In movies, a single look can say more than a thousand words... or than a tedious amount of plot exposition. Therefore, trying to explain everything, that is going on, in form of lenghty dialogues, monologues, narrations or even flashbacks might not always be the best way to approach a story. It can seriously bog the pacing of the movie down and make the audience feel that they are being treated like idiots. Often, a single glance is all that is needed to tell us something important about the story and the characters.
However, in order for it to work, it has to be acted, directed, edited and filmed to perfection. This is not an easy task and pulling it off deserves aknowledgement. So, let's celebrate filmmaking at it's minimalistic best by having a look at 5 examples from some well-known movies.
The Moment When The Joker Truly Became Frightening
There is a scene in The Dark Knight where The Joker visits a little "group therapy session" of the criminal underworld of Gotham and demands ridiculous amounts of money for his proposal to kill The Batman. It's a fairly lenghty and dialogue heavy scene but the most important moment in there is a really short one. It's the glance along with the reply, The Joker gives, when he is called crazy for his proposition. It can be found at 2:07 minute mark in the brilliant scene below.
What does it say?
This is probably the defining moment of the complex character, that The Joker is, in The Dark Knight. He is the guy who, by his own admission, is an agent of chaos, a dog who chases cars, a guy with no plan who just "does things". However, that short glance is all that is needed to put things into much more scarier perspective.
Generally, it is easy to emotionally detach one self from The Joker. He can simply be treated as this force of nature, a deranged madman who just wants anarchy for the sake of anarchy. However, this glance shows that he is very much a guy with a plan who is extremely aware of his actions and motivations. This force of nature suddenly becomes an extremely self-aware individual, who has made some dark conclusions/realizations about humanity and is out to prove a point based on it. The point is that all of the action's of people in society are motivated by self gain and when the chips are down, this side is brought out in everyone.
This idea is the reason why Batman takes the blame for the murders committed by Harvey Dent - to not let The Joker prove his point. That is also why people on two side by side ferries refusing to blow the other one up, despite being threatened to do so, becomes The Joker's biggest failure.
Whether you think that The Joker has a point or not, the look he gives when being called crazy, is one of an individual with deep convictions about his actions. A small moment, that becomes big thanks to Heath Ledger's brilliant delivery and perfect camera angle chosen by the director.
The Defining Moment In The Relationship Between Indiana Jones And His Dad
At it's core, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is very much a story about an estranged father and son finding each other again. They have their fair share of bickering, arguements and more emotional moments throughout the movie. Also, all of it is brilliantly acted by Harrison Ford and Sean Connery, who really do have a great on screen chemistry. Yet, a small look from Indy at his father, that begins at the 0:49 mark of the video below, is probably the defining moment of their arc.
What does it say?
At this point in the movie, we have learned that these two have not spoken for years. And neither side is willing to take the blame. Indy critizises his dad for "caring more about people who have been dead for 500 years" and Henry Jones, Sr. hits back that Indy "left home just when he had started to become interesting" and that "he was actually a great father, who respected Indy's privacy."
Therefore, up until that short moment, it is left unclear how much they actually care about each other. However, the warm and calm manner how Indy's dad shares these poetic lines with his son and Indy's subsequent reaction confirm an extremely important plot point. No matter how estranged they have become, no matter how much they blame each other for it, both deeply appreciate and care about one another.
Both actors deliver this moment brilliantly. Most importantly, the look that Ford gives and the music accompaning it along with the zooming camera angle, make that realization beautifully clear without any unnecessary exposition.
This father and son have a strong bond, Jameš Bond... So sorry about that horrible pun ;) .
The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis The Wise
In a scene, that is widely regarded as one of the highlights in an otherwise mixed prequel trilogy (Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of The Sith, to be more specific), Palpatine/Darth Sidious tells Anakin a story about a powerful Sith Lord, Darth Plagueis, in an attempt to lure Anakin further towards the Dark Side. Palpatine reveals that eventually Darth Plagueis was killed by his apprentice, to whom he had had taught everything he knew. Palpatine's expression, as he ponders over the irony of it, is one to pay attention to. It can be found at the 1:30 mark of the clip below
What does it say?
What makes this moment great is simply how much of backstory was Ian McDiarmid (Palpatine) able to convey towards the audience with a single glance. Even though, it is never clearly stated, the conclusion made from that short moment is clear to most. Palpatine was the apprentice, who eventually killed Plagueis. Furthermore, at that point of telling the story, Palpatine was most probably reminiscing about the very moment he killed his master and clearly still relishing the memory.
A masterclass of acting from Ian McDiarmid and a rare window into the dark character of Sheev Palpatine/Darth Sidious.
Tomorrow Never Dies is certainly not the most introspective and deep of Bond films. Quite the opposite really. It's one of the most formularic and by the numbers Bond films of them all (not a negative, since that makes it one of the best Bond films to simply kick back and enjoy on a Friday evening).
Therefore, a scene, where Bond has an intimate moment with his former flare, Paris, comes across as a fairly melodramatic and forced attempt to bring some emotion into the movie. Add to that the fact that Pierce Brosnan and Teri Hatcher (Paris Carver) did not get along on the set and the following scene really doesn't seem to have much going for it. Yet, a short reaction from Bond to Paris's question about whether "she got too close for comfort" to him in the past, is probably one of the most character revealing moments in the whole Bond franchise. It can be found at around 1:44 mark in the clip below.
What does it say?
This is the moment when we see the actual character underneath the icon and the cold facade. These few seconds display Bond as a broken person, who always puts up a shield and doesn't let anyone get emotionally close to him. Furthermore, it displays Bond's relief to finally admit it out loud to someone.
Funnily enough, I am not even that certain, whether or not this was intentional and, perhpas, I'm giving this movie more credit than it deserves. However, Brosan's expression and delivery accompanied with the brilliant use of soundtrack, make me think otherwise. This extremely short moment is, in my opinion, a brilliant piece of filmmaking, that hasn't got the credit it deserves.
The scene, where Darth Vader is conflicted between staying loyal to The Emperor (Palpatine) or saving his son, is probably one of the most powerful moments in the history of cinema (in my opinion at least). This scene is simply a showcase of how brilliant editing and perfect use of soundtrack can make this expressionless mask the most emotional part of the entire film and, perhpas, the entire saga.
The adding of "Nooo" to Vader in the bluray edition of this scene is, for me, the worst change made to the original version. Even Greedo shooting first is not that annoying compared to that one. The brilliance of this scene was watching this character with an expressionless mask not saying a single word but still understanding his conflict perfectly.
To sum up
Less is more. These small moment's are a demonstration of acting and filmmaking at it's absolute minimalistic best. They only last a few seconds and yet, give us so much.