View Full Version : A question about symbolism.

06-12-2007, 05:02 PM
I'm watching "The Fountain" right now and I remembered to ask a question here which I wanted to ask for a while. I've done so to random people I know and I've gotten some interestingly mixed responses. I'm more interested in knowing what more hardcore movie fans have to say about it.

Remember this only pretains to movies and other audiovisual mediums (anime, television, hell, even videogames).

My question is about heavily symbolic movies, or movies that are heavy on symbolism, visual metaphors, completely hidden meanings etc. I'm sure you guys have watched many of these. To name some, "Pink Floyd The Wall", "Mulholland Drive" (as well as many other Lynch films), "The Fountain" of course, "Children of Men", "The Lion King", "The End of Evangelion", etc. Hell, even "Silent Hill".

Sometimes the movies seem to be almost purely symbolism and it's up to you to decipher what the hell happened (The Wall and Mulholland Drive, for instance), other times there's an obvious plot and the symbolic images take a back seat for anyone who bothers to look for them (Children of Men). The first question is about the process of looking into it.

By personal experience, I know people love to look into the movie, take notes about the very subtle, hidden visuals that have some sort of significance to them, investigate abotu what they mean, think about them, connect them to the movie's theme, etc. And that's pretty fun to do. My first question (hopefully I can go into others if the thread gets enough responses *fingers crossed*) is . . .

I'm going to take "The Fountain" as an example. Imagine you have everything figured out, every single plot point and visual metaphor down pat inits significance. What would you do or think if-

1. The director came out and openly said his intentions, what the images mean and what happened in the plot. And it turns out it was completely different to waht you had figured out yourself?

2. The director came out and openly said that nothing means anything, it's just purdy and it was fun to make.

Your reactions would be, what? Would you dismiss what he said about nothing meaning anything and still look for your own interpretations? Or would you consider all your time trying to figure it out time wasted?

I've gotten some interesting responses that state that many times, people aren't trying to figure out what the director wanted but what it meant to them. The movies can completely unintentionally spark strings of thoughts, revelations about important themes personal to the viewer, etc, and that's what they care about. Others think that the idea was to figure out exactly what was going on, so if nothing meant anything, it would be time wasted.

What are your views on this?

06-12-2007, 06:27 PM
I like to apply my own beliefs or ideas to a film, if i find it a necessary film to do so. If you were told straight up what something signifies in a film, then it just becomes nothing more than that. People then having that comfort would walk around saying "Yeah, I knew that". Film should be more than just that. It's just like reading a book of a dead author...the author isn't around to question, but the reader still gets things from it. It doesn't matter what their intentions were. Telling robs of the joy. One thing can be different for different people. Even with a spoon-fed film, like say, The Fountain (kidding), one person can give a 9/10, another 3/10. People see things differently. Everything is that way.

06-12-2007, 07:58 PM
I agree with ThirdOuting, I think it's more up to the viewer than anybody else. That's the fun of movies for the most part; take Pulp Fiction and the mystery of what's in the briefcase. There are several theories and interpretations as to what's in there, while Tarantino has never explained it (which is smarter than hell in my opinion). I think that's one of the great things about the movie.

While a director might come straight out and say what he was trying to do with his symbolism, that doesn't mean that somebody else's interpration is wrong. If that person can back their opinions up, more power to them.

06-12-2007, 09:09 PM
No, I know it's up to the viewer. What I'd like to know is what each specific viewer thought.

06-12-2007, 09:43 PM
Well, I think that the beauty of symbols is that they are interpretive. I have my own little view of how things are in the fountain. I havent gone in depth, color themes and shapes as they pertain to religious beliefs of death, but I think I got it figured out. If he came out and disagreed with everything that I thought, I would find it interesting, but it wouldnt change my feelings.

When I see these symbols on screen, they meen something to me. If they mean something different to the director, well kudos to him, but it doesnt change how I feel one bit.

The beauty is that give it 5 to ten years and I bet it will have a completily different point of view on the film. Its all about where one is in their life. Its kind of like how when I first saw "Punch Drunk Love" I hated it. I was in high school. I was immature(didnt think it at the time). I thought it was boring and a waste of time. Since then I graduated college, got married, and matured. I gave it another shot and absolutly loved it. It flat out "spoke to me." Its every nuance was like beautiful poetry for my eyes and ears. I think that the "Fountain" would have gotten a similar negative reaction from me in my youth, so I am quite glad that I was in a place in my life that the movie made sense to me. Pardon the spelling, its not my forte, and hope this thread gets hits cause I think some great discussion could happen here.

06-14-2007, 12:10 PM
Originally posted by X-Nightcrawler

1. The director came out and openly said his intentions, what the images mean and what happened in the plot. And it turns out it was completely different to waht you had figured out yourself?

2. The director came out and openly said that nothing means anything, it's just purdy and it was fun to make.

Response to #1.
I would still enjoy the movie in the way I interpreted it but would also enjoy having a deeper understanding at to what the director was personally aiming for. I believe art is meant to speak to each person in it's own individual way. What the artist meant to convey might be totally different from what joe schmoe of the public gets from it, yet both interpretations can be equally valid. That's the beauty of art.

Response to #2.
Same as response to number 1. Just because the director didn't mean for it to convey any special meaning doesn't mean it can't speak to other people in it's own way. Problem is though that if the director meant that from the get go, I highly doubt the movie would have much substance or heart and wouldn't gather up a bunch of people loving it for what it is like the fountain.

06-16-2007, 03:14 PM
I think a good director wishes the viewer to interpret the symbolism any way he/she wants to. I think that's why some directors will never reveal the meaning behind the symbolism in their films.