Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Analysis of a movie

I saw "Snow Falling on Cedars." Loved it. My friends commented on the fact that they'd like to see the screenplay for the movie as we were watching it, because it's so different. I would agree, but mostly because I am interested in how much was written in and how much was just an interesting editing choice.

So many things make this movie interesting. For example, the protagonist has only one arm through the entire movie, and thought this is clearly visible upon a rewatching, they somehow draw the viewer's attention away from it until a particular point in the movie when it is "revealed." The character's dialog reveals subtle racism, which becomes more apparent over time and is eventually torn apart by a very moving monologue from Max Von Sydow's octogenarian character:

"I feel like a traveler descended from Mars, astonished at what passes here. What I see is the same human frailty passed from generation to generation. We hate one another. We are the victims of irrational fears. You may think this is a small trial. In a small place. Well, it isn't. Every once in a while, somewhere in the world, humanity goes on trial. And integrity. And decency. Every once in awhile, common folks get called on to give the report card for the human race."

Von Sydow's character doesn't only speak in long diatribes, but also frequently offers up succinct aphorisms: "Accident rules every corner of the Universe. Except, perhaps, for the chambers of the human heart." Brilliant.

The film messes with time, being set against the backdrop of a murder trial, but continually flashing back and forward to moments that a relevant to the facts of the case and the relationships of the people involved. Even as we're hearing testimony, we are seeing flashes of scenes from time periods all over the plot. It's challenging, at first, to try to figure out when and where we are at different points in the movie.

The movie is breathtaking in its scope of theme. It touches upon so many major important themes to humanity. Love and betrayal, grief, pain, loss, life and death, war and peace, hatred and racism and prejudice, justice and mercy, forgiveness, murder, deceit, marriage, sex, money, fear, happiness, regret, parenthood, etc. It is set on land and sea, in snow and rain and sunshine and dark of night. I can't imagine even attempting to write a story or script that included all of those elements.

There are many explicit and implicit messages laced beautifully throughout the movie. The characters' speech never begins to feel expository or forced. The other interesting thing about the dialog in this movie is that it often takes a back seat to the music or other sounds. Often a characters lines will fade in and out, or the beginnings of what they say will echo over the rest of the sentence for impact. This is another place where I wonder how much was written, and how much was merely edited that way. Some of the echos come half an hour before we are shown the actual context for them, as are may visuals in the movie.

In the end, Ishmael's forgiveness of the betrayal inflicted upon him by Hatzue is a metaphor for the healing of America's relations with Japan, and Hatzue's eventual acceptance of Ishmael becomes a symbol for Japanese patriots who were forced to live in internment camps and their forgiveness of a nation would place them there.

No comments:

Post a Comment