Abstraction in Movies

There are a couple of beautiful moments in Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox when the characters – extremely tactile puppets made with fur and cloth – suddenly turn into smooth plastic versions of themselves, glowing from within.

It’s not as if the film is a picture of realism, but these moments depart entirely even from the whimsical realism of the world in which they’re set. The departure from the realistic gives a sense of the character’s truer emotions, through a literal shift in their beings.

The director is effectively lying to tell the truth more fully. Showing you what isn’t really there in order to show clearer what is there underneath.

This is a technique I wish directors and writers would toy with more often. Film is such malleable medium to play around with, yet it’s rare that I see a characters inner thoughts or emotions translated or abstracted into something completely outside of the ordinary – a couple exceptions being Molly’s dance in Booksmart and Walter’s dream sequences in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

A film-centered YouTube channel I love said in a recent video that:

“Stepping away from reality is often the shortest route towards effectively communicating anything that approaches truth.”

There is a fine line in creating these moments of abstract in the middle of realism – between beautiful and painfully cheesy. But it’s a line I wish more directors would try to walk.

Friends don’t really dance in front of each other’s houses before school each morning, or banter the way Aaron Sorkin writes, or read letters into the camera like monologues.

But it’s not always about presenting our world exactly how it is, but about effectively telling a story and doing it beautifully. So why shouldn’t the foxes glow when they’re in love?

1 thought on “Abstraction in Movies”

  1. This reminds me of Jojo Rabbit when he has butterflies in his stomach – sometimes ya gotta throw a little surrealism in there!

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