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Examples of Great Film Narratives: The Language of Films
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Example 1: Akira Kurosawa's Ran
Akira Kurosawa's Ran is based on Shakespeare's King Lear. Instead of three daughters, the King (Lord Hidetora Ichimonji) has three sons.
As in Lear, the story concerns a King who reacts strongly to a percieved insult from his third child, shown here in the blue robe. The entire film is a study in minutely planned geometric images that reflect the emotional conditions of the characters and the direction of the narrative. Note how the other sons and the father (King) already stand in opposition to Son 3, anticipating the father/son break up soon to come.
Sons 1 and 2 remain apart from Son 3. As in Lear, false delcarations of love and respect for the King are made by the two older children. Kurosawa contrasts the quiet beauty of the hillside with human emotional turmoil and political plotting.
The King sits down to make an announcement.
Son 3 remains standing, even leaning away, a visual anticipation of the radical separation from his father.
Kurosawa changes the point of view, giving the scene a mystical, painting-like quality. Since the announcement concerns the future of the kingdom, the three sons are now aligned in a row to the King's left. Mist rising in the background adds to the sense of anticipation.
The King begins a demonstration, handing out arrows to his sons. He asks them to break a single arrow, which they can easily do. To symbolically demonstrate to them how his kingdom will be stronger, once it is divided into three parts among his sons, he asks them to break three arrows at once.
The first two Sons fail to break the three arrows, but Son 3 puts the arrows on his knee and breaks them. Knowing that the other sons are merely power hungry and that the 3-way union will never work, he then rebukes his father for spouting nonsense. The King is taken aback. "What madness have I spoken?" he asks. Note how the arrows, Son 3 and the King define a line of opposition, while Sons 1 and 2 define a separate physical and emotional space.
In Lear, Shakespeare supplies Lear's daughter with some rather blunt, but nonetheless true, assessments of parent/child relations: parents and children are different people after all and a mature perspective on the world acknowledges this. Son 3 expresses the same sentiments. Again, faces, arrows, and bodies are aligned to express the narrative content.
The King denounces his son and cuts him out of the proposed division of the kingdom. As in Lear, one of the King's faithful subjects requests that the King reconsider his rash judgment. But the King refuses.
The scene closes with a single, beautiful shot of a cloud rising through the hilltops. The main elements of the narrative are now set and the story will now rise like mist toward its en evitable conclusion. The symbolic closure to the episode underscores the insignificance of human struggles in the vast sweep of nature.
Example 2: Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat
This tour de force gives the auteur theory meaning. If you did not know who directed this film, you would never guess. Brilliant direction gives a superb script additional force. Unlike so many current Hollywood productions that concentrate on spectacle, this film concentrates on interior psychological space that provides a context for a profound meditation on war, faith, the nature of evil, and the brevity of human life.
A torpedoed ship during the WWII leaves only a few passengers alive in a lifeboat. A German soldier is also saved, but two of the passengers suspect the German is actually captain of the submarine that sank their ship. Here the two conspire to find out the identity of the German.
The captain responds brightly to "Herr Capitan," thus revealing his identity.
William Bendix in a great performance, plays the part of a well-meaning, but ill-educated "common man" who symbolizes the victims of Nazi brutality. Clearly suspicious in this shot. Every shot in the film is carefully composed to demonstrate what characters are thinking and feeling as well as to indicate thematic context.
Who would think that a "glamour shot" would make its appearance in a lifeboat? Here, we see Connie Porter (Talulah Bankhead) become the object of desire for Stanley Garett (Hume Cronyn). The soft focus glamour shot transforms the psychological space for both the characters and the audience.
At the climax of the film, there is a moment of decision. Note the forward leaning and expression of the character on the right, who precipitates the group's action.