Professor Stephen Williams
October 21, 2014
Life Is Tough; Get Over It
My thesis for this paper will use three films from class to show how filmmakers tell viewers that life is tough but some people get over it and move forward with their lives. The movies I intend to use to illustrate this point are Temple Grandin, Philomena and The Diving Bell and The Butterfly.
Each of these films have a single individual that the story is about. They each have an individual struggle that makes their particular story noteworthy.
In Temple Grandin, for the rest of this paper known as TG, we are faced with a young woman with autism. In Philomena, for the rest of this paper known as P, we meet a much older woman who is trying to find her son who was taken from her in her teens. And in The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, for the rest of this paper known as DBB, we meet a man in his prime struggling with a life threatening disorder.
TG is a movie full of symbolism and metaphors to help the viewer try to understand how Temple thinks. We are visually taken into the mind of Temple and shown from her perspective what life is like. She was born with autism. A very complicated brain disorder that impairs socialization and learning. The film makers chose to use static visual images at key points in the early part of the film to help the viewer understand Temple’s mind. A shot of flames when she steps off the plane in Texas. A flash of geometric problems when she encounters the gate at the ranch. Her aunt and uncle sitting on the roof with a rooster at dawn. The use of door images whenever a new life event occurs.
As the movie progresses the static images begin to have motion, especially when she is studying the cows and their behavior. We see her mind moving the cows through a different set-up that she is inventing in her mind while she watches them. We begin to understand Temple and how she sees the world around her. These visual helps lead the viewer to have empathy for Temple and her situation.
Temple is a person with a severe handicap. There are many others in the world with the same difficulty. Because of her mother and her own motivation Temple rises above her difficulty and excels at life. We see this through the use of flashbacks from her early education. Her mother never gives in to the easy way. She finds her a school where she can learn and grow.
There are many opportunities for Temple to quit trying. But she always has someone or something to give her encouragement to keep going. In this way I feel she understands that life is tough but successful people get over it. She learned that a door is just a new chapter in life not a wall to keep you out.
P is a movie full of humor, flashbacks and narrative to try to convey the life Philomena has had without her son and why she is compelled to find him. The filmmakers use the reporter as a way for Philomena to tell her story to us. The reporter has a complicated life of his own and we watch both of them work together to find answers to their own individual problems. In the flashbacks we see life choices that lead Philomena to the place she is now. The director makes the past very harsh with black and white images and jerky, hand-held footage along with stark images whenever we see the nunnery. In Philomena’s mind the past was hard, unforgiving and cruel. We see her struggle by watching another girl give birth. We see her alone in cold walled rooms. The outside shots are of bleak weather. Her flashbacks are not pleasant, except when she is spending time with her son. Those moments are infused with warmth and laughter.
As we learn about her son and his life we are given glimpses of what seems to be a happy, successful life but one that is not. We are shown images of him with very successful people in the political world in America. But his life was a secret because he was homosexual in a republican world that, according to the film, doesn’t accept homosexuals.
We see his life through 8mm film, which gives the story authenticity. We see him in happy childhood and grown-up love with his partner. We see him frail as he is dying. We also see Philomena’s reaction to these events. Her life has been a good one. She married and had children but that is a lie also because she had this secret need to find her son. She tried for 50 years to find him.
We are taught about the nunnery through investigation by the reporter. Again everything filmed at this place is bleak, stark and secretive looking. It seems to always be winter whenever the filmmakers go there. Lots of shadows and hidden places. Through this dramatic scene setting we understand that Philomena had a hard life of repression and guilt.
The conclusion of the film is not what you expect. After building up the audience to be very angry with the nuns Philomena forgives them. We come to find out that for her they were just part of her life story and she had moved on. She didn’t need to feel anger or animosity toward them. For her, life was hard but she turned it around and lived contented despite it.
DBB is a very subjective movie that uses a camera that gives us the perspective of Jean Do from the moment he awakens from a comma and finds he has locked-in syndrome. We see everything as if we are Jean Do. He cannot move his head so the only thing we see is whatever is in his line of sight. This gives a very scary, limited view and we don’t know what is going on. We are also given more of his perspective by being privy to his thoughts. He is carrying on a conversation with the doctors and nurses but they have no idea what he is thinking.
Jean Do has a very interesting sense of humor and we see his past as he is thinking about things through flashbacks. He is very self absorbed and this comes out through his memories. As the movie progresses Jean Do becomes more accustomed to his predicament and as he does the world opens up for us as well. Soon we are seeing more space around him and eventually we are allowed to actually see him.
Jean Do has a life that no one would want. He can do nothing except blink one eye. He goes through all the stages of anger. At first he just wants to die but as the nurses work with him he learns to adjust and accept his plight. We are given glimpses of his coping skills with camera angles and flashbacks and eventually his imagination. Each of these images are in full color and complete so we know they come from his mind not his reality.
Jean Do decides to write a book about his experience so others can understand what he thinks and feels. This is am very laborious process. As he begins to enjoy it we see more and more of his past and eventually how he got where he is. The movie is not linear and it really helps the viewer to feel as though we are right inside his mind.
It is interesting to me how each of these movies want us to understand the mental state of the protagonist and yet each uses very different techniques to give you that perspective. All three were extremely effective in telling us that for each of these individuals life was hard but they overcame and moved forward.
I was especially moved by the fact that as I watched each one I felt their individual frustrations and anger at their situation and yet I didn’t necessarily come to a satisfied place by the end. My emotions were involved but I could still come to my own conclusions and I felt like I would not have done as well as they did. Which made their courage in the face of trial that much more poignant. The cinematography for each was unique and definitely told their story in a great way.