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Warmth and Quiet Contemplation in Leave No Trace

The film Leave No Trace felt warm and inviting throughout, despite tackling difficult issues almost constantly, and taking place in a wet and cold environment. I believe this almost cozy atmosphere is due in part to the style of cinematography and also the delivery of incredibly real, not at all dramatic writing. The film was shot primarily in the woods, which would lend itself nicely to cool tones and a more damp and dark feeling, but the way each scene was lit, allowing for more of the bright greens and rich browns of the forest floor to shine as sunlight filtered though, made the scenes less cave-like and more like a pleasant hike with friends. They really could have leaned into the dark lighting like a lot of the films we’ve seen previously have (which does not go over well on the projector screen) and it would have well represented the darkness of PTSD for Will, and the feelings of confusion and anxiety for Tom, but instead  chose to focus on the brightness of their relationship. The only moments which did go more so towards that dark lighting are the times where Tom and Will aren’t communicating well, and Tom is scared and confused about the situation. When they run away from the farmhouse and are taking the train and bus and finding the 18 wheeler are all moments that stray into the darkness, as do the moments in the woods when Tom is looking for her father. What I appreciate most in those moments is that they don’t stay like that for an extended period of time, but instead ebb and flow as the pair’s feelings change. Will takes care of Tom at the bus stop and buys her a warm drink, getting nothing for himself, and scene brightens up a little bit, Tom is feeling safe and warm in the back of the truck with dog and the lighting is soft and warm, and when they find the cabin the scene and light candles the scene is warm. It is only when Tom realizes that her dad isn’t coming back the shadows lengthen on the candles and give away her feelings of worry and anxiety.

I appreciated the fact that Debra Granik didn’t over-dramatize the relationship between Will and Tom and allowed the love and easy care they had for each other be the focal point for much of the film. They understand each other, which means they don’t talk all that much, but instead work together quietly, with Tom speaking about an occasion question she has, and Will usually being glad to answer. It wasn’t an important moment, but I was especially struck by Tom asking her dad what his favorite color was towards the beginning of the film. My dad is often a quiet man too, and I remember being a little kid and searching for questions to ask him just to keep the conversation going when it got quiet. There was one day that I asked him that exact question and he gave some non-committal response and directed the question back at me, just like Will did. It’s an odd moment to have stick out to me, but I guess it just felt so real, an absolutely accurate representation of a little kid trying to carry a conversation with a parent and having no idea what to bring up except for favorite colors. It would have been easy to write Tom as a dramatic pre-teen and create a caricature of that age on the screen, but instead they gave her a lot of power and autonomy, they trusted her to be a good character without all of that drama. Young kids often don’t make the best serious actors, but Thomasin McKenzie pulls off the role beautifully. Tom’s not perfect, and she gets upset at her dad at times, but through it all, she never forgets how important he is to her and how much she wants him to be a part of her life. Likewise, Will treats her more or less as an equal, respecting that she’s intelligent and capable, but also understanding that she is a kid. The one time that lets up a little is the scene where he tells her that they’ll [Child Protective Services or some equivalent] will take her away. In that moment he totally treats her as a child, but you can also tell how upset he is, and how that’s affecting his better judgement.

This film managed to deliver an awful lot of message without actually having much dialogue or action at all. Debra Ganik clearly trusted the film’s viewers enough to understand the message of the film without delivering it in the ham fisted method that many other directors take. She allowed viewers the time and the space during the film to sit in quiet contemplation, and that paid off massively, this film left me feeling really good afterwards. It wasn’t a film that I was able to leave and go right back to my day, it required some digestion, and I’m glad that I had that chance

Fragile but still Strong

Leave No Trace is about the relationship between a girl and her father. It’s a patient movie and a thorough one. It takes its time unveiling the details of their relationship and their lives. The father, (Ben Foster) suffers from PTSD from his time in the military. He cannot function in society, so he chooses to live in the forest. His 13-year-old daughter, Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), lives with him.

Though life in the forest provides its challenges-Tom is growing and is often hungry-the two live happily. As Tom says, they “didn’t need to be rescued,” but living on public land is illegal. They’re brought in and assigned to indoor housing so they can regain themselves with society.  Though Tom thrives, her dad struggles. He cannot handle this lifestyle anymore. The strength of their bond is tested, and it keeps them together as they navigate unfamiliar and uncomfortable terrain.

I bonded with this movie specifically because  it was a movie about a father and daughter relationship. Although I can not relate to all aspects of this movie such as the fact that they live in a forest or that my father was in the war, I can relate to the bond these two actors/actresses shared.

After doing some research of this movie online, the director, and the two actors/actresses open up to the intensity this film shared. Actor Ben Foster stated, “I fell in love with the script. I also have been such a fan of Debra’s work for a while now.” Debra responded with, “I wanted their relationship to be both fragile and strong at the same time and I think it was achieved greatly.”

Both actors are serious and subtle. The whole movie is subtle. There isn’t much dialogue, but the subtext says a lot. Director Debra Granik operates with a light touch that lets events unfold without force. Her film style simply presents the moments and allows viewers to actively participate in them. Nothing is shoved in your face. It’s up to you to engage.

Ringing In Your Ears: The Relevance of “Children of Men” Today

Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men” opens on news reports of the chaos that has consumed the world in 2027. We soon discover humanity is suffering from an infertility crisis and that the U.K. is seemingly the only stable nation left. The film adopts an apocalyptic frame of mind as war zones of extraordinary plausibility are depicted, the streets are lined with police officers, and thousands of refugees are seen in cages. The state of the world is quickly established within the first two minutes of the film when the very coffee shop the protagonist, Theo, just walked out of explodes. From it emerges a woman carrying her own detached arm. Cuaron’s film is a masterpiece not only because of its ability to shock, but also due to the extraordinary camerawork, attention to detail, and references made to our own world throughout the film.

Children of men is full of long takes that assist in creating a sense of authenticity in the film. Cuaron uses them in almost all of his films and they prove to be a treacherous feat to accomplish. These sequences require perfect orchestration between actors, cameramen, the gunfire, and explosions. The longest single-shot sequence in the film is of Theo running through the battle of the refugee camp that lasted for roughly six and a half minutes. Another notable long take is the car ambush scene which reportedly took 12 days to get just right. The extra time and effort put into these scenes is not lost, instead it adds to the emotion of the scene. These shots amplify the tension of the scene because the camera is never cutting away from the action. For example, we see everything the characters in the car scene see and are then immersed in the chaos and claustrophobia it entails. Everything is in real time as the characters experience it and this only heightens our own reactions to the action.

Another impressive task Cuaron tackled was the attention to detail in the film, largely in regards to its religious references. Cuaron even stated, “Not a single frame of this film can go by without making a comment on the state of things. So everything became a reference … The exercise was to transcend not only reality, but also to cross-reference within the film to the spiritual themes of the film.” The title of the original book the film was based on came from a section of the bible that reads, “Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.” Theo and Kee can even be likened to Joseph and Mary as a shot of them with Kee’s baby resembles portraits of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus Christ. Her reveal of her pregnancy to Theo is reminiscent of the nativity scene and when asked about who the father may be, Kee jokes that she is a virgin.

Even more significant than the religious references made in the film are the references made to our own world today. In the film, refugees are rounded up and thrown in cages, eerily similar to the crisis taking place at our own Southern border currently. These scenes even reference Hitler’s concentration camps as the song “Arbeit Macht Frei” plays while Theo, Miriam, and Kee are on the refugee bus. This phrase was placed over the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps and in German translates to “work sets you free.” Another striking reference was that of the woman holding her dead son in her arms during the battle scene at the refugee camp. This shot was taken in reference to a photograph, La Pieta Du Kosovo (1990) shot by Georges Merillon that emerged from the Balkan War of a woman crying while holding the corpse of her son. In fact, when the photographer shot this he was referencing La Pieta, the Michelangelo sculpture of Mary holding the corpse of Jesus. This sculpture is also referenced by Theo’s brother as he explains he could not save it while standing in front of another one of Michelangelo’s sculptures, the statue of David. Again, we see the image of a wailing woman holding her child in Picasso’s Guernica that hung behind Theo while he was having dinner with his brother. Cuaron’s painstaking attention to detail creates a whole new layer of relevance to today’s world. Despite being made over a decade ago, the film continues to succesfully draw haunting parallels to our own society.

Plot Armor in The Thing (1982)

The concept of Plot Armor has existed forever and is something that any audience understands even if they don’t know that it has a name. In any given book, movie, tv show, or other form of story, the hero is guaranteed to survive at least until the end because the death of the hero would mean that the story could no longer progress any further. Only recently has this trope been subverted in popular culture by franchises like Game of Thrones, where no character is guaranteed to be safe.

Throughout John Carpenter’s The Thing, the largest source of tension is not the actual presence of the monster from outer space but the ever-looming uncertainty of where and who the monster is. At any point, any character on screen could be the Thing with no one the wiser, and no one would be able to figure it out because of how perfectly it can become a replica of the organisms it ingests.

There’s one exception to this though. At no point, throughout the entire film, does the audience ever really worry that MacReady, the main protagonist, is the Thing. Because of the established concept of Plot Armor, it would be impossible for MacReady to be The Thing and still act as the hero of the film.

One particularly dramatic scene in the movie illustrates this really well when you think about it, and that is the scene when MacReady and Nauls go out to search the shack together and Nauls discovers MacReady’s clothing bundled up in the furnace to be burned. In a panic at this apparent evidence that MacReady is no longer MacReady, he struggles back to the compound as fast as he can and cuts MacReady’s safety line to strand him in the blizzard, but MacReady manages to return and arms himself with a bundle of dynamite to keep the others from killing him. If this evidence had been found against any other character, both the other characters and the audience would be fully convinced that that character was the Thing. The evidence was irrefutable, except for the fact that it was against MacReady. The tension at this moment is not caused by the collective uncertainty by the characters and the audience of whether MacReady is the Thing or not, the tension is caused by the audience’s uncertainty of whether the other characters will trust MacReady or try to kill him. Paranoia has reached a peak in this scene and every character besides MacReady was non-essential to the plot and therefore expendable, so it was really up in the air how it could have progressed.

(There’s been some technical difficulty uploading to the forum, so hopefully at least this one posts.)

Setting the Tone

I think because  I had already seen “Wind River” before we watched it in class I was able to appreciate the way director Taylor Sheridan was able to use the harsh Wyoming landscape to create the overwhelmingly bleak atmosphere of the film and comment on how that kind of environment affects people. Specifically I noticed this second time around an interesting moment when Cory talks to Natalie’s brother, Chip, in the police car. Chip says something about how it’s the land that destroyed him. And Cory reminds him that he could’ve left either by going into the military or going to school as though leaving the physical space around them is the only way to survive.

I’ve read in film reviews about the idea of setting becoming a character in a film (for example Woody Allen’s Manhattan is often described as a love letter to New York City) and I think this movie really does a similar thing with the snowy plains and mountains of Wyoming. The reservation and the surrounding area becomes a villain in and of itself, a constant threat that the characters have to be aware of. The audience can feel the land’s power and danger as the camera hangs high above the snow mobiles as they tear across the white mountains. Each person, truck, and snow mobile is reduced to tiny black dot crawling through the massive snow fields. It’s a rural, open, wide landscape and each person is dwarfed by the massive size of the nature around them. There’s no where to hide in this environment and everywhere you go there is danger.

The only time the bleak grey/white/black color scheme really lets up is when we are transported into the orangey glow of Matt’s trailer in the brief warm and happy moments with Natalie where they talk about where they will live once they finally move away from Wind River. And almost immediately the positive atmosphere is torn apart and the unrelenting danger of their attackers and the Wyoming winter bursts in and destroys their peace. It’s almost as if it’s the land that is the real adversary in the film, or better put, the land is the most dangerous adversary in the film. There are evil, evil, evil characters in the film but it is interesting that in the end,  it’s the environment that does the real killing. Cory’s daughter Emily, Natalie and the disgusting Pete (the rapist) are all killed in the end by the freezing, unrelenting environment. Maybe Sheridan is commenting on how unfair and ruthless the world is in general and uses the Wyoming reservation as a more extreme, exaggerated example. Or rather that there is never any balanced or fair justice in the world that rewards the good and punishes the bad. In Wind River, the cold does not discriminate –  it will kill you regardless.

What role do you think the environment played in this film? How are the characters shaped by their responses to their environment?


Could there possibly be two heros?

I went into this film never even having heard of it, and I finished the film thoroughly enjoying it. Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), is a wildlife conservation officer soon turned into a criminal investigator in a pretty large case. When Cory arrives on the reservation it is just a normal task for him to go out and protect the livestock from a mountain lion. This all changes when Cory stumbles upon the dead body of young Natalie. With a phone call to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, we are introduced to Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen). Jane quickly realizes that Natalie was raped, and demands the coroner to rule her death as a homicide. She also realizes how useful Cory could be to here on investigating the case, and quickly draws him into helping. In the end, the question still remains, who truly is the hero?

I automatically thought that Jane would end up being the hero simply because she was the FBI agent, as well as fitting most of Campbell’s hero’s journey. Her call to adventure is the call from the local sheriff department requesting an agent for a possible homicide. In the scene where Jane arrives, Ben, Martin, and Cory begin to mock her clothing as she attempts to go with Cory out into the snowstorm in a pantsuit and her FBI jacket, this we could see as her refusal of the call, as she gives the attitude right back to them and I believe threatens to leave. It isn’t until Cory and Jane are at the crime scene that we truly see that Cory serves as the mentor, showing Jane minors details and teaching her things she may not have known otherwise such as when Natalie was running and breathing in the negative degree weather at such a fast pace she had a pulmonary embolism (shown by the spot where she fell and began to cough up blood), and that up until that point she had been running but crawled to the spot where she indeed died. Cory also points out that there are snowmobile tracks leaving the house of Natalie’s brother and his druggie friends.

Jane is put to the test when she and the fellow deputies are surrounding Matt’s house, and end up being shot by Pete, she has to fight for her life and she crawls and hides away in the snow under the trailer. This leads us to her almost death, where thankfully she is saved by Cory, and this brings us to the reward of Pete and the rest of the guilty men being killed. Finally, we reach the road back to the ordinary world as we leave Jane healing in a hospital bed.

And then there is Cory, with his call to adventure being the job to kill the mountain lion to protect the livestock and the people on the reservation. He quickly refuses that call when he receives a new call, to help investigate the murder of Natalie, his late daughters best friend. I would have to say that to Cory, Jane is the mentor in this journey. As well as Jane, Cory is put to the test as he is the one to go up into the mountains time and time again to discover if anything new has come to light (for example: finding Matt’s body, and the track leading back to the trailer where Pete is living), as well as being the one to get Natalie’s brother talking about her boyfriend, realizing that the brother indeed was an ally.

As sickening as it may sound, the reward for Cory I think was making Pete suffer the same way that Natalie did, after being raped. I think it was Cory’s way for making justice be served, not just for Natalie but also in a way maybe for his daughter, Emily. Another possible reward for Cory was being able to save Jane in the end. And again, we reach the road back to the ordinary world as we see Cory reading out of a magazine to Jane, trying not to think about all that has happened.

Personally, I still cannot decide who the true hero is, I would love to hear your thoughts on if it is Cory or Jane!

Losing a Voice in The Razor’s Edge (1984)

While I was not necessarily hoping for a voice-over to represent the narrator, a possibility we discussed in class, I’ll admit my surprise at hearing that the whole character of the narrator was not included in this film. I realized that the moments I listed as “would definitely include” if I were making the film were each centered around the narrator’s relationship with an individual character, such as the scene with the narrator and Isabel drinking ice cream soda at the drug store and really talking alone for the first time, the narrator comforting Elliot and ultimately stealing him an invitation as he is dying, and the narrator seeing Larry for the first time in years and not recognizing him. Because of the automatic exclusion of these scenes, throughout watching the film I tried to judge it as separate from the novel. If they manage to capture that same meaning or feeling in other places, is it equal to having that character, or at least a decent attempt? Though some instances had other ways to fill the gap, some were just not the same without him. He acted as a way to soften each character, making a cast of interesting or likeable figures through his lens of good spirit. As he tells Isabel, “When I’m really fond of anyone, though I deplore his wrongdoing it doesn’t make me less fond of him” (305). This carried over through his conversations and relationships with the characters to shape the reader’s view, and I felt that without him something was missing in our perception of each of the other characters.

I think that the movie had some important visual aspects in an attempt perhaps to make the characters more likeable in the absence of the narrator. For instance, viewers get to see first-hand Sophie’s grief-stricken reaction to hearing the news about the death of her family. The performance was tragic and really allowed more sympathy for her character, as opposed to the novel where readers simply hear a quick account brushed off by Isabel. Yet the film also validates Isabel’s claims about Sophie afterwards, such as in the scene where Sophie is being offensive to Gray and drinking in the car after his father’s funeral. This adds credibility to both of their positions. The film also included a fair amount showing how Isabel and Larry were affected by their split. Yet with the lack of a narrator as a confidant and friend to pull out the character of each individual, there seemed to be a missing depth.

With no narrator to reveal the inner workings of Isabel and her cleverness, and with the story now centered more on Larry’s journey, I felt Isabel and Sophie could be described by the Mulvey article we read. Mulvey quotes Boetticher, writing, “She is the one, or rather the love or fear she inspires in the hero, or else the concern he feels for her, who makes him act the way he does” (837). Not having agency to tell their perspective through the narrator gives us a shifted view of these two women, as Sophie’s conversation with him is cut all together and Isabel to me felt framed more in the sense of her love for Larry, instead of that being just one of the topics she discusses with the narrator in their chats.

Without the intellectual figure of the narrator listening to Larry’s adventures and questioning him about his philosophical findings, I found that much of the significance of his journey to find knowledge, religion, and answers was lost. Instead, the performance of this character seemed to find his answers quickly and did not feel very changed by whatever he discovered. I did feel that the few scenes that included Elliot captured his contrasting nature; he was shown to be extravagant and living the life of luxury, but also kind and welcoming to Larry and Sophie. However, without the narrator detailing his desperate social escapades versus the hospitality he shows for his true friends and family, like the others, much of Elliot’s complexity is lost.

Kelsey Kwandrans

The Inauthentic Portrayal of Larry in The Razors Edge

The 1984 film adaptation of the Somerset Maugham’s novel “The Razors Edge” starring Bill Murray was considered to be a massive failure by both critic and audience alike.  The budget for the film was 12 million dollars and the film grossed a little more than 6 million which is half of the production cost. Critics such as Janet Maslin from the New York Times called this film “disjointed”, describing it as “slow, overlong and ridiculously overproduced”, and critic Roger Ebert called it “flawed” and described the hero as “too passive, too contained, too rich in self-irony, to really sweep us along in his quest”.  My personal opinion aligns very closely with these comments from the critics. I felt as if this film left me disappointing and almost irritated and this was caused by the lack character development in the film especially with the main character Larry. I found that with the third party narrator in the novel it was easier for the reader to attain an outsiders perspective on the characters, including Larry, who in the film was represented in a very unflattering and almost idiotic way.

The character of Larry was one that I found to be very complex and soft spoken in the novel. For example in the scene in which Isabel confronts him about the fact that it has been two years since he has left for Paris and asks him to come home, their conversation is very calm and Larry tells Isabel in a manner that is quite “matter of fact” about his plans for his life. This calmness and almost child like innocence portrayed  in the novel created a very likable character and I truly enjoyed Larry in the novel. In the film this scene however,  Larry shouts at Isabel and is overall more aggressive than the Larry I was expecting from the novel. Murray inserting his own style of humor into the role of Larry made the character even more unauthentic, I found the jokes to be quite unnecessary and it caused me to not take Larry seriously. The humbleness of Larry in the novel is what I was missing from Bill Murray’s take on the character and it definitely fell very short in my opinion.

Larry’s spiritual journey during this film was absolutely nonexistent due to the fact that his character was so underdeveloped and. Bill Murray has his own sense of humor that he inserted multiple times and I felt like I was watching him go on this journey and not the character he was supposed to be portraying. I do not want to discount him completely however because his acting in certain scenes was great I however believe he played this character in a way that was not authentic to the novel.

I feel as if many things differed in the movie such as the character of Elliott and his lack of any sort of role in the plot (which made his death in the film almost laughable) and the deletion of the character of the narrator caused many things to be left out that could have helped contribute to the development of the character development of Larry. I understand that there is only so much you can fit into a film but after watching this film I felt frustrated that I saw a different main character on the screen then I did while reading the novel. Film adaptations of novels are very difficult to get right because the task of converting written word and actions into spoken word and actions is one that is very challenging. I however believe that this one did not do the novel justice and that I sadly have to agree with the critics.

I welcome those who would like to challenge me on my interpretation of the film and I would love to hear your thoughts!

— Jessica Drechsler


What Happened to Larry?

As we discussed in class, film adaptations are a tricky business. The Razor’s Edge proved to be an especially difficult adaptation as the novel’s characters are all filtered through the mind of the narrator, who’s role and input is omitted from the film version. Thus every character in The Razor’s Edge film seems to be half-baked and half-imagined.

The adaptation harms Bill Murray’s Larry Darrell the most. In the novel Larry is kind, intelligent and enigmatic yet the film forgoes his softness in favor of oafish violence. Larry angrily breaks off his engagement to Isabelle, smashes furniture when she leaves and overall becomes a more masculine, more aggressive character. Larry’s overt aggressiveness muddies his character and undercuts his emotional and spiritual journey by seemingly suggesting Larry is not an intellectual searching for some kind of meta-meaning in his life but a beast of a man who seeks physical challenges like the mines and the hikes into the mountains to find enlightenment. The shot where he finally reaches the mountains, though visually spectacular, left me feeling frustrated because if this is the moment of Larry’s enlightenment, if this is the peak of his spiritual journey, why does it feel so hollow?

I think the movie also takes away from Larry’s interior, spiritual journey by having him find his real happiness and real passion, however brief, with Sophie. He tells Isabelle after Elliot and Sophie’s deaths that Sophie was his “reward” for all of the work and soul-searching he did for the first hour of the movie. Does that suggest that the coal-mining, the living on a boat, the hiking up the mountains, the experience with the monks, and the grocery business has all been for nothing? Was the path to happiness really just Sophia all along? I feel like in the novel Sophie was just another extension of Larry’s interior journey and in the film that motive just wasn’t as easily conveyed.

In the end, I think it was the omission of the narrator’s perception of the characters that left Larry so underdeveloped and contradictory. What do you all think?

If a Tree Falls in the Woods…

Labels like “hero” or “villain” are things that can only be given to someone by someone else, and are therefore based on outsider’s perceptions of those people. Novels like Deliverance or movies like Bad Day at Black Ridge show us that people don’t stop being people if no one is watching, and that someone that might be considered a hero in the light of day might behave quite differently when in more isolated circumstances. This leads one to consider what exactly makes a hero, if someone who seems like one on the surface can so surely disappoint.

The link between Deliverance and Bad Day at Black Rock as lenses by which to observe heroic traits is isolation. The cut-off community of Black Rock as well as the truly wild northern Georgia offer little in the way of a public audience. In this way we, the unseen viewer, can see traits of characters that might otherwise be hidden to us in the name of propriety. Macreedy when put under the pressure of a town that largely wants him dead shows defiance and an unbreakable will to persevere in the face of Smith’s paranoia driven blood-lust. Most of the people of Black Rock, when caught up in a murder, were more concerned with either staying out of the way or keeping the act under wraps. My point is that Macreedy behaved more like a hero without any social pressure to do so, while many of the townsfolk took advantage of the remoteness of the area to get away with murder. Similarly in Deliverance Lewis, Ed, Bobby and Drew are put into a situation where they are cut off from any larger society, however rather than maintaining the moral high ground as Macreedy does, they become little better than the pack of murders pursuing them.

What a hero does among other people is important and is part of what makes a hero. Lewis seems quite like a hero to us at the beginning of the novel, but given an isolated area and a strenuous situation, shows himself to be less than that. Macreedy is the opposite, showing a resolute desire to find out what happened to the father of the man that saved his life. Macreedy is committed to doing what is right regardless of the dangers that the townsfolk present. Macreedy shows that a person can be a hero regardless of other’s opinions, while Lewis shows that a hero is not necessarily that behind closed doors.