27 Clues of a Subtext
I’ve been writing analysis about movies, books and video games for years now and very logically I’ve noticed recurrent patterns in the way authors decide to point at hidden elements or subtexts in their pieces of work.
Of course none of these patterns can ever be considered as a rule. There is nothing that isn’t flexible here, I’m simply talking about very common and recurrent ways of dealing with subtexts, of suggesting ideas that remain hidden overall. But the last word is always your reflection.
Robots are traitors. R2D2 ? Traitor. C3PO ? traitor. K-2S0 ? Traitor.
Intelligent robots that can speak and can nearly be perceived as human characters are always different from human beings in that they don’t have an agency. They always are the tools of someone else. As a consequence, if the main interpretation presents them as autonomous sentient (lol) individuals, you have to wonder who they are truly serving. R2D2 suddenly awakens at the end of The Force Awakens, for no obvious reason… or maybe there is one and we’re not told. R2D2 chooses to go in the exact opposite direction to the one C3PO is contemplating when they both crash in a desert on Tatooine in A New Hope. What a stubborn little robot, yeah right, are you sure he’s not simply going straight to Luke because that’s what it was programmed to do ?
K-2SO’s goal is to help the alliance get the Death Star’s plans, because they’re a trap in themselves. He reaches his goal.
Also, the presence of a robot in a movie always questions the humanity of other characters. If robots that resemble human beings exist, then, how can I be sure that my main character isn’t one ? And therefore how can I be sure that their motivations are truly what they think they are. And on the contrary, a character that announces itself as a robot could perfectly not be one.
Here are a few examples of how complicated things can get:
The eternal question about Blade Runner has always been whether Deckard is a replicant or a human being.
In Detroit Become Human, all these robots that rebel in order to be considered alive, free and deserving of rights, only blindly follow a leader who is a very suspicious prototype. And that leader is very strangely accompanied by a woman who suspiciously acts like a real human being… until she ostentatiously proves that she is robot, but later on.
In Aliens, quite a few elements point at the little girl being a robot. Yes, I know, this idea is contradicted in Alien 3 but Alien 3 was officially criticized for breaking the continuity. We’re aware of Bishop being a robot, that makes any other character a potential one. Problem is, if you take a close look at Newt, you’ll see that a lot of things are suspicious about her, like for example: she survives the aliens.
Another way to look at robots is as the most serious level of degradation of the sex drive. In Ex Machina, in Terminator (1984), in Gunnm, or in real life, human beings can be replaced by puppets, tools and soon androids as a sign of the complete deterioration of interactions between individuals.
If you have incredibly high standards, take a robot. If you are ashamed of your sexuality or your sex urges, take a robot. If relationships between human beings have become insufferable => robots. If Nobody wants you as a sex partner => Robots.
The invasion of artificial beings in our sex life always tells a lot about humanity’s self-hate and they're used as a metaphor for it.
Their hair always tells you a lot about characters. It’s often a lot easier to spot when we’re talking about women but Jaime Escalante’s baldness in Stand and Deliver is very meaningful, just like Eddie Morra’s long hair and final crew cut in Limitless tell you a lot about his evolution throughout the movie.
The most recurrent use of women’s hair in movies is:
Attached hair = closed sexually. Uptight. But heterosexual.
Loose hair = ready and open.
But there’s also the short haired girl who is always an indicator of some hidden homosexually, whether it’d be hers, or the one of the male characters she fancies. => The Bourne Identity, Cliffhanger, Fatal Attraction, Ghost, Kiss Me Deadly.
Recently, there also was the shaved head of Charlize Theron in Mad Max 4 which represented her absolute rejection of femininity after having been enslaved by a disgusting patriarch for years.
3-Dresses and Red Dresses.
When a female character wears a dress, it often is a climactic moment for her. It is the moment when she wants to shout her femininity. In Wonder Woman or Spy, Diana Prince and Susan Cooper both have difficulties to identify with a woman and their “putting on a dress” scene are both an important step for them. There’s also Phantom Thread in which Alma Elson is seduced by Reynolds Woodcock's capacity to make her feel like a woman, except that he doesn’t seem prone to do it in a natural way (sex).
By extension, the red dress is always used as burning desire. I have never seen a movie in which a female character would wear a red dress in a situation in which she isn’t obviously trying her best to make a character understand that she is attracted to them. The most recent example I have is Jackie.
4-Water, Sea, River, Wetness.
As radical as such a claim can sound, water is in most of its apparitions to be linked with women. Whether it’d be amniotic liquid in which a character wishes to go back or is entrapped, or a sign of female sexual arousal, there really isn’t many cases where water is just water in a movie.
Also, when a female character gets soaked to the skin, it most probably suggests that she is wet/sexually aroused.
In L’Ornithologue, the main character starts the movie in a river that represents his link to his mother. It’s not a neutral setting, it means that his mother’s influence upon him is putting him in a problematic situation.
In Batman V Superman, Loïs taking a bath is a signifier of her intense sexual arousal subsequent to her near death experience and saving by Superman.
In Libre et assoupi, Sébastien is psychologically stuck in his relationship with his mother and trying to drown into the sea, contemplating the death that awaits, is him confronting this problem.
However, rain is more often about lack of hope than anything that has to do with femininity.
Also, water can bear a religious meaning: baptism, the return of the sacred, which often is the same thing as going back inside the womb, but also absolution, the cleansing of one’s sins.
5-Barely Escaping Death.
As jaded spectators we tend to overlook the psychological impact of being brought to look death in the eye. We easily perceive main characters as invincible and aware of this invincibility when actually screenwriters do take into account the fact that nobody is invincible and flirting with death is scary and can teach you a lot about yourself.
So, making a character betray their real desires or undergo a transformation or an evolution because they had to contemplate their own death is a very recurrent pattern.
As I was saying above, Loïs craves for sex after having been saved by Superman.
The Hitcher starts with Jim nearly colliding with a truck at high speed as he is falling asleep at the wheel of his car. While watching the film casually, the event looks totally inconsequential, but on a metaphorical level, it represents what triggers the whole story. Jim nearly dies and he is going to evolve.
In Brokeback Mountain, Ennis is attacked by a bear before he jumps on Jack on the following night. It is very suspicious that the character should need to nearly die and starve to death before he decides to have sex with his cowboy friend.
In Stand and Deliver, Jaime Escalante has a heart attack and contemplates death for a long minute before fainting. When he wakes up at the hospital, the movie suggests through other characters’ expectation, that the man should jump on the first woman available but what does he do ? He runs straight back to the high school because his sexuality his oriented towards his pupils and his own (very selfish) goal of having them pass the calculus test.
6-The Sun, or Mars.
There isn’t much to say here, except that the sun is to the father what the sea is to the mother.
In Call Me By Your Name, the omnipresence of the source, of bathing, the river, the sea and of a very strong sun, represents Elio’s incapacity to escape his parents alienating influence.
Mars is often used as the heart of masculinity too. In Ghosts of Mars, the ghosts represent the threat that masculinity itself has become to the fascist matriarchy. In The Martian, Mars is the final goal of scientific manliness. Mark Watney tries to recover his manliness (after Melissa Lewis had sex with him I believe, but won’t leave her boyfriend for him).
What about Mars in Total Recall ? I don't know, I'll have to check if it means anything related to masculinity, that which is very possible.
7-Watches, Temporality, Sexuality, Birth as an Individual.
Sex is the desire around which individuals build themselves. What gives us an “I”, an individuality are our desires which are all rooted in sexual desire.
Birth as an individual thus happens in parallel with the birth of our libido, that’s why libido is often represented by temporality. A non-sexuated individual remains “out of time” and isn’t actually an individual (robots). Movies that talk about the entry into the world of sexuality also talks about the entry into temporality.
That’s why, regularly, male libido is represented by a watch. In Wonder Woman, The Last of Us, Call Me By Your Name, Heavy Rain.
Even more often, time travel is used as a metaphor for a psychological trouble having to do with sexuality. Back to the Future = Homosexuality/Incest. Terminator = Incest. Source code = Asexuality. Groundhog Day = Gigantic sexual frustration. Philadelphia Experiment = homosexuality. Wonder Woman = Misandry (The island of the Amazon is timeless). Captain America = Homosexuality. Justice League : The Flashpoint Paradox = The "What if" Universe where Flash's mother is still alive obtained through time-travel is a "what if the Flash was gay" universe.
8-The First Scene.
The first and last scene of a movie (or book) are quite peculiar in that they aren’t the first and last moments of the life of the characters. There is a decision behind them and their existence and inner structure is a forced artifice of the narration.
Most of the time, the ambiguity behind the first scene lies in the fact that it can depict a habit or a unique event, an exception.
For example, Call Me By Your Name starts with Marzia and Elio alone in the boy’s bedroom. Marzia is lying on the bed. Because of how things will turn out, we spectators will choose to perceive this moment as insignificant. Elio and Marzia have been friends for a long time, they often spend time together, they just happened to be in Elio’s bedroom at that moment. But we can also decide that it’s the first time that it happens and that Marzia wants Elio to join her on the bed. This scene can represent the interruption that Oliver’s arrival is in Elio’s sexual life. Habit VS First time. Meaninglessness VS Importance. Appearances VS Depth.
The trap that lies in a first scene results from our blindness to the fact that this opening moment too has a past.
Beyond this, most of the time, the first scene of a movie tells you everything about its subtext in a very condensed manner. If a movie leaves me quite puzzled, generally I simply take a closer look at its first scene and its dynamic in order to reconstruct how the whole movie could work in the same way.
For example, the very first scene of Avatar was actually removed from its theatrical version, the one in a bar on earth. In this scene we witness Sully coming at a girl’s defence when her boyfriend slaps her in the face. The thing is, this girl remains on the side of her boyfriend while Jake is hitting him. She considered the slap deserved or understandable, after all, we don’t know what’s going on between them. Jake is in a wheelchair and thus jumps on a strong guy in order to defend a woman who isn’t asking for help and who is most probably perfectly capable of defending herself on her own. Then, he gets thrown out of the bar.
The meaning of this introduction is that Jake interferes in things that are none of his business, in order to defend victims that aren’t obviously victims and who didn’t ask for his help, because it’s only through violence and aggression that he can obtain from people that they produce behaviours that ignore his handicap: he gets thrown out of the bar even though he is on a wheelchair. He wants to forget that he is handicapped. His story with the Na’Vis follows the exact same logic. The victims aren’t as innocent or powerless as they seem. The fight can’t be won. But the war with humans (that he provokes) promises to be very painful and to make him forget about his own weakness.
9-Eyes, Mirrors of the Soul.
One could think that using a character’s eyes as a tool to describe their interiority would be very limited. And it is, I suppose, however, eyes are very often used in order to betray what’s truly going on inside one’s mind ; sometimes in a very simple, obvious and classical manner, sometimes in a more original one.
Call Me By Your Name: Greek statues have no eye and represent how Elio’s father’s fascination for the male body is objectifying. It destroys the interiority of its targets. At the end of the movie, Elio’s eyes are empty just like the one’s of the Greek statues.
Jurassic World: The eye of the Indominous Rex has a peculiarity (I think it doesn’t blink the way it’s expected to or it shifts from the eye of a reptile to the one of a mammal) that represents the fact that there’s no natural logic to be found inside this monster.
The Mummy: The female villain has two pupils in each eye that which of course hints at a very troubled personality. (Double personality ?)
Lego batman: When Batman starts perceiving himself as a god, his eyes become white and luminous. There is nobody behind these eyes anymore. Bruce Wayne has been swallowed by his vigilante persona.
Alita, Battle Angel: Alita’s giant eyes will probably be a signifier of her over-sensitivity. She cannot turn a blind eye to things.
Of course, there are the white or tainted eyes of zombies. Or reptile/wolf/cat’s eyes given to a human being. And when a character looks straight at the camera therefore at the audience to invite us to look inside of them, try to understand what they feel at this precise moment, like in The Revenant, Le Petit Lieutenant, Call Me By Your Name or DeathProof.
More subtly, expressions remain very meaningful. If the camera takes the time to linger over them, it isn’t for no reason. Eye contact between two characters, or absence of eye contact. Someone lowering their eyes or closing them. These elements are decided and discussed and they can contradict the most obvious interpretation of a scene.
If a woman tells a guy “I love you” but lowers her eyes while saying it, there obviously is more to the scene than it seems.
If a character maintains eye contact during a long exchange but suddenly lowers his eyes when telling Luke “your sister is hiding somewhere safe,” it is suspicious and you should immediately understand that Luke’s sister isn’t hiding somewhere safe.
Regularly a director/screenwriter finds means to make us understand that a character is in very serious psychological pain but won’t say it. The character’s inner pain thus has to be suggested, hinted at in an indirect manner.
In Call Me By Your Name, Elio suffers from nosebleeds several times. These nosebleeds aren’t incidental.
In Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Bill Willoughby coughs blood in the face of Mildred Hayes in order to show her how concerned he is by the death of Angela (his hidden daughter I believe).
In The Shape of Water, the amphibian spits blood in the bathtub and loses scales. Scales are his natural armour, they exist in order to protect him. If he loses his scales, it metaphorically means that he doesn’t want to protect his life anymore. This inner wound deprives him from the desire to protect his existence, from the will to live. All this said in one shot and zero words.
Just like with wounds, characters’ deaths themselves tell you about what killed them on a metaphorical level and about what dies with these characters.
In The Shape of Water, Strickland gets his throat slit by the amphibian. It’s one of the closest death he could have from “he dies because he is not a amphibian.” Getting his throat slit prevents him from breathing, it cuts the connection between his lungs and his mouth, and it also prevents him from speaking. So, on a metaphorical level, Strickland dies of not being an amphibian, that which is a very interesting idea.
In Commando, Bennet, the incarnation of Matrix’ homosexual desire ends up impaled in the chest by a pipe off which some steam is escaping. Matrix utters the famous one-liner “let off some steam Bennett.” The whole death is a metaphor for a sexual encounter, this penetration and ejaculation will satiate how hero’s sexual urges for some time.
In Kill Bill, Bill dies (or doesn’t) of a broken heart.
This mistreated heart is really not rare and when you hero kills the bad guy by shooting him in the heart or impaling, it’s hard not to guess that their relationship might have been a bit more profound than what we thought all along.
Generally speaking, the meaning of deaths isn’t that hard guess:
-Pierced, shot heart: The character is dying of a romantic disappointment.
-Suffocation, lung wound: The character was deprived of the possibility to be themselves.
-Decapitation: The character is deprived of a status that was everything for them.
-Dismemberment: The killer rejects their own attraction for the victim’s body.
-Stabbing: The conflict between the killer and their victim is private or even intimate.
-Shooting: The killer wants to remain clean, they cannot fully take the moral responsibility of what they’re doing.
-Strangulation: Strong sexual dynamic between both characters, the murder might even be a consequence of it. Also, strangulation takes a special spot here as it represents the hardest way of taking one’s life. It can thus also means the purest of hate.
-Diseases: They tell you about the inner suffering of the character. In 3 Billboards, Bill Willoughby’s liver cancer comes from the anxiety and guilt resulting from his failure to find Angela’s killer (or the fact that he feels responsible for her death). In Breaking Bad, Walter White’s lung cancer evolves in accordance with the plot. It is triggered by the man’s complete lassitude towards his life.
-Accidents: Accidents often are suicides or murders that shouldn’t be too obvious. In Sleepless in Seattle, I’m convinced that Tom Hanks killed his wife but the movie would be over if it was confirmed at any point.
12-The Metaphorical Connection to the Real.
More than just deaths, any element of meaning can entertain a metaphorical relation to reality. In the real world, a woman can untie her hair without meaning that she’s ready for sex but in a movie, it’s rarely the case. So, if the camera spent time showing us a woman taking care of her hair, there’s a meaning beyond the literal one.
Movies are very short and it’s perfectly impossible to use real everyday life indicators of dynamics and characters in their universe.
In Ghost, Carl takes Sam by the arm to cross the street and the two men look like a couple for a second. The gesture would be trivial in real life but in the movie it raises the question of a potential attraction between them. And indeed, the homosexual subtext is here.
The need for speed and synthesis has a tendency to ask from the spectators to perceive meaningful elements on a higher level of signification than they would in real life.
For example, there is a common scene in American movies where a dad acknowledges his daughter as a woman, most of the time because she wears a dress that puts forward her femininity, most of the time because she going to prom night. But truly, in real life, this acknowledgment of the daughter as a young woman by the father can take a lot more time, a lot more steps, or can be a lot more subtle. Simply, it is very rare that a movie can spend more than two scenes on this evolution.
In Call Me By Your Name, the numerous indicators that Oliver is a narcissistic pervert are however a lot less numerous than they would be in reality as every new example of his manipulation is developed as a representative of one manipulation technique. The movie cannot last for ten hours and repeat itself constantly. Oliver disappearing without leaving a trace and making Elio worry is the kind of thing that could happen two or three times at most in a movie before it becomes terribly repetitive and obviously suspicious while that kind of behaviour would happen a lot more in the reality of a toxic relationship. One important aspect of a story about manipulation is that it should remain un-obvious, the movie shouldn’t do the thinking for the spectators but only give them all the elements. And these elements are thus metaphorical representations of entire mechanisms that actually would be more present in real life. For example, narcissistic perverts tend to humiliate their prey with quick and undiscussable attacks exactly lie the shameful “grow up” that Elio gets for writing him a note.
In a similar vein, the desire to “go dancing” is always used to signify a woman’s desire to have sex. Used in the recent Phantom Thread where Reynold Woodcock’s wife is frustrated sexually because her husband is indifferent to sex. When she decides to go dancing on her own, their couple is close to collapsing. Also used in Terminator, when sexually frustrated Sarah Connor goes to a nightclub.
Next to red dresses and dance, the lit cigarette is a common signifier of sexual arousal or readiness.
Again, in Call Me By Your Name, Elio’s mother’s constant smoking is to be linked with the fact that, the father being homosexual, the mother is quite frustrated.
15-The Last Minute Piece of Information.
One way one can give depth to a screenplay is to bring the story to a third act revelation that should lead the audience to question their perception of it until that point.
A quite noticeable example of this is the final marriage of Call Me By Your Name. Oliver calls Elio, when they haven’t seen each other for months and most probably will never do ever again, and announces that he’s getting married. Most spectators ignored this element and filed it under “He has no choice, gays are oppressed ! Society is monstrous ! Poor Oliver ! Poor Elio ! Their relationship was fated to end quickly !” Truly, this final piece of news should be the last straw that makes everything suddenly look more suspicious. Can you still look at this “beautiful” love story knowing than one of the “lovers” is actually aware of the fact that he’s getting married in a few months and never ever tackles the topic ? No, it changes the meaning of many scenes and behaviours.
In the same movie, there’s also the final revelation that Elio’s father is homosexual. Of course, today’s propaganda imposes that we pretend that it changes nothing, but really ? Elio is raised by a homosexual father who has never told him about his homosexuality and who has a WIFE, that which necessarily brings Elio to strongly believe that his dad is heterosexual and suggests a strong sexual frustration on the mother’s side. Do you one minute think this can make a balanced family ? What if young Elio had realised his mother was cheating on his dad (that which she most probably do) ? Anyway, what’s important here is that we get to learn about this after everything happened when it actually changes a LOT.
Another beautiful example of this “final element that changes everything” pattern, is Kiddo’s daughter at the end of Kill Bill. Kill Bill’s story is about Kiddo avenging the death of her daughter. If she had known that her daughter wasn’t dead, she most probably wouldn’t have slaughtered everybody in the same fashion. So, how come nobody tells her ? Why does Vernita Green remain silent ? She just needs to say “your daughter is alive” and the fight’s over. Maybe because nobody knows about it… but how could they not know ? Of course they would know whether the baby survived Kiddo’s beating or not. The reason why they never talks about B.B. is that the little girl isn’t Kiddo’s real daughter. She’s only another trick from Bill. (Remember the blond prostitute with her lips slit ?).
Very often, a hidden motivation is revealed, a family relationship, a love, or the simple fact that a character knew something he pretended not to know… what matters is that there’s always a late piece of information that changes the meaning of at least one characters’ behaviour and indirectly the whole meaning of the story.
What makes it a clue to a subtext is that most of the time, nobody will acknowledge how this new element changes everything. Elio’s parents a super enthusiastic towards Oliver’s marriage (Just saying, there’s no marriage and they know it), and Elio was so subtly manipulated that he would never say something like “you fooled me pretty well you motherfucker !”
16-The Detail That Negates the Most Obvious Interpretation of the Story.
Similarly, the Detail That Negates the Most Obvious Interpretation of the Story is an element that, by itself, should bring the spectator to revise what seems to be the way the audience is expected to interpret the movie.
In Deathproof, the three women who kill Stuntman Mike seem a bit over excited to do so but knowing that he himself is a murderer the audience won’t necessarily have a lot of compassion for him. The problem arises from the fact that the killing ladies do not know that he is a murderer, contrary to us, they didn’t see the first part of the movie, they are not taking revenge for the death of the first victims. They slaughter the man because he dared give them a little fright when they were acting like hotheads. Deathproof is perceived as a “revenge flick” when there’s no revenge.
In Jurassic Park, the T-Rex’s vision is supposed to be based on movement. Except that the sole person who gets eaten by a T-Rex in that movie is actually completely still. Nothing can change that fact: When Donald Gennaro is eaten, he is entirely still and the T-Rex looks straight at him for a few seconds before eating him. There’s no ambiguity in that precise scene that the T-Rex can see immobile objects, that which suffice to say Alan Grant is wrong and should bring the audience to reflect upon the real reason why Alan and Lex don’t get eaten.
Call Me By Your Name cannot be the title of a love story. The fact that Elio and Oliver should exchange their names is a very serious indicator that their relationship isn’t a matter of love but most probably of a narcissistic disorder and this independently from all the rest. They can get on well, they can enjoy spending time together, they can be sexually attracted to each other, nothing can erase the fact that instead of voicing their affection, instead of saying “I love you” they exchange their names. The love that it is about in the movie, is a feeling that is inherently directed towards an-other. If you ask the other to act as a mirror of yourself, there’s something quite morbid going on. Coincidentally, it’s exactly the description of homosexuality that psychotherapists have been giving for a century.
17-The Characters’ Point of View.
Nothing very complex here, as I was saying above about Deathproof, characters can sometimes be aware of much less than the spectators who might judge their behaviour as if they had access to the same piece of information as them.
Also, a character who should be surprised by the discovery of something shocking or important but wouldn’t obviously suggests that he knew a lot more than he pretended to. This is the case with Marquis Warren and the poison in The Hateful Eight.
18-Supporting Roles Who Hand Us Erroneous Opinions on a Plate.
The main characters of our most beloved movies very rarely are good people, courageous people or moral people. The problem is that, obviously, we want them good, courageous and moral. We want them to be perfect when the more perfect they are the less interesting the things the movie will be able to develop will be. Main characters have to be seriously flawed. They have to be the incarnation of a mistake.
Screenwriters resort to a certain number of tricks in order to allow us to watch the movie without questioning the main characters’ perfection if we don’t feel like it, if we want to see them as perfect. They bury their amorality, they hide their flaws and they give them excuses that we can choose to accept or not.
One of these tricks is to have supporting roles tell something positive about the hero, that they are actually not in position to say.
For example, you want to talk about the fact that many doctors are egotistical and irresponsible individuals, this without triggering an uproar or scaring the audience. You’ll make a movie about an incompetent but very charismatic doctor who should totally be fired but you’ll start it with a patient telling the main character “He is an exceptional Doctor, he saved my life.” Obviously, competent or not, the doctor must have saved many lives in the lapse of his career and having someone admire him for that reason doesn’t mean anything. The patient cannot have a critical eye, his opinion is close to insignificant, but it still will influence the audience. Also, you might wanna do that because you want people to think for themselves. Both opinions need be uttered so that people decide what they think you cannot just hammer your own opinion into their head.
At the beginning of The Shape of Water, the owner of the apartment that she is renting, offers cinema tickets to Elisa and also, a colleague of the latter helps her hide the fact that she arrived late. These two benevolent initiatives convey the feeling that everybody loves Elisa specifically because she is adorable, sweat and generous… we are already ready to perceive her as the self-sacrificial saviour of the creature. The thing is, these two initiatives have nothing to do with Elisa’s personality. The landlord whom we constructed as a good friend of Elisa will only appear once more in the movie. His initiative was most probably directed towards Gill, the homosexual friend. He doesn’t know or care about Elisa. As far as Zelda is concerned, we don’t know why she is so involved in her relationship with Elisa (Homosexuality) but it becomes quickly clear that Elisa doesn’t deserve so much help and attention. She only shows indifference and ingratitude towards her black colleague. And so, both the behaviour that make us think everybody loves Elisa because she’s so sweat are rooted in nothing. And Elisa is just a fucking selfish bitch.
In Darkest Hour, we can witness Winston Churchill behaving like a whimsical unlikeable old fart but just before we pass judgement on him, his wife enter the room and explains him how much she wished he made an effort so that people could see the “real him,” the one that she loves. The audience thus decides to overlook the fact that Winston Churchill is just dislikeable and now expects the moment where he will manage to show his true altruistic and amiable side when he actually just remains the old embittered sour fart in quest of vengeance that he was from the beginning. Strangely (or not so strangely), when at the end of the movie, his wife should rejoice because he’s shown his good side, she actually becomes more distant and depressed.
In Jurassic Park, Tim and Lex, through their enthusiasm toward John Hammond (their granddad), hide the fact that he is monster. He doesn’t care about the fact that his impatience cost a worker his life, and doesn’t care about the worker’s life either, or his family, he spared no expense but his park is as safe as a river full of piranhas (that which simply means he didn’t think about his visitor’s safety). When the kids arrive he introduces them as “our target audience,” he doesn’t care about them. He will later on refuses to have the dinos killed in order to protect the kids when everyone else is ready to push the kill switch.
19-Narrators Are Liars.
As soon as a movie has a narrator, this narrator lies. He misrepresents the facts according to motivations he doesn’t reveal. Rose in Titanic. Kiddo in Kill Bill. Or, the narrator doesn’t exactly understand what happened and we’re supposed to reconstruct the real story lie in Forrest Gump or in many Film Noirs. Or, he could just have a peculiarity that distorts his account.
The conclusion of a narrated movie is always different once you’ve spotted the narrator’s motivations and guessed what he’s hiding.
20-Useful Lessons. Suggestive Outlines. Equations that Lack an Answer.
From time to time, a movie will develop subplots for the sake of weakening the mental barriers that the screenwriter believes the audience has. That’s why subplots can sometime look useless, because they are supposed to teach a lesson to the spectators but do not necessarily help the story move forward significantly.
In Crooked House, we witness a couple being accused of the murder of the father directly because of the existence of a letter that everybody believes to have been written only in order to have them be accused. At the end of the movie, the little girl that we’re supposed to believe to be the murderer, sees the responsibility of the crime be attributed to her because of… a letter. The movie whispered to you that a letter does not constitute a serious proof of someone’s guilt, and this ending suggests that the girl is most probably innocent. (That which she is).
In Star Wars, Obi Wan shows Luke that he can alter people’s thoughts at will. He also proves Luke that he can lie to him without scruples and this when talking about very serious matters (He lied to Luke in order to bring him to kill his own father, how sick is that ? And just after the kid’s lost his foster family). But suddenly, just like that, while in Obi Wan’s company, our young hero decides that Leïa is his sister when they've been flirting together for two episodes…
The screenplay thus builds up some kind of 1+1 operation without giving away the answer. That’s the role of the audience to figure things out and once you do understand what the movie is trying to tell you, it’s hard to go back because it becomes obvious that its entire structure points at this hidden truth.
In Call Me By Your Name, Oliver’s final excuse not to be with Elio is that his parents wouldn’t understand his homosexuality. Nowadays spectators are only too happy to taste the tragedy and do not question the probability of this outcome. The problem with this ending isn’t that it’s not very believable, but that if Oliver was in love with Elio as he pretends to be, he actually is in the absolute best position to remain with him. He condemns himself to a life of misery with a woman and a family who will never accept him the way he is, when in six weeks’ he’s found a substitute family, entirely open to homosexuality, an intellectual mentor, a heavenly place where to live, a splendid villa, and young lover who’s crazy about him. The movie displays a very long list of elements that should bring the audience to question the ending : “Really ? His parents wouldn’t understand !?! He doesn’t even have to tell them ! He just needs to say that he’s going to move to the north of Italy.” From there, spectators can just follow the trail and realise that Oliver is lying. But it’s the spectators role to figure it out. Everything is laid out for them to understand but the movie will not pronounce the conclusion: “Oliver is a manipulator.”
21-Supporting Roles/Villains Who Quickly Tell You Truth
As our irreproachable main characters rarely truly are spotless, their enemies or those who do not share their interests can sometimes offer us an unbiased look at their behaviours.
When Churchill, in Darkest Hour, is accused of being motivated by his hubris by one of his political rivals, the man is flatly right. Same thing when the latter sums up Churchill’s final speech with “he enlisted the English language into the war effort.” He is right, Churchill brought nothing to the table beyond communication.
In Rogue One, during a war council, a rebel chief declares that the rebels shouldn’t go get the plans on Scariff, that the whole story is just a trap that aims at having the rebels attack the Deathstar and get slaughtered. Jin Erso makes a beautiful speech and in the end the plans are stolen and the Deathstar is destroyed. The thing is, the rebel chief was right and the gigantic weapon is only destroyed thanks to a miracle shot fired by a young guy who wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place (Luke), after all the rebel fleet was eradicated, and helped by another guy who wasn’t supposed to be there either (Han Solo). Stealing the plans and attacking the Deathstar was a setup. Sending them to Jin Erso too.
And thus, regularly, screenwriters place the truth in the mouth of an unimportant character or of a character that has been discredited beforehand. In Call Me By Your Name, if Marzia had accused Oliver of being a manipulator, she would have been right but she would have just looked like the jealous hurt girl who needs to attack the one she envies.
22-Coincidences That Aren’t Coincidences.
When at the end of Jurassic Park, as Grant, Sattler, Tim and Lex are about to get eaten by velociraptors, the T-Rex suddenly appears and save them, it’s ridiculous. How did she enter the building ? Doesn’t she make the earth quake on her every single step anymore ? What is she doing here ? Was she just passing by by chance ? How come nobody sees her arrive ?
In most movies, we spontaneously accept a certain amount of inconsistencies because we spontaneously feel that there’s a logic behind all this. The T-Rex saves our heroes when just before it represented a threat . That’s one of Jurassic Park’s lessons: there’s no animosity in nature’s violence. One can be eaten or saved, it follows the rule of the stomach.
Often, spectators criticize coincidences that they find too unbelievable. Yet, behind these coincidences often hides clues of something deeper. If a coincidence isn’t one, then there might simply be other human beings on this planet who have their own motivations and who are capable of taking initiatives.
In A Most Violent Year, Abel Morales, a Hispanic businessman who works in fuel oil delivery, is watched by the police. On his daughter’s birthday, cops show up at his place with a warrant and demand to search the house. While his wife earns him time, Abel hides files that could be incriminating. We spectators accept the beautiful coincidence without giving it a serious thinking: the cops showed up on Abel’s daughter’s birthday and it allowed him to hide stuff from them, all the more so as we believe Abel to be absolutely innocent and so we only see harassment and a ruined birthday.
Yet, it’s really not that hard to find a reason why this wouldn’t be a coincidence. The police captain can totally perceive that Abel is a rising figure, and more, a rising figure that is forging itself the reputation of being respectable. Everybody can see that Abel Moralès is going to become important and respected, and everybody wants his share. The cop isn’t trying to catch Abel, quite the contrary, he wants to show him that he can be nice to him or give him a hard time… that which he already is doing by investigating his company when Abel came to him for help. At the end of the movie, they make a pact: the cop will leave Abel alone if the latter helps him enter the world of politics. The birthday coincidence wasn't a coincidence.
Snow, ice, winter are used to signify the intense loneliness of a character, whether it is secret or obvious, who is abandoned by all or can’t find his place.
Man of Steel contains a very good example of that as the more Clark fails at finding love in human society, the colder his environment becomes, until he finds a Kryptonian spaceship in antartica. => Being a Kryptonian means “not finding love, being treated like an alien.”
Call Me By Your Name ends in winter. The beautiful source, Elio’s secret place, Is frozen. The kid is numbed by loneliness, this to the core. Oliver destroyed him.
The Shining. The final labyrinth is a metaphor for Jack’s sadness at having lost the love of his wife and kid.
24-Eggs (often soft-boiled).
Eggs are used to comment on reproduction, the urge for offsprings or the relationship that a mother entertain with her children.
In Game Night, Annie and Max can’t seem to be able to have a kid and end up looking for a Faberge egg everywhere. The metaphor doesn’t make a difference between oviparous or viviparous, between egg and uterus. Eggs are what contain the offspring and if it is often used to describe human beings’ relationship with their children or their desire for children, it is because they have the advantage of being accessible, visible contrary to a uterus.
In The Edible Woman, a man relates a nightmare in which his mother forces him to eat a soft-boiled egg when he’s just discovered a live chick inside of it. This nightmare describe his relationship with his mother: she allows him no space beyond what she expects of him.
In L’Ornithologue, the main character is first fascinated by the eggs of a bird (He wants a kid) but ends up having to eat these eggs in order to survive. Here, the fact that he should eventually eat the eggs represents the abandon of the idea of having offsprings.
In Call Me By Your Name, Oliver’s strong dislike of soft-boiled eggs is opposed to his liking of apricot juice. The fruit is Elio. What is the egg ?
In The Shape of Water, Elisa brings eggs to the amphibian… to feed him ? Nope.
In Phantom Thread, Alma uses poisoned omelet as a mean to obtain sexual favours from Reynolds. The meal contains her sexual frustration. Result of the final poisoning? Alma gets pregnant.
Islands are regularly used as a mean to signify the imprisonment inside the original matrix, the womb, the uterus, the ovary.
In Commando, John impregnates that final ovary. In Jurassic Park, John Hammond’s island is an artificial ovary on which he accidentally invites Ellie Sattler, a woman who wants a kid. And it is far from being illogical that it should be suggested that John was homosexual in Fallen Kingdom. The Jurassic Park franchise respects the problematic of maternity. In each episode, the plot revolves around the alienated desire to have children of a man or a woman.
The Island in Dolores Claiborne clearly indicates that the female character is a lot more in control of the situation that she admits as everything happens on her “territory.”
The Island in Wonder Woman is inhabited only by Women, and Ho Surprise ! men break through the invisible membrane of the suffocating ovary just when Diana’s libido is blooming.
Both Skyfall and Shutter Island, contain an island that is strongly linked to the role of a mother in the story.
26-Betrayals of the Audience's Supension of Disbelief
Regularly spectators accept unbelievable details because the main coherence of the narrative and its entertaining quality are far more important than so called realism.
However, from time to time, screenwriters trick you into accepting something through suspension of disbelief when truly you could look at it with a critical eye and realise that appearances were deceiving, that what you were curteously accepting as truth hid something more complex.
In Kill Bill, we all accept Bill’s magical death by the five fingers and exploding heart technique instead of considering the "obvious": He’s just playing along because he doesn’t want to have to kill Kiddo or be killed by her. The success of the supermove is a way out of a tragic ending. You might remember that this attack is not the sole occurrence of something magical in the movie, but Kiddo’s flying master, magical sword or resurrection, all happen inside the narration. She can very well invent all these elements while Bill’s death happens outside the narration, in the “real world.”
27-The Complete Manipulation by the Government:
I recently came accross a type of sub-text that completely alter the story by making it the result of a governmental initiative, or of powerful secret organization.
One of the possible clue of this type of secret interpretation is the exceptional quality of the main character. A bold scientific of 50 inches makes an important discovery and suddenly meets the woman of his life who surprisingly happens to have the body of supermodel => she's an agent who has for mission to control, protect or even kill him if necessary.
That kind of corrupted partner can be found in Monk, Supergirl, Starship Troopers or even Iron Man. It is specifically underlined, in all these movies and series, that the main characters is not girl/boyfriend material and should logically remain alone, and still they are accompanied by super attractive, super understanding, super sacrificial, super supportive partners who love them the way they are, that is, insufferable. In the case of Starship Troopers, Carmen is simply a girl that Rico think is "above his league."
Beyond the invention of a sexual partner, the government or powerful organization interested in our main character can transform the world into a giant stage. The direct experience that main characters have of their lives thus lose any meaning. That kind of subtext is problematic in that it justifies the radical statement, "everything is an illusion" and opens the door to a lot too many possible interpretations.
I'm making this entry because of the movie The Age of Adaline where Blake Lively plays the role of a woman so perfect that she's going to be used as an experiment on immortality. Although spectators are brought to believe that she manages to escape those who want to study her, truly she does not and everything she experiences is staged, controlled organized.
Before that movie, I had already spotted War of the Worlds, of which the extra-terrestrial invasion is only an illusion set up by the government. Tom Cruise's character, the surprisingly invincible good dad, is at the center of the plot because the government is creating the perfect witness out of him. He survives attacks because no one's targetting him. He is helped, given direction and even saved at the end... and his son miraculously survives for no reason.
In Starship Troopers, John Rico is the hero of a propaganda movie. We're obectively told that the interests of a government lies in enterily writing the narrative of his life, and indeed the interventions are numerous.
(I will regularly add entries to this article)