Thoughts on Messages and Subtexts in Film

There are plenty of ways in which a filmmaker could convey messages to their audience. Subtler films tend to convey messages with underlying themes with, for instance, a simple story. An example for this would be the X-Men franchise, as they are allegories for minorities and their struggles (Claremont, 1983) while fighting super-powered tyrants to save the world. Meanwhile, straightforward films push their messages directly and to the point. One of these is Pixar’s 2008 film Wall-E, as it critiques consumerism and how it ravaged Earth’s eco-system (Murrat & Heumann, 2009). There are, of course, films that deliver both of these aspects, such as the satirical horror Get Out, by misdirecting their messages and deconstructing their subjects. Get Out appears to push an overt social commentary on racism, but while it is about racism in general, it goes into the other direction where the antagonists praise black people to the point where they literally try to be them (RedLetterMedia, 2017).

Some films prioritize one aspect more than the other. Sam Raimi’s supernatural horror film Drag Me to Hell appears to have a simple premise with a simple lesson for the audience to behold, but it gels its subliminal message about the horrors of eating disorders (SlashFilm, 2009). It makes the film more metaphorical than literal in its world’s context. The plot concerns Christine Brown, a bank loan officer who rejects an elderly woman requesting for a third extension for her mortgage payment. She does this because she is a top-candidate for a promotion as assistant manager, and she has to demonstrate that she could make tough decisions. Christine later gets cursed by the elderly woman, who is revealed as a gypsy, to be tormented for three days before being dragged into Hell. Throughout the film, a dark spirit torments her nearly every time she prepares or eats her food. Due to this particular repetition, theories have been made that Christine is really suffering a psychotic breakdown from bulimia (Cracked, 2011).

This is not to say that I prefer films with subtext providing little to no correlation to a film’s overall plot, but the method itself is thrilling to watch unfold. It is similar to solving a strange, yet fun jigsaw puzzle. The method in question is relaying all of the little details that would help manifest this subtext, whether that would be staging and blocking objects and characters to create symbolism, like when Chris notices the taxidermy deer-head when he himself is going to be another addition to the antagonists’ collection. Whether as a viewer or a filmmaker myself, this is where paying attention to detail is rewarded. It could help make a film more complete and more in depth than simply watching a story go by before you get on with your day.

 


References:

(RedLetterMedia). (2017). Half in the Bag Episode 123: Get Out and Logan. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6IZHrIviFo

Claremont, C. (1983). X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills. New York City, New York: Marvel Comics.

Coville, C. (2011, January 18). 6 Famous Movies With Mind-Blowing Hidden Meanings. Retrieved April 18, 2018, from http://www.cracked.com/article_18967_6-famous-movies-with-mind-blowing-hidden-meanings.html

Kurland, M. (n.d.). The Art of Misdirection. Retrieved April 18, 2018, from https://www.writingclasses.com/toolbox/articles/the-art-of-misdirection

Murray, R. L., & Heumann, J. K. (2009). WALL-E: From environmental adaptation to sentimental nostalgia. Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, (51). Retrieved April 18, 2018, from https://web.archive.org/web/20170701060517/http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc51.2009/WallE/text.html

Peele, J. (Director). (2017). Get Out (Motion picture). United States of America: Universal Pictures/Blumhouse Productions.

Raimi, S. (Director). (2009). Drag Me to Hell (Motion picture). United States of America: Universal Pictures/Ghost House Pictures

Sciretta, P. (2009, June 12). Crazy Film Theory: Drag Me To Hell Is Really About A Girl With An Eating Disorder – /Film. Retrieved April 18, 2018, from http://www.slashfilm.com/is-drag-me-to-hell-really-about-a-girl-with-an-eating-disorder/

 

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2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Messages and Subtexts in Film”

  1. I find this topic to be interesting! Makes me wonder if there are films that I watched that I perhaps have misunderstood, for instance similar to how you said Get Out misled its audience (though I did not watch it, so I do not know the details).

    When there is subtext in a film’s story, it really helps in making it that much deeper, as you say. To me, those films are the ones in which once you reach the credits, you just do not know what to say once the people you came with ask you “so, what did you think?”, not because you are not sure whether you actually liked the film or not, but because you are thinking about what the film is trying to imply, on a deeper level. And besides, it means the filmmaker does not take the audience as idiots, but instead as people who can properly appreciate what they have done. To me, such kind of subtext as you described here is what separates films that will be forgotten once it’s pulled out of cinemas from what could potentially become cult classics (even on a small scale) one day.

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  2. I do really enjoy watching psychological thrillers. I agree with you how it seems to be that it becomes like a mental puzzle, and how subtext is really important. If you miss one part you could potentially not get a part of the film which you might kick your self for. I actually really love this type of genre and as a filmmaker, I want to create films like that. However, I feel like nowadays movies like these tend to either give something away so you end up figuring out the ending beforehand, or be really predictable or even worse be a cliche.

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