There is a term in movies when the music the audience hears is heard by the characters as well. It’s called diegetic music. It’s a rare moment in cinema when audience and character are experiencing the same thing in the same moment – it creates a bond, if just for a moment. As if the people on the screen are really right there in the room with you. Or, better yet, that you are in the world with the character you’re watching.
Here’s a video essay that explains this concept using The Simpsons, and mentions the ability to craft diegetic vs. non-diegetic sound for laughs at 2:45. (Baby Driver is another great example of a movie that plays a lot with diegetic vs. non-diegetic throughout)
Today though, my generation isn’t watching movies, they’re watching Tik Toks. Short, breathy videos that last no time at all, but bleed one into another, hour after hour. They are not meant to be watched with others. They are simply scrolled to, seen, and scrolled past. With no memory that it ever existed. There is so little common bond in media these days, whether it’s between members of an audience in a theater, or the audience and a character on screen… At least, I suppose, none of the common bond I’d wish for. (I realize I’m being haughty and judgmental)
The excitement of sitting in a theater to see a movie with dozens of others who have been waiting and waiting just like you. That’s a feeling I want to preserve when I get it again. A feeling I want to bottle. The feeling of laying on my couch and scrolling through a feed of short lived, frail clips, putting off the work that needs doing and the more impactful media I’d rather take in – that’s a feeling I disgust.
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 dancein Booksmart and Walter’s dream sequences in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
The other day, I watched a movie called Booksmart. It was hilarious, and energetic, and vibrant – too wild of a ride for me at times – but a truly great film about friendship and self trying new things.
I walked away from that movie, as I often do, with a sense of jealousy or longing for the relationship captured on screen. Whether that be friendship or romantic, I sort of have an issue with falling in love with the people or dynamics in movies.
That evening, in pondering all the many *cough* many movies I’ll *smaller cough* one day write an make, I wrote this in my notebook:
I want to make a movie / story that leaves you looking at your own life again, but now seeing the beauty in it – feeling contented. Not wishing for the ‘perfect’ friendship or relationship that was written, but rather feeling content in your own story.
While pushing the boundaries of melodramatic, this is a point I stand by. There are beautiful stories – rare though I think they are – that display beauty, while also instilling beauty. There is a character in a book that I cannot remember right now… that is described similarly: their beauty seems to radiate and lift up those around them, rather than outshining them. Movies that don’t just show how great life could be, but how great life is if you look for the beauty in it.
Tonight, I watched a new movie called Judas and the Black Messiah – a true story of Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers during the Civil Rights movement. It was very hard to watch. It was beautiful, and beautifully made, and all the harder because of it. The movie displays the hardship Black communities have been fighting against in the United States for generations, and focusses on the brutality of the mass Police response.
I came away from this movie looking at my own life, and seeing the beauty in it more clearly. Seeing the privilege and the opportunity and the blessings I have grown up with. And seeing more clearly the pain and hurt and brutality that overshadows the lives of so many others…
I’m not sure what the point is here – but this is what I was supposed to write tonight.