Film critics and casual moviegoers alike sometimes find themselves struggling to find the meaning and significance of a movie, hoping to know what the main intention of the film director was. Moreover, those elements are opened to multiple interpretations and that might lead a particular scene or the overall film to have a radically different understanding. See for example Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy that has been interpreted as a film that makes a comment about the duality of the human being, his doubts and fears or as a film that makes a criticism about the increasing and fearing power of media and how that one controls us and manipulates us. Some films, to a greater or lesser extent, may be subject of analysis made upon concrete and existing elements. In the end, the viewer will come to a conclusion but the director’s original intention will be altered, modified and, even, disregarded. That because the director will not tell us exactly what he aimed for because his film is just there expecting to be explored.
If the film itself contains a meaning waiting to be discovered, then there is also the probability that the finished product escapes the director’s will. Think about a book, for example. The writer set some expectations on his readers and what he initially intends escapes his power. Now think about a poem. Every reader will come up with varied opinions. Readers will find allegories, symbols or will not find anything at all. The same occurs with the audience. But, what happens when a film escapes the director’s control and starts speaking to the viewers? Is it that the director intentionally seeks to have an opened dialogue with his audience? Or is it that the film unconsciously transcends its own power? Darren Aronofsky and Black Swan is a good film to start checking that.
We all know the story. Virginal girl, pure and sweet, trapped in the body of a swan. She desires freedom but only true love can break the spell. Her wish is nearly granted in the form of a prince, but before he can declare his love her lustful twin, the black swan, tricks and seduces him. Devastated, the white swan leaps of a cliff killing herself and in death, finds freedom.
We open our season with Swan Lake. Done to death, I know. But not like this. We strip it down, make it visceral and real.
Aronofsky did not waste time explaining through the movie what he was up to. From the very beginning he clearly tells audience what to expect from his film. 'We all know the story' serves to tell people: even if you have not seen the ballet let me explain you what the Swan Lake is about. For the ones who already know the plot he addressed them as well: 'Done to hell, I know'. Therefore, what is the point in bringing to the big screen the tale of Princess Odette? Aronofsky quickly answers by saying: 'We (I) strip it down, make it visceral'. By the end of the film it is admittedly acknowledged that we were told upfront the whole story in one scene and very much alike the Star Wars prequels, we already knew what was going to happen it was just a matter of seeing how would those events take place. Very subtle, Aronofsky, ¿unconsciously?, addresses us. He speaks through Vincent Cassel's character. The dialog fits accordingly to the story being developed but also works out of the plot. The last scene contributes to emphasize this self-awareness of the film. The audience in the theater clamorously clapped and celebrated the representation of the story on stage but also exists the likelihood that the audience clapping is no other than us, the actual audience, rendering recognition to Aronofsky's work which, in words of a dying Nina, was 'perfect'.
On the other hand, there are examples of the film director speaking not about the story but about his experience with the film. Take now the stunningly crafted Gravity by Alfonso Cuarón, for instance. It was 2006 when Cuarón first seriously started making Gravity but things did not go according to the plan. The first big major problem was the technology. In an interview prior to Gravity's debut, Cuarón said that filmmaker David Fincher advised him to await for the required technology to exist because back in those days Gravity might have been impossible. Then, after two years designing and testing cameras and working on animation, the issue with the money raised. Gravity seemed not to be a profitable project and budget was cut. Additionally, we have to mention that the stars originally attached to the movie departed due to schedules conflicts: Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey Jr. It was only when the ambitious task began to take form that Sandra Bullock and George Clooney came on board.
Taking into consideration all that, some of the words of the final scene have an utterly important resonance. Cuarón, personified through Sandra Bullock's character, says:
All right, the way I see it... There's only two possible outcomes. Either I make it down there in one piece and I have one hell of a story to tell or I burn up in the next 10 minutes. Either way, whichever way, no harm, no foul. Because either way, it'll be one hell of a ride.
For Cuarón things are simple: either he makes it 'in one piece' and he has a 'hell of a story to tell' or his reputation and credibility 'burn up in the next 10 minutes'. In additions to this we can say that there exists a parallelism between Sandra Bullock's character and Alfonso Cuarón. Both face many complications and seemingly unavoidable circumstances and both in the end have something to say, something they learned from the journey. The result? We all know the story: Cuarón was awarded with the Oscar for best direction. The dialogue, we can conclude, is personal and intimate. It talks about the fears and expectations of the film director but in the end, whichever the outcome, it was a 'hell of a ride' the process of bringing Gravity to screen.
If Cuarón was the first mexican film director awarded with an Oscar, it did not take so much for another mexican film director to follow his footsteps. Alejandro G. Iñárritu made a great comeback to the big screen. Once he stop working with his longtime screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, Iñárritu took another direction. Presumably tired of making films about converging stories, Alejandro experimented with a new style in Biutiful, different takes and angles but, most important, concentrated all efforts in one single story and one single character. Biutiful got mixed response from critics but one thing was recognized by all of those: Iñárritu finally changed and his future was really promising.
Gravity doesn't even apply to you. Wait till you see the faces of those who thought we were finished. Listen to me. Let's go back one more time and show them what we're capable of.
The use of the word gravity is no coincidence. Iñárritu detaches himself from what Cuarón achieved with his film. The word 'gravity' does not exclusively refer about the possibilities of Birdman as a film or the power that Keaton's character believes he has and that nothing can holds him back. That is why Cuarón's narrative and visuals don't apply to Iñárritu. It has been also said and pointed out that Birdman is very much the story of Michael Keaton and at some point it is, but as the film progresses we see a plot that transcends its own intentions. Soon, 'those (the critics) who thought he (Iñárritu) was finished' would change their mind. Iñárritu indeed 'showed them what he was capable of'. This dialogue, more than the two we have examined above, is the most significant and unconsciously articulated in the story. If feels organic, it feel natural but is the more unintended to exist. It unintentionally comments about itself.
With the release of the much anticipated Age of Ultron and the mixed reviews it has been getting (you can read one of those here), there came surprisingly a dialog that perfectly describes the movie. Three times in the film we hear the same sentence, yet nobody saw the death of Quicksilver coming (unless you have read the reviews before actually watch the film). The phrase is suitable with all the picture because Age of Ultron is filled with action packed moments that almost no one expected. And Josh Whedon takes the liberty to, we suspect, speak to us in the body of Quicksilver by saying: I bet none of you thought this character was going to die. Indeed, we did not.
If a film director openly wants to establish a dialog with his audience, if his work transcends him or if the movie unwillingly addresses his viewer, that is upon interpretation, but evidence has to be considered and, like we said before, abstractions need to be avoided and only concrete and plausible elements are to take into consideration.