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It was never about a Shark

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angel
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It was never about a Shark

#1

Post by angel » September 5th, 2020, 9:06 pm

I was having a discussion recently with someone about The Grey which, (despite its cop-out ending), I liked quite a bit but they hated. The source of their hate being wolves would never behave the way they did in the film, whereas my contention was the film was never really about the wolves. Now, I’m no expert in lupine behaviour, but I was immediately struck when watching The Grey there was more going on here than a literal tale of a man stuck in the wilderness trying to survive a pack of wolves; what I saw instead was a metaphor for grief, one’s purpose in life and the absence of God.

The debate reminded me of film critic Mark Kermode, who always claimed Jaws was never really about a shark. In the novel, (which I’ve never read), he claimed it was about infidelity, whereas in the film, (stripped of the book’s melodramatic subplot), it represents a post-Watergate America and political corruption - (ok, a bit of a leap but I’ll run with it)! This analysis brings to mind films like High Noon which become even more interesting when you know it’s more than just a film about a sheriff asking for help, or a lot of zombie movies, (the George Romero ones at any rate) which are more than just films about the undead. And many of those vampire films are not really about the blood-suckers are they? - (rewatching The Lost Boys now that I have teenagers offers a different experience to when I first saw it as a teenager).

So, what I’m really asking is, how far down the rabbit hole do you go for your enjoyment or analysis of a film? Or is it strictly the answer Spielberg gave to Kermode when during an interview he asked him what he thought Jaws was really about and Spielberg replied bluntly – “it’s a film about a shark!”

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St. Gloede
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#2

Post by St. Gloede » September 5th, 2020, 11:15 pm

What a fantastic first post.

Obviously you have the potential to enter into actual conspiracy theories, i.e. The Shining and Room 237 - or it can murder the author completely and be more of a way to find ways the film could be read - which can be extremely fun - though of course removed from trying to unpack what a film's actual intent was.

Then, of course, you have the territory that can be most fun: When the director/author leaves it open to your interpretation on purpose. There is a story I heard where Resnais literally wrote down 100 potential interpretations of Last Year at Marienbad on a piece of paper (and boy would I like to see it, or even recreate it). LYaM is possibly my favourite film and the way it can literally be a straight romance to a purgatory hell (for who?!) is incredible.

Rohmer did something even more intriguing here, at least one paper, in generally structuring his films as a debate with himself - starting with a premise he believed in and then going out of his way to disprove it - it is how you get people reading My Night at Maud's as an indictment against marriage.

But these are obviously more philosophical ideas to begin with, you started with the idea of seeing something very physical or obvious, which is actually anything but. My greatest over-interpretation here was of Gerry, you know that Gus van Sant desert movie with Matt Damon and Casey Afflect that no one talks about anymore, about two guys called Gerry. I genuinely read it as the two Gerries being the same person, and battling it out inside of the real Gerry's mind. Everything fit. Then I read it was based on a true story and literally meant to be just two guys in the desert .......

Come on, Gus!

(Oh, and to add in a shameless plug, I will have an extreme hot take on Shane in an upcoming episode of the forum podcast (Talking Images), which fits just into this topic - but I'll leave that for the episode)

blocho
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#3

Post by blocho » September 6th, 2020, 2:34 am

The shark in Jaws and the wolves in The Grey are variants on the MacGuffin. While the classic MacGuffin is usually very abstract (sometimes absurdly so) and the animals in creature features are always somewhat concrete, the animals serve the same purpose in the script as MacGuffins do. They are not interesting in themselves but rather in their effect on the main characters. They serve as a crucible through which to illuminate character traits and human relations. The shark in Jaws is an object of fear, but I don't find it compelling on its own. What I find compelling is its effect on Chief Brody and the townspeople of Amity Island. And how it changes the relationship between certain characters.

Incidentally, the Spielberg statement ("it's a film about a shark") is a classic dodge. Though I might believe it in Spielberg's case because I think he's a bit simple-minded, usually it's something said by filmmakers who are understandably reluctant to explain their work. If I remember correctly, Kubrick said something similar about The Shining -- "It's just a ghost story" or the like.

blocho
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#4

Post by blocho » September 6th, 2020, 2:40 am

St. Gloede wrote:
September 5th, 2020, 11:15 pm
But these are obviously more philosophical ideas to begin with, you started with the idea of seeing something very physical or obvious, which is actually anything but. My greatest over-interpretation here was of Gary, you know that Gus van Sant desert movie with Matt Damon and Casey Afflect that no one talks about anymore, about two guys called Gary. I genuinely read it as the two Gary being the same person, and battling it out inside of the real Gary's mind. Everything fit. Then I read it was based on a true story and literally meant to be just two guys in the desert .......

Come on, Gus!

(Oh, and to add in a shameless plug, I will have an extreme hot take on Shane in an upcoming episode of the forum podcast (Talking Images), which fits just into this topic - but I'll leave that for the episode)
We had a good debate about authorial intent vs. reader-response in that episode!!

Gosh, I hated Gary. Awful movie. But I read a pretty good non-fiction book about the true story the movie was based on.

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