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A Look into “The Tree of Life”

“The ‘I’ who speaks in this story is not the author. Rather, he hopes that you might see yourself in this ‘I’ and understand this story as your own. Paradise is not a place here or there. The soul is paradise; it opens before us; here, today. The humblest things show it. We live in the eternal, even now.”

-Terrence Malick

The Tree of Life is a divine journey that transcends our own planetary struggles to show the momentary struggles of a small town family. Films have repeatedly been contrived since 2001: A Space Odyssey that have prompted the discourse on an exponential universe that is impossible to interpret; various films progress the idea that humans and life is nothing in the vast universe we inhabit. Terrence Malick strays from those ideas and proposes life to be more than specks of dust; that life connects to everything in the universe since the knowable creation, using a tree as the allegory. Life needs more than thought or science to understand; it takes touch, feelings, and moments of love to connect to the system of the universe. Humans consciously only get one chance to achieve this spiritual nirvana of interhuman connections, recognized as love and compassion. The Tree of Life is a parable to display the proper way to treat other humans through the use of demonstrating ethical crimes of the past, and how the chain of oppression manifests within the individual and the scars it leaves for the future.

First some backstory on the most mysterious director-writer working today. Terrence Malick was raised in Waco, Texas in the fifties, which became the setting of The Tree of Life. He grew up with Christian parents and attended an Episcopal school in Austin; later he studied philosophy at Harvard and went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He never ended up getting his doctorate in consequence to a dispute with his tutor on his thesis on the concept of the world. He ended up teaching philosophy at MIT and wrote freelance articles for Newsweek, The New Yorker, and Life. Though coming from a religious family, Malick certainly displayed a willingness to study life beyond the Christian faith in order to understand how the world works. In one way or another, that’s what this film tried to study.

The Tree of Life begins in a world closed off from nature. Tall buildings and uniform employees; this is not natural. The privileged first world collectively achieved this fake-city-nature through repression of the real. The main character, Jack, is an adult trapped in this world and through the film understands how to escape. He wakes up one morning and feels some phantom pain which the audience at first does not understand. He is starting to feel the deceit of the unnatural world. His thoughts and the images on screen guide the audience to his younger brother’s death years ago; he died at the age of nineteen. Waves of nostalgia punches Jack and renders a pain indescribable with vain attempts to overcome his arduous countenance. We see through prolonged flashbacks that Jack’s father oppressed him in his youth. In order to release the built up anxiety from this oppression, Jack commits the same crime to his younger brother. The unnatural chain of oppression is born. Jack’s father is an angry individual because of his failure of becoming a great musician and ends up settling for an engineering managerial position. He had also lost an important court case in which his patent and original idea was stolen. The father is no monster, he was cornered in the artifice like a wild animal. The cycle is created and thrives off this world and the beings inside, turning nature against itself. The way out, according to Malick, is through forgiveness, “Forgiveness is the key to reality.” By the end of the film, Jack’s father asks his son for forgiveness; its too late because Jack already spread the oppression to his younger brother. Through this realization at an older age, Jack understands the pain that he is feeling to be the unnatural world stealing his soul. Evil and sorrow can be destroyed through love and beauty. This is how the world is restored to its original glory.


The camera in this film moves in such a way to make everything seem like a dream, or even a transcendent being viewing the family in a celestial way. It flows through each scenes with no motive, almost like a subjective point of view from one of the boys.

The man behind the camera is Emmanuel Lubezki (reigning two-time Oscar winner) known for shooting: Ali, Children of Men, Gravity, and Birdman. Lubezki and Malick developed a list of shooting aspects that is followed throughout filming. They include: shoot in available natural light; shoot in backlight for continuity and depth, shoot in crosslight only after dawn or before dusk, never front light; avoid lens flares; no filters, except polarizer, no zooming, Z-axis moves instead of pans and tilts; the list goes on. The film is littered with these types of shots:

tol6 tol5

The shots give the audience a regular reminder of the sun and with that, the families place in the universe; they cannot escape simply because they are connected. It also reminds the audience that there is a bigger that always looks over us, creating the sense of a divine presence like that of God. This divineness is visible from the shots that Lubezki employs. The scenes are not introduced with wide shots, the characters do not line up on traditional geometries within the frame, and the camera follows Jack’s internal strife as if with guidance. The scenes shot at the 1956 Texas set are chiefly random. Malick was able to secure an entire block of houses to shoot through and around, giving the cast freedom to play around like a family would. The day would start with the actors told to completely ad-lib some activity in the most natural way possible, and the camera would just follow and capture what happened. These captured moments are not planned with a traditional storyboard, they follow the dogma and seldom stray from it. The camera tracks Jack’s reactions and his point-of-view through these sequences in order for the audience to understand the world through his perspective.

Throughout the film, the shots remind the viewer of the four elements:


Fire: The great creator and destroyer. In this film, it appears in the beginning of the creation of the universe sequence as being one the essential element to create the stars and galaxies. In the biblical context, it equivalently represents the fertility of God.


Water: This element is discussed later on in this analysis when I talk about the ending. This element represents femininity, purity, and cleansing. This element pervades most of the scenes in this film because of the color often associated with it: blue.


Earth: Even more than water, earth is considered the most dominant feminine element (mother nature). Its associated with fertility and the cycle of life. This film shows the sons being born up until when Jack is an adult. Even more representative in the creation of the universe sequence, which features the earth’s creation and the fertility of the planet that made life possible. The colors associated with earth is green and brown. The green is seen in most scenes by virtue of the abundant trees and plants in the neighborhood. The father wears a lot of brown, meant to represent his firmness and strength.


Air: This last element is connected with the soul and “breath of life.” Air is the great reliever to those who need conflicts to blow over and disappear. This element is not as prevalent as others, which may be because Jack is unable for the conflict to go away, the winds are not bringing him a peace of mind. Air is associated with white, which is a color Malick tried to stray away from when he made his dogma with Lubetzki. This is interesting considering the film has a lot do with with innocence, which is usually given a white cloak in biblical terms. The reason Malick wanted to avoid this color is because Jack is not pure or innocent, as evidence with his demons haunting him later in life. He was being infested with the negative energy his father bestowed upon him, which is anything but pure. Instead Malick forces the purity and innocence theme on the color blue because of waters theme of cleansing and purification. Jack needs to be purified of his sins.

These scenes remind the viewer of the way nature is inherent in everybody’s lives. We live inside of nature and nature lives inside us.


Another aspect of the film that accompanies the cinematography to endorse a transcendent viewing is the score. Alexandre Desplat (French composer known for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The King’s Speech, The Ides of March, Moonrise Kingdom, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and The Imitation Game) was brought in to do his first collaboration with Terrence Malick. The sound he creates amplifies the divine quality by introducing larger than life, transcendent sounds. The strings hold notes out long notes, the piano plays soothing melodies, and the orchestra picks up throughout the sequences of oppression to heighten the drama. This chain of oppression on screen only works in this transcendent sense because of the orchestral score. Otherwise, the scene is grounded on earth and without a divine quality. The score does not feature a particular sound that becomes the ritornello or defining sequence of notes that is repeated throughout the film. This ritornello is used in repetition, multiple times throughout a film in order for the audience to identify with and be pleased each time they hear it, almost like a pop song’s repeated note patterns. The Tree of Life does not give the audience this satisfaction. The audience is not left with a ritornello, or little return, because the narrative does not make any simple returns. It is a complex film with layered feelings that should not be exposed by the score, but rather the emotions of the visual aesthetics of the cinematography and acting.

Nature v. Grace:

The off screen dialogue of Chastain sets up the idea behind the narrative of nature v. grace: “When I was young the nuns taught us there are two ways through life: the way of Nature and the way of Grace. You have to choose which path you’ll take. Grace doesn’t try to please itself. It accepts all things. It does not mind being slighted, forgotten, disliked, insults, or injuries. Nature only wants to please itself. Love shining through all things. No one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end.” I like to think of nature and grace in terms of the Freudian Id and the Ego. The nature or id is the primeval way of life of following the bestial instincts of staying alive and populating the earth. These instincts are natural to every living thing on the planet: plants, animals, humans, etc. Grace or ego describes the more celestial qualities within a person, including love, compassion, reasoning, etc. These are the conditions that connect every form of life to the community and space they live. In the sequence of events showing the formation of the universe, a dinosaur is lying helplessly on the ground while one other approaches. The latter dinosaur steps on the helpless dinosaur’s face in the form of dominance, the id, or beastial instinct. But then it releases and runs away leaving the other dinosaur to live. This is Malick’s form of showing the early interaction between nature and grace. The compassion that the dinosaur felt that made it leave is the grace or ego overcoming the nature or id that would have killed the helpless dinosaur. This form of nature and grace takes place within Jack and his father. The father shows no grace until after the fact, and so does Jack towards his younger brother.



The final sequence with the family on the beach reminds me off Fellini’s final scene from 8½. In both, the central character is visited in a surreal setting of the people they remember from the past. The setting is something of a dream state projected to the audience to show the character’s inner thoughts. The difference between the two is the setting: The Tree of Life takes places on a beach and takes place on an expansive field. features the main character directing all of the characters in a line with a carnival setting; The Tree of Life shows older Jack interacting with his 1956 family with his brother still alive. Jack’s thoughts are at this moment in time specifically because he is remembering the loss of his brother, which triggers the remorse he feels for how he treated him back when they were kids. He feels a wave of nostalgia when looking into the eyes of his loving mother and embracing her, hugging his younger brother, watching his mother embrace her brother, and looking on his father with a certain reconciliation. These are the moments Jack wants to remember. These early memories of the innocence of youth is what everybody wants to remember; a certain carpe diem theme resonates here.

Its also important to note the final scene happening at the beach. Symbolically, the sea represents where all of humanity was originated. By returning there with thoughts of forgiveness of compassion, Malick could be arguing for the purity of these traits in being the fundamental units of life. Water is also a “feminine energy” in common folklore, which shows in Jack’s gaze being directed toward his mother during this final scene. In Catholicism, holy water plays a great part for prayers and rituals. Malick no doubt wanted to show this final scene in seawater because it happens to be the most pure holy water (which is just salt added to water) because of its production in nature. He’s going for the religious purification theme (not to mention the soundtrack featuring a church chorus singing); the father’s sins against Jack being purified by forgiveness, and Jack being purified in this final scene of surrealism.


Freudian Psychoanalysis:

There is a lingering Oedipus nature throughout the narrative. This theory was coined by Freud in his 1900 book, The Interpretation of Dreams. The Complex was taken from the Sophocles play, Oedipus Rex, in which a prophet claims that the King’s son will kill him and have sex with his wife; and that is what ends up happening. Freud claims that this is fundamentally how all humans develop their id in conjunction with the super ego in the creation of their ego. This oedipal desire pervades many different stories once you begin to notice it; most visibly it is what drives Hamlet in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

In terms of The Tree of Life, there is a scene in which young Jack steals a piece of his mother’s garment and throws it in the river in confusion. He’s confused because the oedipal desire (unknown to him) is controlling him. This desire of the mother is prominently featured in two particular scenes: first with Chastain suspended in air and in the final sequence on the beach. The former scene shows the mother floating like an angel, which makes sense if we are perceiving the narrative from a subjective/subconscious view of Jack, specifically relating to his oedipal desire. The final scene shows the mother, dressed in blue, and her transfer of desire to another woman. This is the sequence in which Chastain and some woman are shot in a closeup against a blown out background with Chastain directly in front of the other. Chastain even mutters, “I give him to you.” Meaning, Jack’s desire for his mother is shattered and attached onto this other woman, who probably turns out to be Jack’s future wife, considering this scene is a flashback from Jack at an older age. The oedipal desire goes even further when considering Jack’s relationship with his father. Jack feels a hatred towards his father, but doesn’t go as far as to kill him, and later shows his forgiveness on the beach.


One answer this film gives about the question of life is love. Love is the intrinsic unit of life that we should all stride towards; it wastes time not to. Love is the one thing in life that transcends space and time; it goes beyond the limits of the known universe and reaches an almost god-like position or higher dimension. The Tree of Life shows the audience what it looks like when discipline stifles love. This absence follows the children through life and develops this hidden pain in the future. A pain so inherent that we only try to suppress it instead of find the cause. Malick is looking for that cause by examining the history of the universe and our relation within the unknown. And that’s what life is: largely unknown.

“Interstellar”: A Lengthy Analysis for a Lengthy Film


Interstellar is the film Christopher Nolan has been trying to make his whole life ever since he saw 2001: A Space Odyssey. He regards this movie as a “seminal” film in the production of Interstellar.

Nolan went to go see 2001 during a 1977 re-release in theaters around his seventh birthday. He went on to make super 8 epics as a child growing up until it dawned on him that directing was his career path.

Other major influences for Nolan was Ridley Scott and George Lucas. Their direction and vision of a science-fiction world spoke to the young Kubrickian in Nolan. He wanted to create a film with just as much wonder and excitement as these filmmakers.

This is exciting to anybody growing up watching those movies as a kid. Watching a light saber duel or a futuristic world inspired a generation of filmmakers—and made USC’s film school world prestigious. Nolan is channeling his youth and sharing it to the world.

Because this review-analysis is as long as it is, it will be broken up into sections: History, Plot, and Criticism/Discussion.


One dinner changed everything in October 2005 between Kip Thorne and Lynda Obst. Thorne is a renown physicist leading the scientific discussion of gravitational relativity; Lynda Obst is a Producer who previously worked on Flashdance, Contact, Heartbreak Hotel, and Sleepless in Seattle. They first met during the premier of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos back in 1980 and dated on and off for a couple of years.

Fast-forward to the dinner in 2005; Lynda proposed the idea of a science fiction film influenced by the science that Thorne was working his life towards.

The made one rule: that it is “grounded from the outset in real science.”

By February 2006, they wrote a quick treatment to give to Spielberg. He instantly responded and a week later he was set to direct Interstellar.

By January 2007, the treatment grew from eight to thirty-seven pages with sixteen pages just on the science. During this time, Lynda and Spielberg interviewed screenwriters until they landed on Jonathan Nolan.

By November 2007, a story was put together from the collaboration between Kip, Lynda, Jonah and Steven. Jonah left for three months due to the Writers Guild strike and once he was back, he worked for sixteen months in order to write a detailed outline along with three successive drafts.

By that time, Jonah left because he had to write the script for The Dark Knight Rises, but returned by February of 2010 to start draft four. At the same time, Paramount and Steven had a falling out, so the project was left director-less.

Less than two weeks later, Christopher Nolan and his wife-producer Emma Thomas agree to work on Interstellar.

Jonathan Nolan has worked with his brother professionally for well over a decade now; He wrote the short story—Memento Mori—to which Memento is based on, co-wrote the screenplay to The Prestige with Christopher that was based on the Christopher Priest novel, and co-wrote the screenplays of the The Dark Knight trilogy along with Christopher and David S. Goyer.

Kip Thorne worked out an equation or two based on light traveling around a black hole based on Einstein’s general relativity equations. Thorne gave his equations to VFX supervisor Paul Franklin and his crew at Double Negative—who also worked in Inception—in order to render out an accurate model. For the heavier moments, some frames took over 100 hundreds to render and overall took up about 800 terabytes of data.

Nolan is not the guy to usually go with visual effects. Most of the explosions and action sequences in The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception are real. The rotating hallway zero gravity fight sequence of Inception was shot with on an angled-rotating set with the actors in harnesses. Any other big-budget filmmaker would have had a visual effects company simulate a zero gravity environment.

Nolan has always stood for in-camera effects as opposed to post-production work, and film over digital—he is an old school filmmaker. It shows in his films, they look real. Nolan explains his love for film:

“This is why I prefer film to digital,” Nolan said, turning to me. “It’s a physical object that you create, that you agree upon. The print that I have approved when I take it from here to New York and I put it on a different projector in New York, if it looks too blue, I know the projector has a problem with its mirror or its ball or whatever. Those kind of controls aren’t really possible in the digital realm.”

This is Nolan’s first feature—besides Following—to not include cinematographer Wally Pfister. The addition of Hoyte van Hoytema worries some people. Hoytema is not as prolific as Pfister in his cinematography career, but still has a solid variety of works under his belt. His first big break came with Russell’s The Fighter, followed by Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Jonze’s Her. Each film has a unique visual charm to them, which shows flexibility in Hoytema’s shooting.

Hoytema rigged up IMAX cameras for handheld shots—never before done on this large of a scale. IMAX cameras are usually only used for action sequences because of the size, quality, and cost.

Several different methods are used to capture the aerial sequences in IMAX. One method strapped the cameras to the “maxatures” of the Ranger in order to get real-life NASA types shots. The other was to place an IMAX camera in the nose of a jet. That is just too cool. Hoytema is given practically unlimited resources when it came time to shoot this film and he took advantage.

The shots of the vehicles floating in space (like in 2001) look amazing, because they are real scale models and shot on film. Thanks to 3D printing, the three spacecraft used in the film is 1/15th to 1/5th scale of the actual size. They are strapped up on a six-axis gimbal and shot against background plates of space with VistaVision cameras.

Nathan Crowley (Production Designer) developed the Endurance space ship. This ship rotates in order to gain force and channels it into forward movement through space. This is what helps the Ranger reach the wormhole. Crowley explains: “It’s a real mishmash of different kinds of technology; you need analogue stuff as well as digital stuff, you need back-up systems and tangible switches. Every inch of space is used, everything has a purpose. It’s really like a submarine in space.”

The ship resembles the 2001 ship as well:

2001spacestation  endurance

Nolan had the visual effects of space rendered out well before shooting; instead of a green/blue screen surrounding the actors, it would be the actual environment. This is smart filmmaking and directing. How can a film—**cough**Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith**cough**—hope to achieve great acting when they are surrounding by green walls?

Another innovation Nolan is working towards is a world filled with feature films shot and projected in true IMAX. This world looks bleak in the near future, but he damn well tried.

In a July 7 article written by Nolan, he wrote about the future of film. He claims:

“Content can be ported across phones, watches, gas-station pumps or any other screen, and the idea would be that movie theaters should acknowledge their place as just another of these “platforms,” albeit with bigger screens and cup holders.”

Nolan envisions a bland future for movie theater entertainment. If film is just another dial on a switch of platforms, why hold it in any special delight over watching a movie on Netflix?

Theaters and film need to find a new way to attract viewership. This is not a new concept. When television became widely popular in the fifties as another way to view “content,” film started shooting in widescreen formats with multitrack sound in order to give the audience an experience that television could not match. Nolan explains that to do this again, innovations will need experimentation, and it will not be a fast process.

Nolan is famous for shooting and exhibiting his last three films—The Dark Knight, Inception, and The Dark Knight Rises—with a huge portion of IMAX shots and scenes. With the advent of digital projection and “liemax,” 15/70mm IMAX film projections will soon be extinct. In fact, Interstellar could very well be the last film shot and projected using 15/70mm IMAX cameras.

Nolan even insisted to Paramount that Interstellar be released in the 15/70mm IMAX, standard 70mm, and 35mm film formats two days before the actual release of the film. These releases are a glimpse to the possible future of film, and given to the hardcore Nolan audience as a thanks.

What is liemax? New digital IMAX projection systems came around in 2008 because the 70mm film projectors and cameras are extremely expensive. However, digital IMAX projection comes with an extreme loss of quality. Traditional 70mm film screens have up to 8,700 lines of vertical resolution lost on the camera negative images and about 4,500 lost on the release print. Perhaps this image will clarify the difference between the digital projections versus true film IMAX projection:


Digital projection IMAX proved to be cheaper and extremely financially successful—look at The Hunger Games and The Avengers. This trend of cost cutting is what Nolan is disavowing. The future of film is about funding future endeavors like true film-IMAX, not cutting the costs to turn a profit. History proves this:

Financial trends throughout the sixties through eighties show that experimentation and innovation are what brought great films and blockbusters to life. Once the studios realized that films could turn an enormous profit, they turned away from experimenting with new types of films and filmmakers and focused on turning a profit. Studios made fewer films and put an enormous budget on epics and musicals—Ben-Hur (1959), The Ten Commandments (1956), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and The Sound of Music (1965). All these films are amazing in their own rights, but their trend caused a major bankruptcy and rupture to the film industry in the mid-1960’s; leading up to the failure of many epic films—Cleopatra (1963) leading the way with a $40 million dollar loss.

This made studios crawl and try to collect their losses—in time—and experiment with new ways to attract viewers. They started hiring new filmmakers with different styles and techniques (most notably French New Wave inspired). From this innovation away from churning out Hollywood epics, the inexpensive films—such as Bonnie and Clyde and the Graduate (both 1967)—make back their profits by tenfold in theaters. This sent the studios in a manic state. For the next decade or so, studios would try new filmmakers and styles in order to repeat the financial success of films in the late sixties.

Another trend was the age of moviegoers. Most people going to see movies in the late-sixties to seventies are teenagers and young adults. Who better to make a movie for this audience than young filmmakers? Studios began what New Wave in Europe started: funding young, experimental-esq filmmakers.

Long story short, Lucas is among a special class of movie-brats who grew up studying and watching films. These types of filmmakers—Coppola, Spielberg, and Scorsese—have the leeway to shoot what they want because they came into the game young and extremely knowledgeable.

Star Wars broke every financial record known to man. Spielberg released a string of films that define generations of childhoods. Coppola directed a few of the greatest movies of all time. Scorsese created a new style of filmmaking that blends Hollywood and European art cinema.

Filmmakers like Spielberg and Lucas came into Hollywood with the idea of making films to appeal to the masses. To which they had unprecedented success. Jaws made a tenfold yield in profit in about a month of its release and the Indiana Jones series, not including Crystal Skull, made about $62 million just on opening weekend. However, the real winner is Lucas’ Star Wars trilogy. Each installment destroyed the box office and created a newfound merchandising yield. The Walt Disney Company bought Lucasfilm for over $4 billion, while the original budget of Star Wars—the film that made this buyout possible—was made for only $11 million.

Nolan grew up watching these movies. These filmmakers gave rise to Nolan and his future in film.

By March 2013, Nolan confirmed his directing ambition for Interstellar and agreed to produce the film under his production company, Syncopy. Nolan’s salary for the film includes $20 million as well as 20% of the gross.

This is Nolan’s first time making a film under a non-Warner Bros. production house—Paramount Pictures in this case. Warner Bros. wanted in so bad that they actually gave Paramount the rights to Friday the 13th and South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut sequels. In return, Warner Bros. was given control of international distribution rights. That is not a bad deal at all, considering Transformers: Age of Extinction grossed over $840 million internationally in less than four months.

The production budget for Interstellar is about $165 million, making it the third most expensive Nolan film—The Dark Knight ($185) and The Dark Knight Rises ($250 million). For a 169-minute movie, the cost of Interstellar comes out to be $976,331.36 per minute. For that price per minute, you can buy—not just rent—a three-bed, two-bath condominium in New York or an estate in Montana with twenty acres of property.

By August 2013, Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. agreed to finance 25 percent of Interstellar’s production. Legendary also agreed to finance Warner Bros. upcoming DC superhero film, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice for a ticket into the Interstellar production. The original four month shooting project began the same month.

This is the fifth collaboration between Nolan and first-rate composer Hans Zimmer. The usual Nolan-Zimmer soundtrack features bass shattering DUMMMMS and high pitch strings that have been reproduced often by other composers since Inception came out—which won the Oscar for sound editing and sound mixing.

This film has a different sound. Nolan approached Zimmer with the idea for creating a new sound: “It’s time to reinvent. The endless string (ostinatos) need to go by the wayside, the big drums are probably in the bin.” This type of soundtrack reinvention worked for Inception, and now that its sound became the normal, it is time to reinvent again. Nolan did not even show Zimmer the full script or story, but instead a “one page text” with a description of the type of sound Nolan wanted for the film.

Zimmer’s plan for the soundtrack is as ambitious as the content in the film. He stated: “[I want to] give audiences an incredible immersive experience. The technical aspects are going to be more important than any film I’ve made before.”

For me, the soundtrack was great. I really enjoyed the new organ sound that Zimmer introduced and thought as a whole, the soundtrack was fresh for a Nolan film. The sound mixing was a little off throughout the film, but was not noticeable to the point where I could not enjoy the immensity of the soundtrack.

I read this anecdote written by Tom Shone from The Guardian about the conception of Nolan approaching Zimmer about the soundtrack and want to share it here:

The composer Hans Zimmer was at work on his score for Man of Steel when Nolan approached him. “Chris said to me, in his casual way. ‘So, Hans, if I wrote one page of something, didn’t tell you what it was about, just give you one page, would you give me one day of work?’” Zimmer recalled. “‘Whatever you came up with on that one day would be fine.’ I said, ‘Of course, I’d love to.’ One day, an envelope arrived, almost handed to me by Chris. It was on quite thick paper, typewritten, which told me there was no carbon copy. This was truly the original.”   On the paper was a short story, no more than a précis, about a father who leaves his child to do an important job. It contained two lines of dialogue – “I’ll come back” “When?” – and quoted something Zimmer had said a year before, during a long conversation with Nolan and his wife at the Wolesley restaurant in London. It was snowing, central London had ground to a halt, and the three of them were more or less stranded. “There was no movie to be made, there was no movie to discuss, we were talking about our children,” said Zimmer, who has a 15-year-old son. “I said, ‘once your children are born, you can never look at yourself through your eyes any more, you always look at yourself through their eyes.”

He worked on the score for a day and then let Emma Thomas know he was done.

“I said, ‘Do you want me to send it over?’ She goes, ‘Oh, he’s curiously antsy, do you mind if he comes down?’ He got into the car and drove to my studio in Santa Monica and sat down on my couch. I made the usual excuses a composer makes when they play something to somebody for the first time. I played to him, not looking at him, I just stared straight ahead at my copy of the screen and then I turned around and he’s sitting there. I can tell he was moved by it. He said, ‘I suppose I’d better make the movie, now.’ I asked him, ‘Well, yes, but what is the movie?’ And he started describing this huge, epic tale of space and science and humanity, on this epic scale. I’m going, ‘Chris, hang on, I’ve just written this highly personal thing, you know?’ He goes, ‘Yes, but I now know where the heart of the movie is’. Everything about this movie was personal. That’s the other thing, the trick he pulled on me, when I see the movie, it’s a girl. But he wrote about a boy.”

The cast for this film is ridiculous. It features five Oscar winners: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine (sixth straight Nolan film), Ellen Burstyn, and Matt Damon.

Caine will not be in the next Nolan film. His death in Interstellar more than represented his death in the narrative, but in Nolan films in general. The director-actor relationship has lasted for nine years now—the time has come. I can even throw in a cliché and say, “all good things must come to an end” or “if you truly love something (meaning Nolan’s love of Caine’s acting) you need to let it go.”

The reason Nolan chose McConaughey was thanks to Mud—McConaughey’s resurgence of great acting. In this low budget indie, McConaughey dazzles with a career changing performance never before seen by the Texas native. Nolan saw the film and remarked, “I didn’t know how much potential he had until I saw Mud. Not just as a leading man, but sheer acting talent.” And its a good thing that Nolan got him before his Oscar winning performance in Dallas Buyer’s Club, because now McConaughey is the most sought after actor on the market.

Anne Hathaway—previously Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises —is reprising her Nolan film career as a NASA scientist. At one point in the filming with Anne talking about love, she struggled and felt like in “an emotionally-frayed place that was making the whole thing feel, quite frankly, a little ‘actor-y’, quote, unquote.” Nolan approached and got her to tell the lines with a “calm certainty” – “as if you were saying something you had known your entire life.” I thought this helped the scene out a lot in not making it sound like a soap opera.

Plot:  WARNING, there will be major spoilers from here on out.

We start the film at Cooper’s (McConaughey) farm in the middle of a Dust Bowl-inspired blight. This single father lives with his father-in-law (John Lithgow), fifteen-year-old son Tom, and ten year old daughter, Murphy. Cooper used to be a pilot/engineer in the past, but retreated to the farm to help with the worldwide crop failures and shortages. He even uses his engineering ingenuity to build automated tractors to efficiently farm the property.

Right away, the film starts in this gritty, sandy sci-fi world of poverty and hunger. No clear year is given out—which is smart because look at all the assholes who ripped 2001 for not being accurate. Nonetheless, the film is definitely set in the not-so-distant future.

Okotoks, Alberta is the shooting place of the town and baseball scene—Seaman Stadium. For the cornfields, Nathan Crowley and his crew planted over 500 acres of corn in order for the storm to destroy. Incredibly large fans created the storm by blowing large amounts of synthetic dust. The filming in Alberta took about a month and used a crew of about 130 people, most of whom were locals.

Murphy has been experiencing unusual occurrences with her books being thrown off the shelves and thinks some ghost activity is happening. After a dust storm ravages through town, the open window to Murphy’s room causes a huge sand buildup. Murphy and Cooper find sand-line patterns on the floor and interpret the lines as binary, revealing a set of coordinates.

This is where the story starts to pick up. This moment before they leave reminds me of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the obsession of reaching Devils Tower. Spielberg captures the adventurer in the audience and a longing for an understanding into the unknown. A similar longing is happening in Interstellar. The audience wants to figure out this foreign entity acting upon the sand-lines by driving to the coordinates along with Cooper and Murphy.

Once the two reach the location, they find out it happens to be the most well hidden underground secret facility in the world: NASA. Here, Cooper finds his old mentor Dr. Brand (Michael Caine), his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), Romilly (David Gyasi), Doyle (Wes Bentley), and the robot TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin).

The robots in this future world are cool and more practical than most anthropomorphic beings in other films. The design is complex yet understandable; four metal blocks attach in three spots, giving the robot three different functions according to movement speed—we see all three functions in the film. The blocks can divide even further into smaller components in order to perform smaller tasks that human hands and fingers do.

After meeting the crew, Cooper finds out that “gravitational anomalies” are appearing more often than usual—this is what caused the ghost to knock the books off the shelf. They also found that one of these anomalies caused a wormhole to appear near Saturn. It is not clear exactly what is causing the anomalies, but the scientists are almost certain that extra-dimensional beings are trying to help the human race.

NASA sent a crew of twelve—the Lazarus mission—into the wormhole in order to inhabit twelve planets to figure out which would best accommodate human life (the goldilocks planet). Three of the planets chosen seem to appear to have some sort of life support capability. Now is where plans A and B come into play. Plan A sends the entire NASA facility (rigged as a space ship) through the wormhole to inhabit the new planet. Plan B sends a smaller ship with fertilized eggs in order to repopulate the new planet.

Cooper is chosen to pilot Plan B while Dr. Brand stays behind to continue working on his gravitational formula for Plan A. Cooper decides to leave his family in order to save the human race, but not without strong resentment from Murph. We learn she is a daddy’s girl from the exposition and it kills her to have Cooper leave. He gives her a matching watch and explains to her that due to relativity, they might be the same age when he comes back. She is too distraught to care.

Nolan plays this scene perfectly. He never usually holds onto dramatic moments like this for fear of turning moments into sappy melodramas. This moment works so well because he pairs this emotional leaving directly with the launching of the Ranger. The emotion is rising as Murphy longs to say goodbye to her father one last time, the music picks up, and the ship launches. The editing of this sequence of events is so well that there is no way to explain it in words. This is one of my favorite moments in the film. Another anecdote from Shone’s article in The Guardian explains the writing and sentimentality that went into this scene between Cooper and Murph:

Researching the script at Cal Tech, where he received informal tutorials in quantum mechanics from Kip Thorne, Jonah Nolan noticed a common theme to the examples used by Einstein to illustrate the special and general theories of relativity. “Almost all the thought experiments he did almost always involved someone on a train, and someone on a train platform, just waving at each other as the train sped by at close to the speed of light,” Jonah said. “There was an inherent sadness to them. Twins removed from one another and placed in big ships and planes, realizing that time was being lost.”

The theme held a particular resonance. Their late father, Brendan, was a British advertising copywriter who worked on Madison Avenue for a while – “an actual Mad Man”, Jonah said – before moving to Chicago, where he met their mother, Christina, “and then spent 40 years happily arguing about where to live”. Nolan and his two brothers spent their childhood moving back and forth between London and Chicago. “There was always the fun question of: where is he now?” Jonah recalled. Their father “spent a great deal of time in Africa and a great deal of time in east Asia. I would remember, as a kid, wondering when Dad was coming back, and he’d always come back with gifts or souvenirs and with great stories. I just imagined that’s how it was with everyone with their parents. I remember the excitement of him, that sense of homecoming. And that sense of home being a somewhat portable, a movable feast.”

The have now begun their two-year voyage to Jupiter. The images that Nolan and Hoytema produce during this launch and ascension are utterly gorgeous. Each shot of the ship and Earth is breathtaking when viewed on a big screen because it shows us just how small humans are on this planet. My favorite shot in the film comes at the end of this sequence; it has the Ranger on the far right of the frame with a magnificent image of Earth taking up almost the entire left and center frame. The quality of the shot made me lose my mind. In time, it could well be my favorite shot in all of cinema.

The crew eventually reaches the wormhole, and right when they get there Amelia notices a disturbance in the space next to her and thinks it to be some sort of handshake-communication gesture from the beings causing the anomalies. This will come up later in the film. The crew travels through the incredibly “trippy” portal of the wormhole—which rivals 2001’s “trippy” portal sequence.

After traveling to a different galaxy, they encounter a huge black hole called “Garguntua.” This is where the Thorne equation meets the render queues of Double Negative. At first, Nolan was apprehensive about showing the black hole because of its complexity, but found that shooting it from one perspective would confuse the audience as little as possible. The result is quite interesting:


The first planet on their list is Dr. Miller’s, which is very close to Garguntua. Because of relativity and closeness to the black hole, each hour on the planet translates to seven years on Earth.

Cue in the Nolan thriller climax.

Once Cooper, Amelia, and Doyle reach the planet’s surface, they find that Miller is dead. Because of relativity, all the thumbs-up messages from Miller were coming for years when on her planet she died within an hour or two of landing.

Amelia fucks up big time after finding the dead Miller, gets stuck under a piece of the ship, and needs to rush back to the Ranger before a two hundred foot tidal wave destroys their vehicle. TARS rescues Amelia by showing off its versatility of speed function and saves Amelia, but Doyle is swept by the wave—never to be seen again. The vehicle’s engines flooded from the wave and needs to take some time to release the water.

This halt on the planet causes twenty-three years to pass by the time the get back to Endurance. Romilly is still alive and sane thanks to the hibernation tanks. He did not think Cooper and Amelia would make their way back after all the years, so he was able to spend his time on black hole equations—how convenient.

Cooper now has twenty-three years of messages to watch, mostly from Tom but one from Murphy at the end. Tom shows off as he starts to date this one girl to eventually showing his child—and is now Casey Affleck. Murphy is in the last message and says that by the time he comes back from the voyage that they would be same age—because now they are. This video message system is a yet another tribute to 2001.

By now, we start to follow Murphy on Earth who is now around Cooper’s age—38 or so and played by Jessica Chastain. We learn that Murph is working with Dr. Brand at the NASA facility in trying to find out that gravitational formula for plan A.

Back on the Endurance, the depleting fuel sources forces the crew to pick one of the two remaining planets—one with Lazarus crew leader Dr. Mann and the other with Amelia’s former lover, Dr. Edmunds. Amelia argues for the latter with the explanation that the power of love transcends all science. Cooper dismisses this and Romilly agrees to visit the closer planet with Dr. Mann.

Once they find the ice planet of Hoth—not actually Hoth—they find Mann’s (Matt Damon) base camp and revive him from his hibernation chamber. Filming for this scene, and the water planet, took place in Iceland at the Svínafellsjökull glacier and the town of Klaustur. The film crew of about 350 brought 10,000 pounds worth of model spaceships to the country and shot for about two weeks. Anne Hathaway almost suffered hypothermia because of a “non-secure” dry suite while on the water planet.

Around this time in the narrative, Murph rushes to the ICU to find Dr. Brand on his deathbed. He tells Murph that plan A was bullshit and that the equation for gravity was figured out a while ago. He dies; Murph is pissed and needs to transmit the news to Amelia. Murph tells about her father’s death in the message, and proceeds to ream Amelia for knowing this formula before leaving and criticizes the decision to withhold this information for so long.

Amelia watches the message along with the crew, and Cooper is infuriated.

Mann takes Cooper on a ranging toward the base of the planet where he claims to have a breathable atmosphere. Amelia and Romilly stay back at the campsite.

While ranging, Mann takes off Cooper’s communication device and attempts to push him off a cliff. Cooper defends himself and after a scuffle, Mann cracks Cooper’s helmet. While Cooper is struggling to breath, Man explains he only sent the thumbs up so that someone would save him from the loneliness of being on the planet. Cooper struggles to breath and is looking for his comm-device. He finds it and immediately tells Amelia.

Amelia leaves the campsite, hops into a ranger, and looks for Cooper. After picking him up, the two head back to the campsite and a huge explosion destroys the campsite with Romilly still inside. The robot that Mann had was rigged as an explosive in order for Mann to carry out his plan with nobody to call him out on what actually happened.

Mann leaves his ice planet on the ranger and makes his way to Endurance. He is unable to automatically dock the ship so he tries a manual override. Acting under impulse, he forgets that without a proper lock-on, the transport tube is still pressurized and opening the Endurance’s doors would cause destruction. Mann goes against Cooper’s words of not opening the doors, and a large explosion destroys the bay terminal, sending the Endurance into a sixty-eight rpm spin.

Cooper takes control and sends the Ranger into the same spin to properly lock onto the bay doors. After doing so, the result causes a dramatic reduction in fuel and causes Amelia to black out. The two remaining crewmembers now need a new plan because they do not have enough fuel to reach the wormhole or third planet.

Cooper has the idea to slingshot around the black hole to gather speed while at the same time releasing one of the rangers with TARS on board in order to collect some data from the hole. When it comes time to do so, Cooper launches TARS, and then himself. Amelia is shocked and in disbelief about Cooper’s decision; he is sacrificing himself in order to give Amelia a better chance of reaching the third planet and her lover, Dr. Edmunds.

Cooper enters the black hole in his ranger, following TARS, and finds himself in a very strange place. After having a 2001 moment of the lights and speed being too much to handle, a warning comes on in the cockpit to eject. He does so without hesitation and floats freely in space, kind of like Gravity, but he is not freaking out.

He finds himself falling into this structure out of nowhere and has no idea where he is—and neither does the audience. He stops himself from falling and notices that he is on the other side of the bookcase of Murphy when she was young. Cooper makes contact with TARS and finds out that the robot made it to this fifth dimensional place and that the beings there have constructed four dimensions inside a three dimensional space in order for Cooper to understand. The first three dimensions being spatial—x, y, and z—and the fourth being time—which is what Cooper is seeing.

If the fourth dimension is what holds together spatial relations in time, then the fifth dimension is what holds all of time together. Physicist Gerard ‘t Hooft created the holograph principle, explaining, “Information about an extra dimension is visible as a curvature in a space-time with one fewer dimension.” You can think of a hologram as a three dimensional figure being projected onto a two dimensional surface, and when the observer moves, a curvature is seen. Apply this principle to general relativity and that is why a three-dimensional path created by a moving particle shows a fourth dimensional.

Cooper ends up in this space with all of Murphy’s actions in the bedroom happening at the same time. Cooper sees Murph and tries to get her attention by desperately banging on the bookshelf, causing some of he books to knock over the lunar lander that is on the bookshelf.

This is how the movie begins, with Murph noticing a ghost is acting in her room that caused the books and lander to fall. That ghost is her father. Cooper understands now that the only way to get Murph’s attention is creating some system of communication other than speech. Cooper arranges the dust and sand to fall in such a way to give the coordinates of the NASA base.

Cooper also causes the rift in gravity to reach out to Amelia in the cockpit that the crew experienced on their way through the wormhole.

The other beings did not cause Cooper to go on this mission, but instead himself. He understands that the higher beings in their dimension cannot communicate directly to the population of Earth, so they helped create the wormhole in order to guide the humans to survival.

After seeing how torn apart Murph was that her dad was leaving, Cooper tries his best to somehow tell his former self to stay—even arranging the books in a code that spells STAY. Cooper at beginning of the movie shrugs it off. This is a common Nolan-narrative motif moment in his films. He introduces an idea or event at the beginning, spends the entire movie trying to explain the idea/event, and at the end returns to the beginning in one-way or another.

Murphy in the narrative to which she is older, visits the old house with her doctor friend, Getty (Topher Grace) to see to Tom’s kid, who has some respiratory problem. Getty finds that it is not safe for the kid or wife to stay at that house any longer, for health purposes, but Tom stops them from leaving. Murph and Getty storm off and set a fire in Tom’s crops to get him out of the house for a while. During this time, Murph and Getty evacuate Tom’s wife and kid.

Murph visits her old bedroom one last time for sentimentality and notices something odd with the watch that Cooper gave her at the beginning of the film. Cooper sees Murph in his own dimension in the room and figures out to communicate. He figures out to control the second hand of the watch through gravity, and Murph knows. He relays the gravity formula from TARS’ data to Murph; she takes the data and is able to complete the formula for plan A to work.

Once Cooper completes the mission that the higher beings sent him out to do, the space around him collapses and he continues his space floating.

He suddenly wakes up in a hospital, learns that he is 124 years old, and that the place he is in is Cooper station—named after his daughter. Due to the relativity shift that Cooper experienced, Murph is now an extremely old age, and is now Ellen Burstyn. They exchange a touching moment—again rare for a Nolan film—and Murph explains that Amelia is still out there through the wormhole. Cooper needs to go after her.

Plan A succeeds and they are rotating in a large station around Saturn. This station is a lot like the Elysium station that the rich is living on, but with much less racism and Matt Damon is still alive. The station is a large, circular farm community that has the Cooper’s home still intact and is now a historic landmark. Cooper checks it out and continues to live there, but now with TARS. His life feels empty—like the end of Goodfellas and Jarhead endingsand knows he needs to go after Amelia. He and Tars hi-jack a Ranger and set off to the wormhole.

At the same time, Amelia is on the planet and finds a base camp with multiple tents set up with clear human life living there. She takes off her helmet and is able to breath. Humans have found a sustainable planet to live on.

The ending leaves there because the story is over. Murph’s job is to figure out how to save the human race, and Cooper’s job is to bridge the gap between Murphy and the higher beings that know how to save humankind. Once achieved after 169 minutes, there is no need to continue. Nolan of course ends with his usual ambiguous resolution.


The biggest problem with this film is the sound mixing. It may have been the speakers’ fault in the theater, but the sound levels were definitely off at times. This film contains loud space ships and a sweeping orchestra, which will give any sound mixer a headache when trying to lodge dialogue somewhere in between.

Next up is acting. Some critics went so far as to condemn the movie as a whole because of poor acting. The acting is not even that bad. Some minor characters do not have the best performances—Romilly and Doyle—but is that enough to criticize the acting overall? McConaughey, Chastain, and Hathaway are great, Caine is old but still great, and Damon holds his own for the minor role he played.

Classic science-fiction films—Star Wars in particular—had shit acting but still held up because they are not character driven films. Films like Dallas Buyers Club, 13 Years a Slave, and The Help thrive off their acting because they are dramas. Without dramatic performances, dramas are nothing. Science fiction and action films on the other hand focus on visual excitement and thrill in order for their films to work.

A lot of critics and writers are talking about Interstellar as being the revival of the Hollywood blockbuster. To continue from the section a few thousand words ago, this film follows the trends in history to make it a revival piece. In the last half-decade or so, everything being made on a large scale is a sequel, remake/reboot, or adaptation. The studios are scared shitless to risk big on an original idea recently due to the ‘08 recession. In addition, Disney lost over $300 million with John Carter and again with The Lone Ranger (2013) with a loss of over $100 million. Disney will no doubt bounce back from this considering they own Star Wars and will reap the benefits from the new trilogy and merchandising. The other studios do not have this wiggle room unfortunately.

I want to talk about love and how it works within this film. Love is the reason many of the characters do what they do in this film, much like real life. Love causes us to perform functions we would not normally do. Love has no physical manifestation; it has no being in our three-dimensional world without humans.

Love is so powerful that it can even hinder our genetic identity. Humans are naturally predisposed for survival and spreading successors. We don’t need love in order for those two conditions to be met, but it still happens. Love throws us off out genetic pathway; nothing else has that power over us. From Amelia: “Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends time and space.”

Love is also something incredibly foreign to understanding. Nobody knows what love is or how it works, but instead how it feels.

This feeling of connection is what attracts Amelia to Dr. Edmunds; its what attracts Dr. Mann to the planet he left; its what attracts Cooper to launch into the unknown; its what attracts Murph to work with Dr. Brand at NASA; its what attracts Cooper to Amelia even when he is safely back on his house floating around Saturn; more than all, its what attracts the beings to save humanity.

The higher beings acting upon Cooper to help him into the fifth dimension are humans so far forward in the future that they figured out how to navigate through the dimensions. They created an existence loop by helping out Cooper and Murph to ensure their future survival.

This type of theory of extra-temporal travel is a fairly new concept around since the crash landing at Roswell and other locations. The reason why aliens are depicted as skinny figures with no hair and a big brain is because that is how we may look in the future. Hair has been growing less and less on humans with each century; our brains are constantly growing due to expanded thought through each generation; and skinny bodies because the hard labor jobs don’t exist in a future where space and time are something you can play around with.

The point of separation between Nolan and other filmmakers is the amount of thought put into each film. It is not that the viewer needs to decode each of his films, but rather navigate through them like a maze. Shone writes a great couple of paragraphs about this:

If Hollywood has long offered audiences the promise of escape, Nolan’s films nail it down still further: he offers audiences the chance to escape their heads. The name of his production company, Syncopy, is the word for the temporary loss of consciousness caused by loss of oxygen to the brain, and all his films, to some extent, use the tropes of the detective film or heist movie to dramatize the twists and turns of consciousness. “We can’t step outside our own heads,” he told me at Fotokem. “We just can’t. Now, a great film will reveal that the world is way fucking worse than you think it is and you missed it. It should be depressing but the reason it’s not is, we want the world to be more complicated than it is. We don’t want to know the limits of your world. You don’t want to be like Truman in the boat at the end, hitting the sky. What it’s really saying is, there’s more to this place than meets the eye. I make films that are huge endorsements of that idea.”

If Nolan’s success has in large part depended on an audience of little Nolans, notepads out, faces scrunched up as they attempt to outwit the master from the front row, the film-maker found himself, as he approached the release of Interstellar, in the unusual position of pivoting towards encouraging a more limbic, left-brained response to his work. The only praise that made him a little uncomfortable was praise for the complexity of his films. “What I’ve found is, people who let my films wash over them – who don’t treat it like a crossword puzzle, or like there is a test afterwards – they get the most out of the film,” he said. “I have done various things in my career, including, with Memento, telling a very simple story in an incredibly complex way. Inception is a very complicated story told in a very complicated way. Interstellar is very upfront about being simple as a story.

This simple storytelling in a very outstanding way is what Interstellar so fun and easy to watch. Yes, it is an intelligent film, but it is a spectacle nonetheless.

Subjectivity and Form in “Shame”

Subjectivity and Form in Shame

Director and writer Steve McQueen really proved his worth in the filmmaking world with this film. He utilizes a shocking ecstasy of emotions to give loneliness and sex an overwhelming appeal.

The film begins with a montage of sorts with Brandon (Michael Fassbender) living his white-blue desaturated lifestyle. He often employs hookers and clearly is not committed to anybody. The only audio heard, besides the sweeping orchestra, is of his sister Sissy—Carey Mulligan—calling everyday and trying to reach out to Brandon.

The scenes juxtapose with Brandon sitting on the subway eyeing down one of the young females on board (who is clearly eyeing him back—they are practically eye fucking). She gets up and stands near him while waiting to get off—clearly showing a wedding ring—Brandon gets up and stands behind her, the subway door opens, the women flees, and Brandon loses her after going up the stairs. Sorry Brandon, maybe next time.

The monotonous actions on screen accompany a powerfully dramatic orchestra alongside a ticking. The deep strings and hums remind me of a dramatic climax reaching its peak, but instead this orchestra plays before we even learn Brandon’s name. Something deeper beyond the surface is happening here.

Subjectivity in a drama is hard to pull off. Some directors create a very compelling or sympathetic character, some create a dramatic lifestyle to which the characters need to escape, but McQueen pulls it off with subjective music and mise-en-scene.

The orchestra only plays for eight minutes at the beginning and another nine minutes at the end. In between, the music that plays is either classical (Brandon) or pop (Sissy). All the music is diegetic, meaning they have a place within the film to which it plays, unlike the orchestra.

The orchestra does not play to the overall tone of the film, but rather plays as the internal drama of Brandon. The film’s style externalizes Brandon’s emotions.

In the beginning, the orchestra plays out while the montage of Brandon’s lifestyle plays out, giving it a sense of dramatic addiction. A life of mindless indulgences is no way to live a healthy life.

The use of mise-en-scene throughout the film helps the subjectivity of Brandon too. The beginning montage begins with static camera movements, washed out, white-blue images, and little to no emotion from Brandon. That is how Brandon sees his life: slow moving, bland, and boring.

The story begins with the arrival of his sister Sissy. Brandon enters his house after having sex with a woman he just met at the bar. He notices that the door is unlocked; somebody broke in, and Brandon hears loud pop rock music playing. He slowly enters, sees nobody, grabs his bat, and heads to the only room in the house with a closed door—the bathroom. He enters with weapon in position, but instead finds his sister showering. They are both startled half to death; Brandon forgot that she has a key to his apartment. He leaves and turns off the music.

The music here is loud and obnoxious, because that is how Brandon hears it. It may not seem that way to Sissy or anyone else, but not if we are viewing the film as Brandon.

This music in a way signifies how Sissy is to Brandon. With his sister around, Brandon needs to reevaluate his destructive lifestyle as well as deal with his sister’s emotional dependence. Brandon is far from a compassionate person. The annoyance of her visit externalizes through the annoyance of the music.

Sissy convinces Brandon to have him come watch her perform at an up-scale club in New York. Brandon brings his work friend and boss David. Sissy performs the saddest possible version of “New York, New York” ever uttered, which forces a tear or two down Brandon’s cheek. Afterwards, Sissy joins them at the table and they begin to drink. Cut to a shot of the three in the cab, and Sissy and David are making out. They all enter Brandon’s apartment and the couple make a B-line towards Brandon’s bedroom. After having a little emotional breakdown in the living room, Brandon goes for a nice jog with classical music playing in his headset.

The classical music that Brandon plays throughout the film shows a certain balance Brandon is trying to achieve. The structure and melody of Bachto Beethoven has given peace to listeners for hundreds of years. Brandon listens to it in order to give himself a little order to his structured lifestyle. In addition, if the overly dramatic orchestra is what is playing in Brandon’s mind, classical music would definitely sooth those sad strings.

This scene in the club is the emotional turning point for Brandon. The shot holds on Sissy’s face for so long because he cannot look away. A quick shot of Brandon shows him getting emotional, probably because he is realizing he is getting emotional, but turns back to Sissy because the performance is so emotionally powerful.


The scene drowns the frame with warm, yellow-orange colors, as opposed to the daily white-blue color grading of Brandon’s life. This is the case because Brandon is literally viewing Sissy in a new light.

The first time we view something in life (anything from an event to a person), we hold it in a more colorful or warmer light than in subsequent viewings. Shame understands and uses this concept brilliantly.

The reason the singing scene is so saturated is because that is how Brandon is viewing the scene. Inversely, the reason the daily activities and lifestyle of Brandon are filled with bland, white-blue colors is because Brandon has gotten so used to seeing his life that way. All the meaning and saturation has fled from the scene, meaning they fled from Brandon’s mind too.

Brandon starts to flirt with a female co-worker, Marianne (Nicole Beharie), and eventually takes her on a date. This date is my favorite scene in the film. The scene floods with warm colors—like the singing scene—so it must be something new for Brandon.

More evidence that this dating concept is new is from the extremely long shot to introduce the two at the table. Brandon feels as stiff and trapped in the scene as does he camera. Not even editing can help him out of this. Eventually after they start to make small talk and feel more comfortable, the shot changes.

Another smaller aspect I noticed is the waiter. He may not actually seem that awkward normally, but if we continue with the Brandon subjective view, the awkwardness would make sense because Brandon is not accustomed to fine dining. Because he is not used to it, the waiter’s job would seem a bit off-putting to him, and therefore the audience.

A day or so after the dinner date, Brandon takes Marianne to an apartment so they could have sex. After a bit of foreplay, Brandon is ready to penetrate, except he fails. Right at that moment, Brandon gets off Marianne and sulks.

We learn that Brandon is not able to hold a relationship for longer than a few months, probably due to his shameful life of sexual addiction. He fails to have sex with Marianne because he just cannot be in a formal relationship. Although they are just having sex without commitments, Brandon is scared into interpreting it as feelings, which he cannot retain. He even falls flat on having a relationship with his sister.

Brandon finally tells Sissy that she has to leave because she is too much of a burden for him to handle. After arguing about Sissy sleeping with David (who is married with a kid), Sissy tries to explain that they are the only family they have for each other. They need to stick together. However, Brandon refuses and journeys into his unraveling.

Throughout the night Brandon visits a bar, flirts with a man’s girlfriend, gets punched and kicked around a little, goes to a gay bar, makes out with and gets fellated by a random guy, and to end the night has a three-way with two prostitutes. In one night, he binged and tried to expel all sexual deviancies he could.

There are a countless number of things going on in this ten-minute sequence of events: most notably the musical reprisal of the orchestra, the mise-en-scene going out of control, and the feeling of jouissance being displayed on screen.

The term for a musical part playing again in a film is known as a ritornello (Italian for “little return”). Only in this case it is not so little. The point of the ritornello in film is to signify a new beginning. The new beginning hear can mean that Brandon might actually be learning form this destructive behavior, but that is not the case.

The orchestra does not play again the same way it did in the beginning. Here, the strings play much louder and longer, giving off a piercing shriek. The emotions that Brandon is feeling personifies through the orchestra. The shrieking is due to Brandon practically losing his is mind through sexual indulging.

The mise-en-scene goes out of control just life the music. At the gay club, the red glow images illuminate the scene. The intense color of passion and sexual gratification overtake the darkness of Brandon’s life. The threesome right after bathes the picture with images of skin on skin on skin with piercing lights—like the orchestra.

The intensity of the scene is frighteningly beautiful. It does more than transform Brandon’s emotions, but also the audiences. The feeling of jouissance explains Brandon’s feelings. With no English equivalent, it can be a hard word to explain. It goes along the lines with an intense, almost visceral feeling of sexual or ecstatic gratification. It goes beyond all normal feel-good pleasures and approaches an almost hurts-so-good feeling.

That is how Brandon is feeling. He has fully peaked his sexual, shameful lifestyle in this wild night of events. Along with the orchestra and mise-en-scene, Shame comes as close to displaying jouissance as possible through the medium of film.

That is why this film is so important. What other film displays such an intense feeling of sexual desire and satisfaction? McQueen’s efforts stand second to nobody and deserve praise.

After coming back from the crazy evening-morning, he listens to Sissy’s voicemails and becomes increasingly concerned—he can sense something is wrong. After reaching is apartment, he finds the white angel bathed in blood on the bathroom floor with a slit wrist. She went across not down so Brandon was able to call 911 and get her rushed to a hospital.

Once there, we see that Sissy has many scars with the same pattern of cutting that got her to the hospital in the first place. She has emotional scarring just like Brandon. The most powerful line of the film is spoken by Sissy during her healing, “We’re not bad people, we just come from a bad place.” This is writing. This is truth.

The narrative closes open-ended. We do not exactly know whether Brandon will continue with his lifestyle or if Sissy will cut her wrists again. They clearly fall into these cycles of emotional wrought, so why would it not happen again.


One clue might come from the last shots in the film in which Brandon is on the subway and the same girl from the beginning is sitting across from him. We see the ring again—and so does Brandon. She makes the same move by getting up and getting ready to get off next to Brandon. Maybe this time she actually wants him to follow her out, but he does nothing. He is ending, or at least altering his course of action in trying to seek out women. This is just a small step; it is hard to tell if Brandon has changed his ways forever.

Thoughts on “Boyhood”

Boyhood is wonderfully happy. IFC Films called this a “nostalgic time capsule of the recent past and an ode to growing up and parenting.” I couldn’t agree more. Throughout the film we watch a young boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), grow up from seven years of age until moving into college at eighteen. And this film is literally showing him grow up; it took twelve years to shoot (and crazy enough only forty-five total days of shooting from 2002 until 2013). I don’t know how director Richard Linklater (previous works including Slacker, Dazed and Confused, and Fast Food Nation) and friends were able to pull this off, but bravo to the highest degree.

The film reveals plenty of the ideal working class, single mother lifestyle and struggles through the eyes of the brilliant Patricia Arquette. The poise and demeanor of this mother is inspiring to all in similar situations. She is a single mother who had to balance school, work, and kids (not to mention the drunken abusive asshole husbands). She is able to pull through and motivate anybody she came into contact with, especially the laborer who worked on her septic lines. He cleaned up his accent, attended school, and got a job as a manager indoors because of her motivating words.

The dad, played by Ethan Hawke, is the typical young bachelor––equipped with his own GTO. Throughout the film he has a go-lucky attitude that really helps facilitate situations with the kids who have to live in an abusive, struggling household. The contrast between the hard working mother and easy rider father gives their kids an equilibrium that is able to keep their lives relatively stable.

The daughter, played by the director’s real life daughter, Lorelei Linklater, is the perfect annoying sister. Right away she gives Mason issues and headaches that are otherwise avoidable if she wasn’t there. As they grow older the figure turns into a more calm, loving and down to earth individual that we don’t see much of unless around Mason. She comes up here and there, but never really has the same effect on Mason as when they were kids. She is the one family member of the four who doesn’t really have the typical character arc because it isn’t needed. The film is about Mason and how he goes through boyhood, no need to add melodramas about his older sister. This realistic portrayal of siblings at a young age through teen-hood really helps the realism of the story.

Ellar Coltrane was given the lottery of a lifetime by getting this role. He has the camera on him for twelve years of his boyhood. Each year or so we get a sneak peak back into his life as if the audience is a distant relative that only sees him during family gatherings (coincidentally during tragic events). We get to see all the early hardships he had to deal with at a very early age and quickly see him age before our eyes and the only way to really distinguish between the yearly transitions are his haircuts. We find out that Mason is the more quiet spoken, gloomy kid of the class who is more into the artistic and creative side of life. He photographs for the school and finds a particular interest in the art. He sees life differently from the other kids his age, which his teacher tells him while in the dark room.

He has conversations about how people nowadays are robots that can’t live without checking Facebook or text messages. And he’s right. He grew up in a time when technology was growing to rule the households. He tries talking about this with his ex girlfriend, Sheena, but she doesn’t seem to pay much attention or show interest. Among the theme of human growth is the idea of technological growth and innovation that dominates everyone nowadays. I dare you to go out in public and try and find a person not listening to music on their phone, texting, or checking Facebook. Mason sees this and finds an issue with it; humans are becoming just as robotic/functioned/conditioned as the devices they are using.


The movie is somewhat a blend of Neorealism and drama. Many scenes in the story could have taken a melodramatic route, but didn’t because its realistic. The film does use a couple well known actors (which isn’t part of the true Neorealistic facet), but who else would agree on to a twelve year film shoot? The film was shot with a budget of only $2.4 million. This may seem like a lot to some people, but this budget was spread out through twelve years (roughly half a million a year). Films in 2014 cost about ten to one hundred times as much money as this one, so this film is as low a budget as it comes. The best aspect about the film is the episodic realism. Each scene by itself doesn’t mean that much without being placed in the film as a whole. In a way, none of the scenes really push the story along like a typical narrative, but instead periodically show the growth of an individual. That’s what Linklater wants to show us. He wants the audience to understand what its like growing up in a situation like Mason’s in a very true manner.

It’s not until the finale of the movie where we get the gut wrenching realizations of growing up. Not to say the scenes with the abusive husband wasn’t gut wrenching, but it was early on before watching the kids or story grow up.

The last scene with Mason and his father isn’t as dramatic as the one with his mother, but it still answers a few questions and sets the stage for the final themes of the movie. They get to talking about Mason’s recent breakup with Sheena and how it should not bother him; no reason to cry over spilled milk. Mason, being the teenager that he is, thinks there is something more to the relationship than there was, but fact is they broke up because they weren’t on the same vibe (which is what his father says). Mason then asks what the point of all this is, meaning what’s the point of life. His dad laughs and claims he and nobody else knows, life just happens and we’re along for the ride. And that’s what happened with him; his father now has a loving wife and toddler after years of being single. That’s what Mason should learn from him. Life just kinda works itself out and there’s no reason to fret over the smaller issues.

The last scene that includes the mother is with Mason packing up and about to move to college. In this scene Mason playfully says he wants to get rid of the very first picture he shot that his mother framed and kept for him. This tore her apart. The struggles and hardships this mother had to go through was tough, but losing her only son is by far the worst. After breaking down in front of Mason, she explains that life wasn’t as fulfilling as she thought it would be. This soliloquy says it all, “First I get married, have kids, end up with two ex-husbands, go back to school, get my degree, get my masters, send both my kids off to college. What’s next? My own fucking funeral?” Having to realize life after sending the kids off to college scares the shit out of people because they make this illogical jump in their minds. Her last and most powerful line of the film is, “I just thought there would be more.” I think we all think that life is a huge adventure when we are kids because that’s what our imagination tells us. It isn’t until later that we find out that life is just about the hardest and shortest thing to progress through.

The final scene is a nice way to wrap up the film. Mason is out hiking at Big Bend with his roommate, roommate’s girlfriend, and her roommate Nicole (Jessi Mechler). Just a side note, much earlier in the film when Mason got the haircut and was forced to go to class, he got a note from a girl saying his hair was “kewl.” That girl’s name was Nicole, might or might not be the same Nicole as this one (but I definitely think it is). So Mason and Nicole are sitting down on a magnificent rock formation in a slightly secluded spot away from the other couple. Another reference to the beginning is that early in the story, Mason was really into collecting rocks and had a small gathering of his own. It’s only fitting that the film ends with Mason sitting on this enormous rock formation, as if the years that have gone by have grown the rocks to this size.

He and Nicole get to talking about seizing the moment, which Nicole objects to. She explains that we don’t seize the moment, the moment seizes us. “Right now is always happening.” And that’s what the whole movie is about. It shows phases of Mason’s life in which the moments seize him. That’s why he feels such an affinity towards photography; photographs capture and seize what is happening right now, at the exact moment. Nicole feels a “creative freedom” about dancing that Mason understands through his photography. Nicole gets him in this metaphysical way and he feels a mutual vibe with her, as opposed to Sheena. Also its only fitting that Nicole is a dance teacher, and Mason’s mother is also a teacher. They don’t kiss in the end for a very specific reason, because we would expect it. Typical dramas and dramedies usually have the main character and the love interest kiss in the end (and sometimes much more). But this film was set out to show the true nature of moments like this. Linklater pulls this off perfectly and I couldn’t help but admire it as the screen cut to credits.


Touch: An Insightful Track on “Random Access Memories”

0:00-1:28 Introduction

Touch. Touch, I remember touch.
Touch. Touch, I remember touch.
Where do I belong?
Touch, I need something more.
The beginning of the song starts with a slow and soft melody, it almost feels like a dream state or limbo. The lyrics are told to us, not sung, in a robotic voice with no emotion which adds to the dream-like state. It brings us to a fantasy unlike any of the other songs on the album so far, as if this is a transition from the first half of the album, which was all just a dream.

1:29-1:49 Transition
I remember touch, I need something more in my mind.
The track starts to pick up. The melody builds the whole time and drops into a completely different melody, symbolizing a change in the level of the dream.

1:50-2:30 Spoken Word with Soft Melody
Touch, I remember touch.
Pictures came with touch.
A painter in my mind, tell me what you see.
A tourist in a dream, a visitor it seems.
A half forgotten song, where do I belong?
Tell me what you see, I need something more.
We hear the protagonist (Paul Williams) of the song after traveling through the dream. He sings the lines and puts real human emotion into it. He’s able to say what he wants to say because he isn’t dreaming anymore, he’s in a safe place. The lyrics reminisce about a touch/emotion from the past he used to feel and is trying desperately to remember it, that’s why he is searching through his dreams. He invites a ‘painter’ to enter his dreams to preserve the image he can hardly remember. The music drops to a slow, synthetic piano riff showing we are now out of the dream but also looking back at it in a conscious state.

2:31-3:20 Voice/Melody/Symbols
Kiss, suddenly alive, happiness arrived, hunger like a storm, how do I begin.
A room within a room, a door behind a door, touch where do you lead, I need something more.
Tell me what you see, I need something more.
We drop from the melancholy of the previous part into a more upbeat pace and optimistic feeling. He sings with greater emotion because something great has happened, he remembered a kiss. He is instantly happier after remembering this kiss and wants nothing but to remember more memories like this. Doors and rooms are hiding his memories so he employs the painter to come back to show him more. This is the first strong turning point of the song because we start to see the brilliance behind the musical transition from melancholy to optimism.

3:21-4:12 Touch
I like to think of this part of the song as the soundtrack to the previous touch/memory he has now found. We hear a glimpse of the immense happiness he feels towards this one touch/emotion and gives us his reasoning behind why he wants to remember it. Just sit back, listen and enjoy.

4:13-5:30 Chorus
Hold on, if love is the answer you’re home. (x8)
This part is the early climax to the previous peak of the song where he remembers the memory. The music drops into a very beautiful melody while repeating the same auto-tuned line with a progressively louder background chorus, sounding more angelic with each bar. The music turns from the catchy neo-jazz/pop melody to a simple drum and bass combo, which gives us a deep and personal feeling like a ballad. The transition that occurs from the previous part to this one is as if he falls back into a nostalgic dream state. This part of the song shows how he remembers the touch/memory when in the dream-state, which is why the music is slower but more beautiful and why the voice is auto-tuned again. The voice is telling him the answer he’s been searching for all along, “Where do I belong, tell me something more?” He needs to hold on and stay put, “Hold on, if love is the answer you’re home.” If love is the thing you are searching for in these dreams, you don’t need to do that. You know exactly who you love in life and no amount of dream or thought searching can tell you otherwise. If love is what you feel about something, go for it with no humility and your head held high, that is how we process touch. Far too many times, people who don’t know if they’re in love with somebody will search for clues to tell them otherwise, but they aren’t looking what they have right in front of them. If you feel the love, hold on because you’re home.
This part of the song isn’t just the shift in the track, but rather the entire album. Daft Punk builds musical greatness from one song to the next in the first half of the album, and then they unload all they can into the second half and more specifically the first song of the second half of the album which is known as Get Lucky. Did you wonder why it was so damn catchy?

5:31-5:48 Transition
This is another transition from the dream state to reality. We go from the voice in his mind/dreams to more singing and therefore consciousness. This happens to everyone when they fall asleep and dream about something amazing, but wake up halfway through. Our sub-conscious will project a false reality to show us a situation, and once we prepare for the situation, the sub-consciousness wakes us up and doesn’t show us the whole dream. Why? Because the sub-conscious wants to see how we would react and prepare for situations, rather than following through with them. That’s the part of the song we are in. He hears whats he’s been searching for and goes into an angelic limbo, but before it climaxes, he wakes up and processes what just happened.

5:49-7:41 Chorus 2
Hold on, if love is the answer you’re home. (x8)
This is the final moment in the song where it all comes to an end. After waking up and transitioning dream-states, he falls back into the original dream and slowly begins to remember what the voice was telling him. There are two reasons for why he falls back into the dream, giving this two minutes piece of beautiful melodies. The first is reassurance of what the voice is telling him, which in turn reinforces his true feelings. The second is to go back and give the audience a full song and dance where every part of the song comes together one last time. We hear the drum and bass, the catchy up-beat memory, and the dream-state all in one. This is meant to close out the song, the finale essentially.

7:42-8:17 Outro
Touch, sweet touch, you’ve given me too much to feel.
Sweet touch, you’ve almost convinced me I’m real.
I need something more, I need something, more.
This outro that happens after the finale gives us insight towards the band and album. It’s just Paul Williams singing one last time with a nostalgic tone, almost like he is glad he remembered the touch/dream, but also still sad about it. Why after that whole grande ensemble would he feel sad still? The touch has given him too much and caused some distress. The sweet touch Daft Punk refers to may actually have two meanings, not just a memory, but also a command on the computer which creates an empty folder ready for data to be put into. Daft Punk is a robot/computer, not a person. Touch simply doesn’t make a human real, if so, robots would be real. The last line of the song gives us everything we need to know now. Daft Punk’s album stands for RAM (random-access memory) which stores data, but in Daft Punk’s case, refers to the random assortment of memories from a robot. Robots can only touch, that’s the only sense given to them from the five humans have. The sense of touch teases the robot with something it could never be, a human: “I need something more, I need something….more.”

Edited: 10 July 2015