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Subtext!


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#1 of 1 OFFLINE   Gary->dee

Gary->dee

    Screenwriter



  • 1,923 posts
  • Join Date: Feb 14 2003

Posted July 28 2003 - 12:59 PM

I just had an epiphany. While reading an article about my latest obsession, the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice, something that pertains to me in my meager attempt to write scripts presented itself and I understood it and accepted it. Epiphany thy name is subtext!

The following article, as brilliantly written by John Cox, appears at CommanderBond.com. But it's not just about Bond, the first couple of paragraphs analyze Raider of the Lost Ark in a way that I'd never thought of before. I think it's important to read. Not just because of Raiders and Bond but because I think we need to ask ourselves how many movies have a subtext or at least a good subtext. I'll touch on this after the article.

Below The Surface: The Subtext Of You Only Live Twice

Good films have subtext. What do I mean by subtext? On the surface Raiders of the Lost Ark is about an archeologist seeking to find the fabled Lost Ark before the Nazis do. That's its TEXT. But is that all it's about? Is this basic "plot" enough to tap into the worldwide public consciousness and produce a phenomenon? No way. What makes Raiders resonate, the reason we find ourselves saying, "That was a really good movie," is we are having an unconscious reaction to the SUBTEXT. What Raiders is REALLY about is an atheist's search for God. Now, you're not necessarily supposed to know this is what Raiders is about, but you ARE supposed to feel it. It's one of the ways movies manipulate you emotionally. And despite what some people will argue, good filmmakers use subtext the way they use lighting. It's all very specific and intentional but designed to be invisible.

As a rule, subtext is communicated with metaphors. To continue with the Raiders example: In the beginning, when confronted with any mention of spirituality, Indy flatly says he doesn't believe in "all that hocus-pocus" and even calls the lightning coming from the Ark "the power of God OR SOMETHING." He communicates skepticism without ever using the word atheist. But the Ark can prove the existence of God; therefore, metaphorically, the Ark IS God. By the end of the film, Indy has been "converted" by his experiences and commits the ultimate act of faith by closing his eyes when the Ark is opened. "Don't look at it!" he screams to Marion. Indy demonstrates that he does not seek proof. HE BELIEVES, and therefore, God spares his life. Now, if this movie were about its text, the ending would be a letdown. After all, Indy loses the Ark. But that's not the feeling we have at the end of Raiders because the REAL story has been resolved. Indy got what he needed and a girlfriend to boot! Raiders uses subtext masterfully as do most good films.

So for my Bond brethren here at CommanderBond.net, I've jotted down what I see as the subtext in three James Bond films: You Only Live Twice, From Russia with Love, and GoldenEye. What follows may forever change the way you look at these three films. Like Indy, you don't have to believe in all this "hocus-pocus," but I'm going to open the Ark of the filmmaker anyway. It's up to you whether to look or close your eyes.

YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967) -- James Bond in the Afterworld

You Only Live Twice is a perfect title for this Bond adventure. Having been "killed" in the beginning of the movie, it's as if Bond is having an out-of -body experience. After the megapic Thunderball, where else could Bond go but to the afterworld? Never has a world seemed so out of Bond's control; yet never has Bond seemed so utterly resigned to his fate. "I just might retire to here," he tells Tiger. If one thinks I'm reading too much into YOLT, one only has to be reminded that the author of the screenplay is Roald Dahl, who wrote such psychedelic journeys as “Charlie & the Chocolate Factory” and “James & the Giant Peach.”

Bond starts the movie in familiar 007 surroundings -- in bed with a woman -- except this conquest is Asian, a fact unusual enough for Bond to comment on it: "Why do Chinese girls taste different from all other girls?" His instincts prove correct when this woman turns out to be his Angel of Death. Bond is "killed" before our eyes, and we drift into the title sequence. But are we seeing puffy clouds and harps? No. We're in a world of volcanoes and lava. James Bond has gone to Hell. Or, at least, Purgatory. The movie opens with Bond being buried at sea. The movie, as a metaphor, really begins here as Bond's corpse is retrieved by two divers (flying angels) who bring it not back to the surface but aboard a submarine (the first of many phallic symbols in this film). "Permission to come abroad?" asks Bond.

After a briefing (where M and all are dressed in white uniforms and Bond is in black) 007 is ejected from the sub's torpedo tube. 007 as sperm? You bet. Appropriately, Bond surfaces in a world that's entirely unfamiliar to him, a world in which he is constantly trapped and fooled usually by women. In this strange new upside-down world, Bond is called "Zero Zero" instead of 007, and even his martini order is mysteriously reversed, "stirred, not shaken," which Bond confirms as "perfect." Bond admits to Tiger that he's never been to Japan, which is odd for a man as worldly as James Bond, and didn't he mention an affair with "Ann in Tokyo" in From Russia with Love? Also revealing is the fact that YOLT is the only single location Bond film. Even Dr. No has scenes set in London. There's no globetrotting here. He's stuck.

Things get even more surreal when Bond must "become Japanese." Die a little deeper? He's operated on in a womblike room, married, and given a home in a pearl diving village where, strangely enough, he seems perfectly content! But a violent reminder of his own death (again in a bed) snaps Bond out of his passivity, and it's off to the volcanic lair of the villain. Here, for reasons not fully explained, Bond thinks the answer to the crisis at hand is to go into outer space (ascend into the heavens). But just as Bond is about to finally leave this world, the master of the volcano recognizes him and shouts, "Stop that astronaut!"

It's appropriate that Blofeld is seen for the first time in YOLT. Up to this point in the series, Blofeld has only been an unseen, omniscient presence, who motivates other men to commit his evil deeds. The clearest metaphor of the film is that Blofeld is the Devil. Who else would live in a volcano? The obviousness of this prompts Bond to pretty much admit to the subtext of the film when he tells Blofeld, "This is my second life."

Of course, it all ends in a fiery destructive explosion caused not by Bond but by Blofeld, and Bond finds himself back where he was at the end of Thunderball: in a raft with a bikini-clad woman. Back to the familiar world of 007. Back to the surface. Resurrection.

(Written on 11-04-2002 @ 12:29 a.m. by John Cox)
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Granted I don't see hardly any movies in the theaters these days but the 2 I did see this year, X-Men 2 and Matrix:Reloaded had subtext. Important underlying themes conveyed through the various storylines. Reloaded in particular was, pardon the pun, loaded with subtext. So much so that it was probably lost on a lot of people. The impression I got from X2 is almost the same subext that the author of the above article found in Raiders: characters with little faith or hope that eventually find or at least are brought closer to having the faith to trust themselves and each other, and not just other mutants but normal humans so they can be accepted. Nightcrawler's character beautifully illustrates the important component or the glue that's needed to tie it all together during his brief conversation with Storm about the jet. When Jean seemingly perishes in the end there shouldn't be anyone(at least in the audience) who doubts her future because the clues to her destiny are sprinkled throughout the entire movie. Certain characters like Wolverine and Cyclops for example though are too connected to her last act in X2 to see the forest from the trees. But Professor Xavier, he knows something.

Another movie that had a wonderful subtext was Adaptation. It wasn't just about making a book into a movie. The concept of change, learning to adapt isn't just for flowers trying to attract insects in order to pollinate them.

So how does this relate to me and why do I classify it as an epiphany? It's nothing earth-shattering but I realize more than ever that every good story needs a subtext. Not just different plots or stories that eventually all come together at the end to form a conclusion.