ByRoselyn, writer at
Lover of cinema old and new, connoisseur of wit and style, and seeker of the unusual and extraordinary

French literary critic Roland Barthes invented the idea of "The Death of the Author' in 1967, arguing that authors' personal history and intentions should be ignored when analyzing their works. He believed that the creator and the creation are two independent and unrelated concepts. To Barthes, meaning is not inherent to literature and is instead shaped by the reader.

Movies are art, and as such, should be as open to interpretation as possible. I therefore believe that this concept should be applied to cinema as well and that movies and TV shows should be considered independent entities, detached from their directors and producers. By doing so, it would extend and enrich the conversations about movies, shift the discussion away from the critics, and include the general public. Here's a look at implications this theory would have:

Implications For Viewers

Despite watching the same movie, everyone will see something different, which is a part of the beauty and power of movies. By invoking The Death of the Director, all interpretations become valid, and there is no "correct" way of understanding a film. As a viewer, you would be invited to analyze and find meaning in unique and personal ways. When critiquing a work, you would no longer have to be concerned that you are not informed or knowledgeable enough to properly compose a review. It is never possible to truly know what the director intended or to view a movie exactly as the creator did, but with The Death of the Director, that doesn't make your opinion any less of an important contribution to the discussion.

A good example of this is Clint Eastwood's American Sniper. At the time of its release, there was a huge debate on whether the movie was pro-war or anti-war, with both sides interpreting the movie in line with their preexisting beliefs. Everyone who saw the movie saw it differently, filtered through the lens of their attitude towards war.

Scene from 'American Sniper' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
Scene from 'American Sniper' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

However, Eastwood was not happy that his movie was being politicized and defended his initial concept, saying:

"These fellows who are professional soldiers...go in for a certain reason...and there’s no political aspect there other than the fact that a lot of things happen in war zones.”

According to The Death of the Director theory, all three sides are correct, as it is impossible to separate the work itself from the viewing experience. Though American Sniper may have been neutral from the start, the political interpretations are also legitimate ways of understanding the movie.

Implications For Creators

For directors and other individuals involved in the process of making movies, The Death of the Director would mean that once a movie is released to the public, it is no longer in their control. Their initial concept would still be considered a legitimate interpretation, but it would no longer be the sole way of understanding the film, just one of many. This theory would, however, allow their works to transcend time, as they would no longer be locked into a specific historical context. Meanings would shift with time, allowing them to continually remain relevant.

For example, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale was written in 1985 and, at the time, was considered a work of speculative fiction. Atwood was inspired to write the novel based on historical events she had witnessed including World War II, the Berlin Wall, and the rise of right-wing groups in the United States.

'The Handmaid's Tale' [Credit: Hulu]
'The Handmaid's Tale' [Credit: Hulu]

Even Atwood had no idea that her novel would continue to remain relevant for so long:

Back in 1984, the main premise seemed — even to me — fairly outrageous.

However, in today's political landscape, the novel has taken on a whole new meaning. In its current format as a Hulu TV series, The Handmaid's Tale has sparked a myriad of new conversations about topics such as politics, feminism and religion.

The significance of films should be allowed to evolve over time, and with The Death of the Director this could be taken even further. With this theory, movies can easily be re-interpreted, even in ways that may contradict the original work.

Implications For Fan Theories

Fan theories are frequently being challenged because they contradict something the director said about the movie. Other times, the director's life and personal philosophy is used to prove or disprove theories. However, with The Death of the Director, any fan theory, so long as it it is presented logically, would be deemed valid, no matter who or what it contradicts. This would allow for greater creativity and freedom for fans everywhere.

Fan theories are continually being debunked by the directors, including the theory that Studio Ghibli's My Neighbor Totoro is actually quite morbid. According to the theory, Totoro is actually a death god and Mei and Satsuki die at the end of the movie.

'My Neighbor Totoro' [Credit: Toho]
'My Neighbor Totoro' [Credit: Toho]

The theory was quickly shut down by Studio Ghibli, who announced:

“The rumors of Totoro being a death god, Mei being dead, and others rumors of the like are absolutely not true…Someone made them up because they sounded interesting to him or her, and it seems to have spread around the Internet...We hope that people will not believe the rumors.”

However, with The Death of the Director, both the director's intent and the viewers' interpretation would be equally valid ways of viewing the movie. Fan theorists would be invited to find whatever meaning in a movie makes the most sense to them, however strange or macabre.

The Death of the Director would allow all opinions to be appreciated, and would provide the freedom necessary for viewers to be thoughtful and creative when discussing movies. Rather than turning to critics and directors to understand a movie, as a viewer, it would be up to you to interpret movies and TV shows in a way that makes the most sense to you.


What is your take on The Death of the Director?

(Sources: TV Tropes)


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