to die, and yet the film is about him coming to life. The opening shot and the opening voiceover show how Lester is at the beginning of the film as well as where he is going to end up. Life and death being side by side is an important aspect of the film. By the end, when Lester has been killed, the viewer feels
confused again. Lester has just realized what he had in front of him was all he needed. But he got shot in the head. What kind of message is that? Well, Lester goes on to say, in his ending voiceover that zooms back out of the neighborhood, a lot of important things about life. So the viewer feels validated, being told by this mystical voiceover from a god's eye shot, that life is still good. That is why using a voiceover was a good decision. It lends more credibility and weight to what is being said, especially if the shot it goes with is something to suggest the dead looking down to earth at their loved ones. That is always a powerful message to send home.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Almost Famous

In Almost Famous, the music choice is incredible. Arguably one of the best scenes in the movie is just after Russell goes to the fan's party. Everyone is sitting on the bus and singing along to Tiny Dancer by Elton John. It's a beautiful moment where the entire discordant group is brought together by and reminded of the thing they're all there for - music. The music choice for this scene was   relevant because Tiny Dancer talks about someone who is with the band but is not a musical part of it, a seamstress for the band, someone who's just there for the ride and there to enjoy herself. The character of Penny Lane is much like the tiny dancer of the song, and this is the part in the movie where William knows that he loves her but has to leave anyway. In Tiny Dancer, there is the line "Only you and you can hear me/when I say softly slowly." William only tells Penny that he needs to go home. She tells him that he is home, which is a feeling that came about as a result of listening to Tiny Dancer in particular. In contrast, when Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd is playing, William is on the phone with his mother, trying to convince her to let him stay with the band a little bit longer. The first part of this song matches what's going on in the scene. "Mama told me when I was young/Come sit beside me, my only son/And listen closely to what I say." William's mother is definitely the overpowering sort of mother that fits with this song well. She also lets him stay, and there is another part of the song that says, "All I want for you my son/Is to be satisfied." William's mother lets him stay with the band because she knows it means a lot to him and it is helping him towards the career that he enjoys, which is writing about bands. She is willing to put him first, which is something that she doesn't say outright that the song says for her, which is music characterization. Both Tiny Dancer and Simple Man convey how the characters are feeling at those moments, and that is what makes them fit in the movie so well.

Compared to the music in the background of the film and the music that is sung throughout, the uses of silence in the film are important also. There is usually some sort of sound still, but it is nonsynchronous sound. For example, when Penny is dancing on the trashed stage. There is a song playing, but it has more to do with what happened immediately previous to the scene. The fact that Penny is silent makes the scene feel off, like it doesn't quite fit, and then when it's over the viewer is left questioning the purpose of the scene and what it was doing at that moment in the film. Looking back at the lyrics, it makes sense, the song is about dancing. But in the moment, it seems almost like it doesn't quite fit. This shows how Penny feels in the context of the rest of the band and how she is almost too good for them. She can dance on the stage alone and it's still amazing. There is another moment like this. William has taken Penny to the plane to let her go home, and she has a moment of realization about her feelings for him. Or so it can be assumed, because she presses her hand to the window and watches as he runs with the plane inside the airport. What is important about this scene is not how perfectly the song chosen fits with the scene but the fact that both characters are silent, letting the song tell the story for them. With the rest of the movie, this feels very natural, but it's interesting how the songs do most of the talking. The two people in this scene manage to share a profound moment in silence, one that is enhanced by the song in the background. That is how sound should happen in movies. The music makes the moment feel more real rather than cheap and manufactured, the way it can when two characters have that magical moment of realization. This was sound done right. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Movement and Editing

There are a lot of movies about love and a lot of movies about time. But rarely do such movies have a variety of film techniques to make these themes well integrated throughout the movie. However, they are usually diverse in nature. Amelie, Across the Universe, and Vanilla Sky are not films that usually go together. Neither are Snatch, Memento, and Donnie Darko. But both sets of films have common themes within them. The first set all tell stories of love, and the second set revolves around time. All six films are very well made, and use a variety  techniques. However, in the first three films, movement is largely used to convey their message of love, and in the second three, editing is used to great effect to show time. Both techniques are used in all of the films, but movement is more prevalent in some, just as editing is in the others. Through the use of movement and editing respectively, similar themes of love and time were presented in six very different films.

Love is frequently shown in movies with lots of kissing and holding hands and being mushy. In Amelie, it's a little different. Amelie is all about love, but she doesn't show it physically until she meets the man she's been leading on a chase for the entire movie. No, Amelie is clever, and actually for most of the movie is alone except for her friends. But she loves them too.
There is a very nice scene where Amelie uses old letters from her landlady's husband to make a new letter to bring some sort of closure. In that scene, it goes into fast motion when she is cutting the letters and rearranging the words. This movement shows how hard she is working to make everyone around her happy and that she works very fast to do so. By going into fast motion to bring someone joy, Amelie is showing her love for everyone around her. Across the Universe uses the opposite technique to tell a different love story. In the middle of a song, there is a scene where everyone is underwater and naked. The important part, though, is that everybody is moving in slow motion.
It shows everyone's feelings and relationships at the time. In the forefront for most of the time is the main character Jude and his girlfriend Lucy. As they are together in the water, their heads make a heart. Their lack of any real movement shows how in love they are. They don't want to move and disrupt anything. They are very happy to just stay there together. It is a peaceful scene, and it gives the viewer a nice feeling. Jude and Lucy's love makes the scene feel calm, even though the rest of the movie is more chaotic. In Vanilla Sky, the entire movie is chaos as David messes up his dream world. But throughout is the love story he never got to live. David is in a car with his ex-girlfriend. She drives off the road to commit suicide while David is in the car. He is heavily scarred on his face, but still tries to go back to a different girl he met and is falling in love with. He finds Sofia while she is dancing and asks her out.
That scene has a lot of kinetic symbolism because she is dancing and he is limping. Sofia can remain loosely framed to show how free she is, how much she can move, but David stays tightly framed and walks stiffly, because he is trapped within his own body. The fact that she agrees to go out with him shows how powerful their love is, for it can overcome the obstacle of David being scarred and unable to move. Sofia knows that she won't be able to thrive if she is with him, but she is willing to give up that chance for him. Not only in Vanilla Sky but also in Amelie and Across the Universe - everyone finds their someone special. Everyone finds love somewhere. 

Time is a very important part of the world. Everything works on a schedule and everything has a time limit. Snatch is all about time and how little of it they have. Throughout the entire movie, they are worried about how they're going to find a new fighter in time, or if they'll be able to get somewhere fast enough, or being able to steal something and get away successfully. At the very end of the movie, when Bricktop's goons are about to shoot the main characters, there are a lot of things happening simultaneously, shown to the viewer with flashbacks and narrative segmentation.

Mickey's fellow gypsies have taken down the men lying in wait to attack them while Mickey was drawing out his fight to give them more time to fight theirs. This is also an example of parallel editing, how Mickey's fighting matches with the fighting the other gypsies are doing. All of these things give the impression that time has slowed down, when in actuality nothing has changed except everyone getting caught up to speed with everything going on. This feeling of just finding something out that makes the whole movie fall into place is essentially all of Memento. Leonard can't remember further back into the past than about five minutes, so all of Memento is told backwards. With this style of narrative comes some challenges, but the editor of this movie was well up to the task. The opening scene really sets the stage for the rest of the movie.
Someone gets shot in the head and someone else takes a Polaroid snapshot of it. But the key thing here is that the entire scene runs in reverse. This shows how the rest of the movie will be told in small increments and how Leonard sees things. Like the opening shot of the Polaroid developing in reverse, his memories fade after a few moments. This makes time impossible for him to perceive, and through editing, the movie shows this in just a few shots. Donnie Darko has a similar skewed version of time. The entire movie takes place in a tangent universe, a universe that Donnie has to bring to an end in order to save the rest of the universe. The last few seconds of the movie are the same as what happens after the first few minutes. Any piece of this movie can be used to show time because it is a movie about time travel. The biggest proof of the time travel, however, is Frank the giant bunny.
At the end of the movie he is shot in the eye, but for the rest of the movie he is wandering around and guiding Donnie through the tangent universe. The way Frank is edited in the film is interesting because he could be a figment of Donnie's imagination. The viewer doesn't know for sure that Frank is real until the very end, when he appears as a regular dude and not the mysterious guide he has been for the entire film. Frank is the best way to show time throughout the film because he is an important part of time for the whole thing. He tells Donnie when the world is going to end and he is one of the most helpful characters in the movie when it comes to the time travelling. Though Donnie Darko presented the most complicated time, all three of the films used the concept of time well through their editing.

All six of the movies - Amelie, Across the Universe, Vanilla Sky, Snatch, Memento, and Donnie Darko - used a variety of film techniques with regard to movement or editing to show the message of either love or time. A well-made film with a message like love or time can connect all sorts of movies. Most people would never consider grouping these six movies into these two groups, but it is possible because of how they were made. With common techniques and common themes, these movies are more alike than at first glance. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Vanilla Sky

In Vanilla Sky, the ending is a little frustrating. It has a good message, sure - sometimes the best thing to do is to start over - but learning that the entire movie was a dream is a sure way to annoy most of the audience. The point where everything became a dream is interesting, though. It starts out pretty
boring, washed-out colors, basic dialogue shots and two shots most of the time. But then there's this shot of the mask lying on the ground because that's where David passed out. The transition from this to the morning is subtle, but what happens is all of the colors get brighter, the skies go to their permanent state of Monet-like perfection, and, of course, Sofia has returned to him and is telling him to open his eyes. This moment has a lot of deeper meaning within the film, showing the point where David chose to splice the Lucid Dream with his real life. He chose this moment because this was the moment when he could tell that he'd just let a real chance at love walk out of his life. It was the kind of moment he could only really notice as a turning point upon looking back at his whole life. But in the
film, it is abundantly clear that a change has happened. Even without knowing that this is where the dream begins, it is clear that something has happened. The colors are brighter, the scenes are more exciting, the plot begins to move along faster. Now that David and Sofia have found each other, nothing else can happen. Of course, there are still the flash-forwards to David in the mask in prison after everything has gone wrong, but for the most part after passing out in the street everything gets better. The editing is what gives the film that feeling of excitement and wonder that is found in a dream, where everything is perfect. The editing also brought the incredible transition between the last of David's real life and the beginning of his new, dream life.

Another thing that was edited very well into the movie was David's scars disappearing and reappearing. He didn't reconnect with Sofia until after he got the scars, and until then he also didn't
want to have them. But she accepted him regardless of the scars, and he was happy despite his disfigurement. His choice to have his scars removed and his face fixed has a deeper meaning as well, but first and foremost he chose to fix his face so that Sofia would be happier because she wouldn't have to put up with stares and judgments from other people. He also wanted to go back to looking like and acting like the person she had first met. The deeper meaning behind the scars being removed from his face is that he is trying to leave his old life with Julie behind. Everything that she did to him, he is trying to remove so that he can love Sofia more fully. This scene was well-edited, as it used a variety of techniques like deep focus to keep the audience from seeing his face as Sofia peels the mask away. It creates a moment of suspense, the same one that David is feeling in that moment. The editing shows how much Sofia and David mean to each other, and how they are willing to do anything for the other. At one point, however, David has a nightmare that the scars have returned, and it surprises everyone when he turns on the light and
there is a scarred face in the mirror instead of a smooth one. Then he wakes up. There is parallel editing as he makes his way over to the sink and mirror again, just like in the dream. This creates a feeling of tension, because the audience knows what happened before when this happened. They know what should be coming, what has been set up to come. Of course, the dream he had was just a nightmare, but after this is when everything else starts to go wrong. The return of his scars signifies the guilt he has over being so happy with Sofia after Julie worked her way into his life. The dream environment was controlled by his mind, and his mind wouldn't let go of Julie. So she was back into his life. This was all preluded by the suspenseful nightmare about the return of his scars, and without the way it was edited, there might not have been a tension on which to build the falling apart of the dream world.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Across the Universe

In Across the Universe, movement played a big part in helping the story progress and making it better. Lucy was one of the main characters and she had some of the most movement involved with her. Around the middle of the film, her brother gets drafted into the war. Strawberry Fields Forever was a continuation of that storyline, showing everybody's conflicts in the form of war. In that song, Lucy has images projected onto her face. Lucy lets the projection become her expression, leaving her face as a blank canvas. It's an interesting example of movement because the character is so still. It shows how in shock she is, just letting the emotions wash over her. She doesn't really have any sort of emotion because she is too scared to let herself feel. It adds to the gravity of the moment and makes the audience feel the same way she does, even though she isn't moving. The projections on her face move, and that is the movement, but she doesn't, and that's what makes the difference to the audience.
There is another place in the film where Lucy's slight movements convey all of her emotion to the audience. Jude has just finished his song to her and she has made her way up to the roof next to his so she can see him. They are both crying, and then Lucy pushes her hair back and there is a freeze-frame. The tears running down her face created movement and feeling enough, but then she pushes her hair back and everything stops. It shows how she and Jude felt for each other. When she pushes her hair out of the way, pushing away their argument and anything else that was separating them, the movie freezes. It ends with a happy moment of forgiveness, a frozen picture, to remind everyone to forgive and push things away in the name of love. Lucy's small movement was enough to convey so much feeling to the audience. Movement was used to great effect in this film.

Jude, being the other main character, also had a lot of movement involved with his part in the film. When he first realizes that he is falling in love with Lucy, he sings I've Just Seen a Face and slides all around at a bowling alley. He goes down the lane like he's the bowling ball, and then everything get more brightly colored and hectic. Everyone's sliding down the lanes like they're surfing, people are running around and jumping over the ball returns, having a very good time. It is a lot of chaotic movement to show how it feels to fall in love. Wild, out of control, but still a really great time. All of the craziness of I've Just Seen a Face perfectly describes how Jude is feeling, with the help of song lyrics to push it just a little further. Jude went through a lot in the film - he fell in love, his friend went off to war, his lover left,
and he got deported. It did all work out in the end, but it took him singing on a rooftop to find Lucy and her love again. They both are crying, which is very moving. Then Jude bites his lip. This small movement shows how deeply he feels for Lucy. She has already left once, but he's gotten her back and he feels so happy. He bites his lip as a quick, sharp shock, almost as if to wake up from a dream if it isn't real. He thinks that seeing her again is too good to be true, but there she is, on the closest roof she could be. Their relationship, as far as the audience is concerned, hit that happy note and stayed there, because the film ends. All of the roller-coaster feelings that Jude felt he conveyed to the audience using movements both big and small, and it worked very well.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Living the Dream

In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, everything was about life. The main themes were living life to its fullest and getting out of the mundane world. The film also showed how there are endless opportunities for people to break out of their shells and get out into the world and live their daydreams. Walter Mitty finally got to live the life he was always dreaming about, and with excellent mise en scene the movie took the audience along for the journey. Towards the beginning of the film, there were a lot of linear, angular shots, but as the movie progressed there were more open, wide shots that brought the audience to Iceland and Afghanistan. Using these tricks and more, the movie felt like an adventure for everyone who was watching, and left an inspiring message to live the dream. Having a classical film approach, the movie uses more and more aleatory technique as it progresses, making it feel all the more real. Using mise en scene, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty takes the audience from feeling trapped in Walter's small world to freeing themselves along with him.

Towards the beginning of the movie, everything is very letterboxed and tightly framed. There is a working order to things, and there is always a plan. Pretty much every shot looks exactly the same.  When Walter is first in his workplace, his sister shows up and hands him a bright orange cake. That cake is the only thing that has color in Walter's workplace, and he's supposed to be working for LIFE Magazine. In theory, everything would be as lively as the little orange cake, but everything is drab and shades of blue or gray. Walter's birthday brings a dominant contrast into the frame, and it becomes clear how boring everything else is. Even the past covers of LIFE, which should represent life, are boring and dull, part of the background of Walter's world, a subsidiary contrast. There is one shot where he is looking around the corner at Cheryl, the object of his affection. In that shot, there is a wall so close to his face. It feels awkward to be looking around that wall. The aspect ratio is such that the wall is out of focus, but it still makes the scene feel closed form. The proxemic pattern is also social, and doesn't lend a lot of personality to the encounter. This is also an example of an anticipatory shot, which again removes the scene from being personal and renders it almost idle, a pastime that has become a habit, though not necessarily a good one. Finally, as Walter embraces adventure in a "screw
you" gesture towards his transition manager, he runs past several of the past covers from LIFE. They sort of start to blur together and at the end, Walter's face is on the last cover. This shows how he is finally living the life he's been printing pictures about for the past fifteen years. It shows how he is literally going to fly into the unknown just for a cover photo. Since the photo is of himself, he is really going out there to save himself from getting lost in the gray world he's found himself in.

Now that Walter has left his boring old world, the shots open up. Everything starts to be more loosely framed, long shots that take in the sweeping, colorful landscape. There starts to be more density of texture. The shots have more depth and more weight. Things seem to be more spontaneous as well. Walter winds up with a red sweater. This seems unimportant, but it allows him to be the dominant contrast in the palette of greens and browns, so for once in his life, he stands out. He also gets to use some of his skills that have lain dormant for some time, such as his skateboarding ability. Being out of his cubicle and therefore outside his box offers him greater freedom and shows him that everything he can do is important. He's not just the negative assets manager that nobody appreciates because they don't see what he does. Now, he doesn't need a specific skill set. Now he knows that he can be important for everything that he can do. Of course, there are some things he can't do. Although Walter is very neat
and balances his checkbook frequently, before his adventure he never would have had to climb a mountain. But he will do anything to find this mysterious photographer. There is an interesting bit of parallelism from a fantasy Walter had at the beginning of the film. He imagines himself as a wild, foreign mountain man, come to sweep Cheryl off her feet. But at this point in the movie he is on the mountain for a whole host of reasons other than Cheryl. This kind of parallelism is fascinating because before, it was a workplace daydream, but now it's reality. Usually it happens the other way around, but here, it makes it clear that Walter is stepping into his daydreams and living life for himself and loving it. What will happen when he reaches the end of his quest, though? He finds the old photographer. He has to go back to his boring
old world. So now what? Well, it's not like he just ignores everything that has happened to him.
Despite being back in a symmetrical, boxed-in environment, he takes those experiences and keeps them, because he knows what it means to really live life. Walter knows he can do anything he wants to now. And who knows? Anything can happen. He knows he can do all these things now, so there's nothing that's stopping him from going out and doing them besides himself.

In the end, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was a truly inspiring movie that helps the audience believe that anything is possible.  With amazing mise en scene to further the story and make it feel that much more relatable and real, the movie makes its point in a beautiful way that leads all the senses to believe the many life truths it presents. Walter Mitty makes a beautiful journey from a boring, average Joe that is relatable to many audience members to a more adventurous, outgoing person who can live their fantasies. Using mise en scene to bring the audience along for the journey, the film takes someone ordinary, someone who very well could have just walked into the theatre, and shows how amazing life could be. By starting with everything very planned and anticipatory, but moving into a more spontaneous and aleatory style, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty brings everyone on an adventure that helps people to realize their full potential. The framing and shots in the movie are what made the journey so much more believable, and everyone watching the movie makes the journey right along with Walter.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Mystic River

In Mystic River, the idea of a cross was brought up a lot. Jimmy, of the three main characters, had the most crosses with him in the shots. He always had another obstacle to overcome, something to crucify him. At the end of the film, he is shown with a Celtic cross on his back. The way he is framed suggests that he is alone and struggling a lot with what he's done. He has just killed his friend. By keeping the shot asymmetrical and having him be in darkness, this shot shows how much Jimmy is upset about what he has done and how he is suffering. In the shadows, with a cross on his back. He has a cross to bear, and that is the murder of someone who, as it turned out, was innocent. Before that, there is a shot of him walking down the street, arms outstretched. Jimmy is once again being crucified in this imagery. This shot is different, however, because it is a symmetrical design. This reinforces the feeling of parallelism. On this same street, Dave dies the first time when the molesters take him away. On this street, Jimmy is tortured with the guilt of killing Dave a second time. Jimmy is dying himself in a way, because he has killed a man for something he didn't really do. In the Crucifixion in the Bible, Jesus died to bring peace and forgiveness to everyone. Jimmy is being crucified because he brought Dave the peace that only death could bring. In this film, everybody had their crosses to bear. Jimmy's was one of the heaviest.

Dave also had a lot of pain in his life. In his childhood, he was kidnapped by a pair of men pretending to be police officers and molested. The shot of one of them leaning around the seat and putting his hand up, revealing a ring with a cross on it, has a lot of significance. Not only does it represents what Dave is about to go through, something that will scar him for his entire life, but it also the perversion of something pure, like the church, which also signifies what he is going to go through. The shot is sort of a dramatic contrast between the ring, which should mean something good, and the fake officer, who is anything but. Towards the end of the movie, the two Savage brothers take Dave to the bar in much the same way he was taken from his friends when he was a kid. This parallel editing shows how something bad is going to happen to Dave, because when he was taken like that the first time, it did not go very well for him. Once they are in the bar, Dave seems boxed in, surrounded by people who are supposed to be his friends but who can't quite reach him. The shot has a lot of density and texture, making the viewer feel as heavy and intoxicated as Dave. Dave's discomfort at the bar directly translates to what happens next, which is him being betrayed by a friend and killed. Like in the car at the beginning of the movie, he dies, only instead of just his childhood dying he loses everything. Dave lost a lot in this movie, and he was on a cross from when he was just a child, suffering through it all.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Royal Tenenbaums

The Royal Tenenbaums showed just how dysfunctional a family could get. For example, the father, Royal Tenenbaum himself, always introduced his daughter Margot as his "adopted daughter". This isolated her completely from the rest of the family. One trick the director used to emphasize this was to always put Margot in the back corner of a shot, except when she was with Richie. Richie was sort of like her excuse to be a part of the family. He helped her through a lot. But any time Margot was without him, she was tucked away in the corner. This showed how separate she was from the rest of them. She had her own agenda, she was doing her own thing regardless of what the family wanted her to do. When the whole family visited the grandmother's grave, Royal says Margot never got invited because it wasn't her real grandmother. At the graveyard, she distances herself from everybody and doesn't even appear in the same shots as anyone except for Chas's children. She is kept very separate.

Eli Cash played an interesting part in the movie. He wasn't really a Tenenbaum, but he desperately wanted to be. This played out with him having an affair with Margot and sending Etheline his newspaper clippings. He is very conflicted throughout the film, and this is conveyed by always having him surrounded by odd things. There is always something behind him, there is always something going on in the background, and it feels very chaotic. He also always has an air that he doesn't quite belong. This is shown with his cowboy hat never leaving his person, even when he is hiding in Margot's closet. Eli always has to be wearing his cowboy costume, even though he doesn't quite fit in with it on, because that is who he would like to be. This represents how he wants to become a Tenenbaum but just never quite fits in with the rest of them.

Monday, September 29, 2014


Ethics can be changed by many influential factors. How moral someone is, whether or not they're in love, and how honorable they are all play a part in shaping someone's ethics. In The Usual Suspects, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Gladiator, there are three very different ethical structures. In The Usual Suspects, almost everyone is a criminal. They don't have much in the way of morality, so their idea of ethics is far different from normal people's. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has several different couples who are in love. Love changes the way everybody looks at things. Whether the person in love is on the receiving end or whether there are actions governed by jealousy, love twists the way people look at things, for better or for worse. Honor is something that is harder to change, like in Gladiator. Maximus is honorable to the end, following the conventions and going through proper channels to get what he wants, no matter how hard it might be to get there. Commodus, on the other hand, has no honor. He smothers his own father and lies his way to becoming emperor. His idea of ethics revolves solely around himself. In all three movies, it is shown that ethics can be skewed from the typical sense of right and wrong by morality, love, or honor.

Criminals have their own sense of justice and mercy. This carries over to their morals. Being fairly immoral to begin with, the people in The Usual Suspects don't exactly have much of a sense of ethics. But they do have a sort of code. Their ideas of right and wrong don't match the policemen's ideas, nor do they match what an average person might consider ethics to be. In the scene where Fenster turns up dead, he was killed because Kobayashi didn't want anybody running away. This shows how immoral but still ethical the criminals are. Kobayashi said what he was going to do an he stuck to it, because that was the right thing to do for his employer. His idea of ethics differs from others because of his morals. The entire plan to get aboard the boat is a mess of terrible ethics. But since they had something they wanted to achieve, they threw their old morals out the window. In the beginning of the movie, Keaton had said he didn't want to kill anyone. By the end of the movie, Keaton was the first one on the boat, shooting people left and right to get to the dope he was looking for. As soon as something became more important than his policy of not killing anyone, his morals, and therefore his sense of right and wrong, had changed. What changed his mind was the idea that the woman he loved could have been killed by Kobayashi, so he cooperated with the new plans and the new morals.

When someone falls in love, their priorities can get a bit screwed up. In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Joel and Clementine shift their entire livelihoods to coexist. They are complete opposites. Anytime they sit next to each other, it shows how different they are. Joel is plain and gray, with a boring name and a boring life. Clementine is exciting and colorful and crazy. They defied the idea that people so different couldn't be together because they did fall in love and their worlds had to change a lot to include the other. Their ethics had to change. Something that Joel wouldn't do, like break into a house, he would do when he was with Clementine, because she made his sense of right and wrong change. What was right for one was what was right for the other, because they were in love and they wanted to be together, for each other, no matter what.  Love messed up their priorities, their ethics, their lives.  When someone's in love, their other half becomes the first thing they care about, and everything else can follow. They put the other person first regardless of the effect it will have on other people.

Love and honor are closely intertwined. Maximus was a soldier in Gladiator. He believed that war and dying in war was honorable. Then his family is killed and he is charged with treason for standing up for something he believes in. When Maximus's honor of being a soldier is taken away from him, his sense of right and wrong is drastically changed. He is forced into the gladiator arena, and there he can't not kill people if he wants to make it out and do what he wants. His love for Rome and his love for his family fuels his desire for revenge against Commodus. Commodus wants the opposite of what Maximus and the late emperor want. Maximus is only trying to do what he believes in, what he thinks is honorable given the situation. But his ethics change from the beginning of the movie to the end. At the beginning, he would only kill in war. By the end, he was still only willing to kill for his cause, but his cause was very different. His cause was the good of all of Rome no matter what, but he wound up being fueled by love with regards to the gladiator matches rather than honor and duty on the battlefield.

There are a lot of variables that can cause ethics to change. Some of them are morality, love, and honor. While The Usual Suspects, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Gladiator are not movies that would normally be grouped together, they do exemplify how ethics can change from person to person, or even how one person's ethical code can change given the experiences they've had. Morality is something that varies depending on who the person is. Everyone's moral code, though fundamentally the same in some ways, is also very different in others. Love is something else that everyone has, although once again it is in many different forms. People fall in and out of love, but no matter what, love comes first. And honor is something that isn't on people's minds as much as it used to be. But honor is just another word for ethics. Everyone has something that they hold above all else, whether it is to honor something, because they believe it is right, or because they love it. But in the end, it's really all the same thing.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a very formalistic movie. The entire film, telling the story of Joel and Clementine's relationship backwards, was a choice to make a point. It gives the audience the chance to watch them go from a terrible couple to how they fell in love. This format makes the whole thing seem more hopeful. In the beginning, the audience should hate both of them. But by the end, the audience is invested, and this is because of the formalistic nature of the film. It utilizes odd camera angles and dreamlike sequences of the transitions in the memories to give the feeling that the entire movie is happening in your mind. One of the shots that was used several times in the movie was a high angle shot. On the ice, it was an oblique angle used to show how the fate of their relationship was to forever be on thin ice. In the train station, where people and bags are popping out of existence, it is to make the scene feel more frantic, as they are running away from the memory erasing.

There were also a lot of shots where the focus was on one or the other of Joel or Clementine. There was deep focus on one of them, and it gave the impression that to each other, they were the whole world. The use of color also conveyed this. Clementine is a bright pop of color in Joel's life. Her wildly colored hair and matching personality (she even says "I apply my personality in a paste") bring life to Joel's drab world. He only wears dark colors until he is with Clementine, and then his personality flourishes to catch up to hers. The lighting also reveals a lot about their relationship. At the beginning of the movie (the end of their relationship) all of the scenes are dark, showing how unhappy they are. However, by the time it progresses to the beginning of their relationship and the end of the movie, things get lighter and colors get brighter. This shows the hope in their new relationship and gives the film an overall hopeful tone. Despite the fact that these two people erased each others, you are still reminded of how they fell in love. Since the movie ends with a reunion, it feels like there is still hope somehow.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Usual Suspects

One of the main themes throughout The Usual Suspects was smoking. This wasn't just because it took place before people were aware that smoking will kill you and smoking was cool. From an artistic standpoint, it has a metaphorical significance in the realistic movie. The cigarette smoke represents the smoke-and-mirrors deceptive nature of the entire movie. Everything is all about making other people do what you want to get something you need. And, of course, the entire film leading up to make you think you're so clever and you've figured out that Keaton is Keyser Soze, when it was diminutive Verbal all along. All of this was represented with the cigarettes present throughout the movie.

The biggest symbol and theme throughout the film was the devil. Verbal says (of Keyser Soze) "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." The devil is represented a number of ways. In the scene when all of the criminals are first picked up on the car charge that brings them into the lineup in the first place, there is an element of red in all of the shots until you get to Keaton. Keaton is wearing beige, surrounded by neutral tones, and shown from a low-angle shot, making it clear that he will be the leader. Keyser Soze is painted the entire time as the devil by Verbal. Always in control, always getting exactly what he wants. He says, "How can you shoot the devil in the back? What if you miss?" This quote shows how people think of Keyser Soze, how he's the devil and you need to be absolutely sure that you're going to kill him before you do. What's most interesting about the quote is how it's "shoot the devil in the back". Almost like it would be as much of a regret to kill such a legend as a good thing for the world. Or that by killing someone that everybody is afraid of is somehow a betrayal of him. Knowing that Verbal is Keyser Soze helps that make slightly more sense, but it is an interesting commentary on the devil nonetheless.