Mainstream films all have the same plots though, they’re only successful when they have good enough characters to get you emotionally engaged in their fate.
@ PolarisDiB What are you guys talking about, because this conversation ain’t meshing somewhere.
Well, I’m trying to find the good stories so I know which are the bad ones. You listed some criteria for bad stories so the inverse might be criteria for a good story.
Has Pixar made a film in which the story was illogical or that character motivations couldn’t be realized? would they make such a film? Elements of the story are mentioned in the film review of the NYT ( Cars 2 was too loud) but nothing approaching “this is bad story.”
And I’m not so sure that a story has to be logical….
“This is just flatly not true. Film has been a major storytelling medium over the past 100+ years. To assert that those interested in story structure merely lack the ability to understand filmic grammar is at least a little arrogant.”
I never asserted any such thing. When you look at the list given at the beginning of the thread, or read the work of Joseph Campbell, it becomes clear that story is secondary. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve inquired about a film and been inundated with a detailed and mind numbing rehash of the plot. Almost always, I have to ask again what the film is about when they finish. 90% of film plots can be recapped in a couple of sentences. What a film is about, what separates the bad movies from the good movies, and the good from the great, is the ability to communicate THEMATIC ideas. This, again, doesn’t really have much to do with plot. Which is why seemingly generic material can transcend the limitations of plot; through the use of cinematic language that highlights thematic meaning. Think of the films that you consider masterpieces (just a small few for me), are any of them really ABOUT what occurs in the plot, no matter how intricate or banal it might be? I can’t think of any. Sure, some may be plot driven, but even in those it is secondary or even tertiary to other elements. The worst of films, let’s say INCEPTION, rely and focus excessively on plot, which cause the thematic elements to become trite or, often times, nonexistent. There is no emptier feeling, as far as film is concerned, than witnessing an empty exercise, assuming that wasn’t the intention in the first place (but that’s another thread all together). Plots are fine. Some can be great even. Without thematic depth to go along with it though, it’s just bunch of shit without purpose. I stand by my statement; if you come out of a film and all you can talk about is plot points, the movie is either a failure or you don’t have enough experience with movies. It’s not meant as an insult or to be arrogant, it’s just the nature of the medium (maybe all narrative mediums really).
I’m not sure exactly how many stories there are out there. 9? 30? Whatever. I think it’s safe to say, though, that there are infinite variations within that small number. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be telling stories today, would we? You may be able to boil a plot down to a few sentences, but we all know that those few sentences don’t offer every plot point, and they don’t cover how the story is being told, which is where the variations really come in.
I would contend, as I did before, that looking at plot structure is important. Not, though, if it comes with a willful detriment to understanding other aspects of a movie. Still, plot is meaningful.
Let’s look at Faldereal’s example from Bicycle Thieves again.
_ why do I care about some schnook that got his bike stolen because he wasn’t paying attention?_
From a plot perspective this “schnook that got his bike stolen…” is correct. But it fails to point out the context in which this happens. And by context, I don’t mean historical/political. Antonio is not just a schnook. The film has already made major plot developments by the time the bike is taken from him, such as: Antonio has been offered a job, that job requires a bicycle, his family has given away pretty much everything that they have in order to obtain that bicycle, etc. So the bicycle is Antonio’s livelihood, right? You are made to care, because the plot structure is designed so. If the film had been about a rich dude who lost his bike and was searching all over town for it, it might be harder to care, right? But let’s say that a rich man had his bicycle stolen. He looked for it and found it, but had to take it to the repair shop, because the thieves really only wanted his golden spokes. He had the money to get new spokes and so the film is done.
Schnook gets his bicycle stolen because he’s not looking. And yet, context and plot details render two different meanings.
Yes, De Sica tells the story masterfully. It might have been a total disaster in the hands of someone else. But, then again, in the hands of someone else, the plot itself might have been altered to be less effective and/or meaningful.
I have already made it clear that I believe plot should not be looked at as the most important element of a film, and that critiques based on plot structure should be advanced with great caution (this is something for the writer’s room, not Mubi). But I would hesitate to say that plot structure itself is subordinate to things like staging, editing, etc. Everything in a movie is predicated on everything else. So the staging is the plot and the plot is the staging. it’s only a way of expressing structure, not the structure itself.
How would Vertigo be different if they plotted the film to have Scottie forgive Judy in the end? Would not the meaning change entirely?
Actually in that case I think it wouldn’t. For me the endings are always the least relevant and interesting parts of Hitchcock films.
I see what you’re saying, but no matter how good the themes are, if the plot doesn’t justify them they come off as ridiculous. Plot and narrative are inextricable from each other.
Plot and narrative are inextricable…
I think that is as far as we can go there.
Anyone think of an example where lack of a story can be a valid crit if the story is primary?
I’m not sure saying lack of a story and the story being primary in the same work makes much sense, but be that as it may, the problem with speaking of a “bad” story or whatever is that it is simply too vague a criticism to be of much use since, as we can already see in the thread, story can mean any number of things, from the telling to the plot to the internal logic and so on. Criticism, to be of much constructive use, has to be much better defined than that.
I think what Jazz means is that the story was intended to be primary.
If story is a sequence of events, I think Brad summed it up:
Story is so basic, it neither succeeds or fails on its own.
I actually don’t think that we’re that far off on our thoughts in this matter. I’m not saying plot is useless. It is, as you’ve said, one of the factors to consider when looking at a film. One of. Depending on the type of film, it will have greater or lesser value. To me your example of BICYCLE THIEVES is a good one but not for arguing the importance of plot; that is a film rich in thematic content, and the plot points you noted don’t ad anything to those themes really. The man could have gotten work as painter and had his paint stolen. Any situation would be as good as the next because what De Sica and Zavattina were attempting was to expose the reality of life in post-war Italy, as a impoverished member of that society. What makes the film so brilliant is precisely that it doesn’t rely on plot points but examines human nature and suffering (and all it’s many themes) with subtlety and depth. We as an audience are freed from trying to unwind a needless complicated plot and allowed to live with the characters as if they were just trying to get through the day. The specific incidents that take place are only there to propel this thematic web and could easily be substituted for something else, as long as it illustrates the point.
Regarding Brave and Pixar, while I haven’t seen this particular movie and therefore have little to say about it, referencing Matt’s point, One has to admit that Pixar, and other Hollywood animation studios are in something of a tough spot in some ways as they get criticism for not having characters which have a strong appeal to girls but also have to be aware of the “princess” criticism so often aimed at Disney films for the way they portray female characters. This likely makes the boys at Pixar a little overly self-conscious about their female characters in not wanting to fall into the princess trap, but they do themselves little favor by going the opposite direction and making girl characters “strong” by emulating or bettering boys/men on their turf so to speak. This suggests that a “strong” female character is one who is basically a man in a girls body, which is at least as problematic as suggesting princessness is the only other option. This isn’t something limited to Pixar, but they get more criticism than some due to their being films “for children” and thus setting models of behavior. Not having more women involved in many areas of the film industry is one part of the problem, as is the larger culture, but for a studio which admires Miyazaki so much they really shouldn’t have so much of a problem with this given his examples of how to do better.
That said, there is also some talk of Brave being able to be read as a sort of lesbian/gay positive fairy tale where the talk of being free to marry who one wants has resonance with the gay marriage debates going on throughout the US. I have no opinion on this, but I figured it deserved some mention.
“If story is a sequence of events, I think Brad summed it up”
A ‘sequence of events’ by definition is plot, not story.
“Well, I’m trying to find the good stories so I know which are the bad ones.”
Alright guys. I’m on my way to a birthday party. When I get back, I’ll start from scratch and describe narrative, story, plot, and beat. Then I’ll lay out how these elements are used as tools for communicating meaning within a medium. THEN hopefully I can lay out ways of thinking of these things as critical criteria, or at least offer some ways a critic may choose to look at a movie’s communicated meanings, as one type of several elements that compose this thing we call cinema.
Perhaps I will make it another 30 Minute Film School and include script formatting information, since that’s pretty much what I intended for my next posting anyway.
Guy gets bike stolen.
Guy gets paint brush stolen.
It makes no difference between the two, why? Because the essence of the plot point is the same in both. What is the essence? Bike and paintbrush are both linked to livelihood. This is why the movie is not about someone’s handkerchief being stolen. The plot point is “man’s livelihood threatened”. You make your choices from there.
There is importance in the choice of object being stolen – it can’t be arbitrary. in order to make a movie with themes such as the ones in Bicycle Thieves, you must choose something essential, or create something essential. Otherwise you have a movie about someone who lost his handkerchief, which is silly unless he has hay fever and needs something to sneeze in. But even then, not having something to sneeze in isn’t likely to keep your entire family in dire poverty.
De Sica’s plot is very simple. He doesn’t try to juggle many things at once; everything is essential, which is part of why it is so effective.
Seeing the story as “basic” is only one way to think of the term though, and parsing it in that way, while fine, simply pushes the issue to a different area or definitional location, if there is a problem to be discussed that is, so redefining seems unlikely to address the gist of Jazz’s complaint, just correcting his usage of terms.
Personally, to give a sort of example of a “story” problem, I found Ratatouille to be prpblematic in that regard as it seemed to broach a couple of different stories or story possibilities and not connect them or satisfactorily resolve them as much as elide the incongruities or suggestions for something else without much gain for doing so. Is that a story problem or one of execution or what? Since they could have, if they also saw it as a problem, addressed it by either changing the story construction as a whole, then it can be seen that way, but they could have also have done other things to address it while leaving the larger story more or less intact, so it needn’t be a “story” issue depending on how loosely one wants to use the term. If one is essentializing the “story” to be the loosest possible recounting of plot, that is different than if one is using the term for more specific discussion.
(None of that is to suggest that Pixar or anyone else should agree with what I saw as problematic, it’s only an example of how the terms could be used if they did.)
(Edit: I was going to object on similar grounds to Polaris, but I’ll let him do the heavy lifting and define the different terms since he types faster.)
Actually, no, paintbrush is not equal to bike. Though they are essentially the same, paintbrush leaves fewer narrative possibilities.
1. Paintbrushes are cheaper, by far, than bicycles, and therefore easier to obtain a new one. He could probably find a friend willing to give him a loan for a new paintbrush; not so with a bike.
2. There is no black market for paintbrushes in Italy, or anywhere else to my knowledge. There is one for bikes, which makes way for at least one incredible scene in Bicycle Thieves.
3. One would simply not search for a specific paintbrush the way that you might a specific bike. And a paintbrush would probably be easier to steal because they are so small; a bike, not so much.
The use of bike over paintbrush opens the movie up. It is therefore a better choice. The right choice.
“‘The best stories are these poorly told and uncompelling stories that aren’t as artful as art.’”
I was only using your usage of the term, “… In other words it draws you in because it sets you in that character’s perspective, makes his desire your own, his journey your own…”
Commercials do that in 30 seconds. They just don’t have anything else. Hence their lack of ability to compel one to the expressed emotion they intend to.
“You’re confusing perspective with POV.”
Actually one of the expressed definitions of “perspective” is, “subjective evaluation of relative significance; a point of view.”
And if you take what I said, “Antonio’s perspective is presented as minor and subjective, even in the film. One need only study opening scene, the scene in the pawn “shop” (auditorium may be a better word), the scene in the fortune teller’s house, the scene in the police headquarters, the scene in the restaurant, and, more important than all, the scene in which Antonio confronts the thieves and we realize their poverty is his poverty.”
And place it within the most relevant definition to this discussion, “The relationship of aspects of a subject to each other and to a whole,” what I presented is exactly that, almost word-for-word.
ignoring the fabula and syuzhet issue for now . . .
I think the biggest problem with “lack of a good story” is that it’s not a specific enough criticism. However . . .
If one finds a film’s story not “good” (whatever that means, for whatever reason), conceivably one’s attention would be freed up to pay attention to other things. So, I would think that one could still judge a film lacking “good story”ness “good” based on some other set of criteria, if one were sufficiently open to other possibilities.
So, in a sense, we’re back to what one expects going in. If one goes in to a film expecting it to “good story” you, and it doesn’t meet whatever that expectation is exactly, then I suppose it’s a valid criticism.
There are people like Shaymalan who focus their films entirely on the story.
Movies like Oldboy or The Chaser also depend entirely on a surprise reveal or otherwise on the ending, and peoples’ opinion of the film tends to depend on their opinion of that ending. Even a film like Toy Story, if you don’t accept the story that toys are secretly sentient creatures who appreciate our affection, you don’t like Toy Story. Or something like Underground or Life Is Beautiful, if you don’t accept a story that makes light of Nazi cruelty you don’t accept the film.
Movies that depend on the ‘twist’ or that have very eccentric premises do depend a lot on the story.
Commercials are different from film, they exist for an external purpose, to sell something. They aren’t meant to be enjoyed as themselves.
@Greg, re: “Regarding Brave and Pixar, while I haven’t seen this particular movie and therefore have little to say about it, referencing Matt’s point, One has to admit that Pixar, and other Hollywood animation studios are in something of a tough spot in some ways as they get criticism for not having characters which have a strong appeal to girls but also have to be aware of the “princess” criticism so often aimed at Disney films for the way they portray female characters. This likely makes the boys at Pixar a little overly self-conscious about their female characters in not wanting to fall into the princess trap, but they do themselves little favor by going the opposite direction and making girl characters “strong” by emulating or bettering boys/men on their turf so to speak.”
They avoid this trap.
“That said, there is also some talk of Brave being able to be read as a sort of lesbian/gay positive fairy tale where the talk of being free to marry who one wants has resonance with the gay marriage debates going on throughout the US.”
That’s because FOX News raises a stink to get attention, and therefore money. I think that behind that reading is a very calculated move to get viewers up in a controversy so that they’ll keep watching. It’s FOX News’ modus operandi, regardless of whether the writers actually believe it or not. Enough of the audience does to justify their continuation of these sorts of ‘culture warrior’ readings into popular culture.
@Falderal: I was only using your usage of the term,“In other words it draws you in because it sets you in that character’s perspective, makes his desire your own, his journey your own…”
Oh okay. Well, firstly that quote is part of story’s function, but not it’s process nor its definition (I may have accidentally presented it as definition). TBC on that note. I still don’t know how you branch from that into commercials being ‘the best stories’, even by reading that statement as my definition. Many commercials don’t have stories and even the ones that do aren’t exceptionally focused on storytelling as much as, of course, selling a product. The needs of convincing a person to buy something surpasses the goal of story, though of course many commercials do try to balance those interests.
“Actually one of the expressed definitions of “perspective” is, “subjective evaluation of relative significance; a point of view.””
Antonio’s perspective is not minor and subjective, as it is in fact the perspective the movie takes. This list: " One need only study opening scene, the scene in the pawn “shop” (auditorium may be a better word), the scene in the fortune teller’s house, the scene in the police headquarters," is closer to a list of POVs than of Antonio’s perspective. I know your definition makes them sound like synonyms but they are not and the next part of your statement shows the exact difference between them: “the scene in which Antonio confronts the thieves and we realize their poverty is his poverty.” If we realize their poverty is his poverty, we are understanding his perspective. If he realizes their poverty is his poverty, we are understanding his POV. Typically perspective is presented through point of view, but not necessarily, as your list shows. It’s almost, but not quite, the difference between the terms character and characterization.
The film seeks to illustrate poverty. Instead of doing so through documentary or some equivalent expositional mode, de Sica chooses to show poverty from the perspective of a character — by telling a story. At various points in the story, the point of view changes, as you have illustrated. But in the end, the perspective we gain about poverty surrounds that of Antonio, the protagonist, and the events that unfold after his bike is stolen (the plot points). At various places, in true neo-realist form, de Sica is willing to divert from adherence to plot points or specific POV or any of those mostly narrative concerns to divulge emotional or abstract illustrations of poverty, which shows that the story in the case of this specific movie is not the single most or only valid method of breaking down its meaning or how well it portrays poverty. However, the story is there and does offer many ripe fruits for picking — it is the job of the critic to decide whether to focus on de Sica’s narrative from the approach of story or other various aesthetics, if the critic is deciding to write on Bicycle Thieves.
I would say in the case of Bicycle Thieves, lack of good story is neither a valid nor compelling criticism. First of all, personally I think it has a pretty damned good story, but that’s just my opinion. Secondly, there are plenty of other non-story related aesthetics that de Sica uses that allows the movie to stand as a compelling portrayal of poverty, which is more in tune with the discussion in this thread. I’m pretty sure you and I are in agreement on this, and I cannot imagine too many other people disagreeing either (to the point that Bicycle Thieves is a good story but the story needn’t be the center of attention).
Most of how I’m approaching this debate, however, is from the objective of clarifying technical terminology. We aren’t going to be able to answer the question “Is a lack of a good story a valid and compelling criticism?” if we don’t know the difference between narrative and story, perspective and POV, and related terminology that gets much abused and loosely used in everyday speech.
“They avoid this trap.”
Even if that’s your read on the film, though, it’s still ends up being hard for them to seriously consider pushing the positive female role model angle given the relatively highly publicized firing of Brenda Chapman, Pixar’s first credited female director, during the making of the film.
Let’s also not go into the trap of ‘damned if you do damned if you don’t’.
If a woman is too classically feminine it’s anti-feminist, if a woman is too masculine it’s anti-female.
This is the same as the issue with women who are attacked whether they get a job or stay at home and raise the children. And the same kind of prejudice as when black actors get attacked for being too black or not black enough.
Not all female characters are commentaries on the female condition. Sometimes it’s just about the character. Only a humorless like the Fox News crew would ever think giving a woman choice over marriage would be some sort of pro-gay commentary. America has believed women should have choice over marriage for decades before the gay movement came along.
Hmm, the FOX news thing strikes me as a bit of a diversion, first in that it assumes such a reading would be somehow “bad”, to FOX viewers it probably would, but to more level headed folk, not so much, and secondly it sort of avoids the issue of ideology by putting it in “enemy” hands, as if that same sort of “reading” isn’t even more common on the left, (I’m speaking generally here and not of Brave specifically since I actually don’t have any clear idea of who proposed the “gay” reading, just that it is out there and fits into a sort of history of similar readings regarding works with tomboyish characters.
This could turn into a bad thread derailment, but
“The story reaches a spot where you have about 18 months to go before a release date and it’s time to really evaluate the movie and see where it needs to be,” Andrews explained. “And in this case, ’Ratatouille’’s case, ‘Toy Story 2’s case, there’s been this moment where the story’s not working as well as it should be and we don’t have much time left and something drastic has to happen to get it going and get it up to that level. And sometimes that means a director change, which is exactly what happened. So I came on board and kind of treated it as an adaptation.”
The firing of Pixar’s first female director is ironic considering the subject, but it “isn’t some story fraught with drama but rather a clinical decision to get the movie done in the amount of time that was required.”
The movie itself and probably what Chapman really got going in it avoids the trap you’ve stated. The situation itself reflects Pixar’s studio structure, which is in fact relatively consistent even in their movies where the director DOESN’T get fired, because it’s all people like John Lasseter’s and Andrew Stanton’s show — kind of like how Apple has many different designers and engineers but Jobs used to have precedence, especially his own pet projects. This is why it’s "Pixar’s Wall-E " instead of "Andrew Stanton’s Wall-E. " Pixar isn’t much for auteur theory, is what I’m saying.
It sounds like Chapman wasn’t settling on decisions and eventually the needs of the production supplanted the needs of the director. A rough reading through various blogs and opinion articles indicate, to me, that most people are assuming Chapman was trying ‘daring, audacious, studio unfriendly’ stuff that sent Pixar all a-twitter because they never do crazy daring things (except for Ratatouille in general, Wall-E’s first twenty minutes, and making a trilogy of children’s movies about impending death:
But overall, all of this ‘relatively highly publicized’ stuff comes from reporters/opinionists who weren’t there and didn’t know what happened. Maybe Pixar was being evil, maybe it saved its production from being a total mess (the comparison to Ratatouille is apt: Ratatouille is almost a mess. Not quite, but there are some rough sequences that could have pulled the whole thing apart if they were any more mishandled. I’m thinking most specifically about the sequences following the paper chase scene, when it feels like another whole movie has started). What we have is the movie that resulted, which in content makes a strong female character that is not just a boy without male anatomy, though unfortunately is still a Disney princess. Just, a well-done Disney princess.
(Off hand, I think Disney and Pixar should have traded, Brave for Wreck-It Ralph. It would have played better to each other’s strengths, but in the end Brave benefitted from Pixar’s process and Wreck-It Ralph is literally the first Disney produced 3D animation in a very long time that I think looks actually good and fun to watch. Ah well.)
“If we realize their poverty is his poverty, we are understanding his perspective. "
That’s what I said…
So you’re either objecting to my usage of the word “we,” or you’re saying I did indeed detail his perspective. But to me the conversation on “perspective” vs. “POV” doesn’t really interest me. Sorry…
And when I say his perspective is given that of a minor and subjective role I’m pointing to the fact that in every scene I mentioned De Sica moves away from the narrative, stops telling the story, doesn’t focus on Antonio’s plight as wholeheartedly, if only for a few shots, to point to a mass of others outside of the actual film. We understand and agree on that.
Semantics misses the entire point I’m making. I’ve never said a single word on whether the story in Bicycle Thieves is good or bad (it’s excellent).
My original point was to ask, “why do I care?”
One cares because De Sica deviates wildly from classical storytelling techniques (put the film in perspective for 1948), even ceases to use them at all in some of the most important sections of the film, to create an essentialization of the emotive landscape of an entire nation.
We care because De Sica helped recreate cinematic classicism (possibly even create it outright, with his neorealist brethren) by moving it far and away from other forms. It’s specifically those deviations that make the film.
“Hmm, the FOX news thing strikes me as a bit of a diversion, first in that it assumes such a reading would be somehow “bad”, to FOX viewers it probably would, but to more level headed folk, not so much, and secondly it sort of avoids the issue of ideology by putting it in “enemy” hands, as if that same sort of “reading” isn’t even more common on the left”
I have to apologize for this. I was under the impression that the lesbian undertone reading originated from FOX News, but in fact I just looked over a Google search and am discovering a variety of different sources that precede and thus preclude the accuracy of my dismissive statement.
Nevertheless for what it’s worth, here is why it’s not about lesbianism:
1) The marriage idea is thrown on Merida suddenly and her initial reaction is that she’s too young and doesn’t feel ready.
2) The suitors are unappealing…
3) …AND later reveal that they weren’t really much interested in Merida either and felt the same way, re: youngness and choosing their own way. Does that make all three of them gay as well?
Thread officially derailed…
Correct Falderal, we are on the same page on Bicycle Thieves.
I’m responding to usage of technical terminology (which to a degree are semantics and to another degree, transcend them because technical terminology exists to keep language clear, technical language is in and of itself prescriptivist linguistics whereas common usage privileges descriptivism) and that discussion “doesn’t really interest” you.
I feel it’s at least important to try to understand in light of the question the OP is asking. Making a statement about levels of the ‘importance’ of storytelling in any movie, Bicycle Thieves being merely one of them, would presuppose we understand storytelling. The easiest way to get on the same page there, is to refer to the technical meaning.
I don’t think it’s a derail Polaris, particularly given Jazz’s interest in “aboutness” and the idea that a story isn’t just surface text only dealing with basic plot mechanics of who,where, how and why. Pixar films have largely had a strong ideological drive to them, a sort of purpose behind the surface story. That is quite possibly why they have been so successful in part anyway as it creates a tension between the character drive/desires and that of the world in which they operate. Now Brave may be different than their other films I’ve seen and not have that
“moral” element to it, but that would surprise me. So, since I haven’t seen anything but the trailer for the film and therefore am not going to argue about it, I’ll just ask what you take to be the the ideological underpinning of the movie. Clearly not forcing girls to get married as children isn’t going to fit that idea given it isn’t a practice generally followed in areas where Pixar is mainly marketed. Also, I would add that you suggest the importance of subtext when speaking of their other films but thus far seem more doggedly literal when speaking of Brave, so that also causes me to raise an eyebrow somewhat. If Brave is seeming to lack a meaningful subtext or theme, that might go to speaking to Jazz’s feelings about the film as the story may not be as “rich” as their other movies.
Sounds good. Step by step then:
“Pixar films have largely had a strong ideological drive to them, a sort of purpose behind the surface story.”
Well they are classic storytelling in the sense that there is a ‘moral of the story’ element — themes, but with a little more eye toward conclusiveness than investigation. Would you agree with my assessment of Pixar’s approach? Stuff like “Laughter is more powerful than screams” (Monster’s Inc), “When everyone is special, nobody is” (The Incredibles) and “Anyone can be an artist, just not everybody is one” (Ratatouille). I would say the only movie I can think of that lacks a specific ideologue is A Bug’s Life, and the most abstract ideologue is Finding Nemo (basically the moral of the story of that one is to confront your ocean of anxiety, but the closest quotable substance to that is ‘Just keep swimming’).
“Now Brave may be different than their other films I’ve seen and not have that “moral” element to it, but that would surprise me.”
It does have one (described below) but the lesbianism reading is a reading into not a reading of — it’s projecting one’s own specialized concern on a more generalized ideologue. I will explain below.
“So, since I haven’t seen anything but the trailer for the film and therefore am not going to argue about it, I’ll just ask what you take to be the the ideological underpinning of the movie.”
The moral of the story is, “Whereas we need to recognize our tradition, we need to be capable of writing our own.” Merida’s refusal to marry is not the only part of breaking tradition in the movie, which means that it’s not specifying marriage as the exact tradition that needs to be broken. Also the concept of the Bear King (Merida’s father) and the reveal of that plot point to tie into the heritage of the clans themselves shows the need for recognition and reappraisal both of tradition and heritage to stave off war.
So saying Brave is about a young lesbian who should be able to marry women if she chooses, because look at what’s going on today while it came out! is like saying Brave is about how the Middle East should modernize, because look what’s going on today while it came out!
“Also, I would add that you suggest the importance of subtext when speaking of their other films but thus far seem more doggedly literal when speaking of Brave, so that also causes me to raise an eyebrow somewhat.”
I don’t mean to be doggedly literal. I mean that The Incredibles is not an Ayn Rand fanfic and Cars 2 is not a defense of American exceptionalism (I want to expand on this one alone just for the hell of it), which are roughly equivalent “This movie is about ‘cause look at this current social issue we’ve determined”. They can be read as I guess but only with the acknowledgement that the reader is personally expanding his or her own specified sociopolitical currency onto a wider morality tale.
(Explanation of Cars 2 as defense of American exceptionalism: Mater is the main character, and is a loud, obnoxious, and generally unrefined character. Though he’s friends with the refined cultural icon Lightning McQueen, their friendship is strained by Mater’s abrasiveness and Mater is rebuked publically by McQueen. Mater then begins to doubt himself but when he gets involved in this international conspiracy with these two spies who think he is one of their own, he eventually proves his worth by being himself and in fact manages to change other people enough that they more appreciate the innocence and purity of his character. So the moral of the story of Cars 2 is “Be yourself, no matter what other people think of you.” However, one could say that Mater’s loudness and obnoxiousness, and his voice-actor’s Larry the Cable Guy persona in general, are a defense of anti-intellectual Americanism and its inherent positive qualities in matters of international crisis, especially considering the seemingly cultured and refined cars including the spies are unable to save the world for themselves. That reading, if someone gave it seriously, I would debate equally as I have been debating Brave. )
You could say,
“If you apply Brave’s themes of tradition and choice to some of our public discourse today, it makes a great case for gay marriage — recognizing the power and the binding of the institution itself while also allowing a marginalized demographic entry into that institution.”
No arguments there.
If you say,
“Merida’s a lesbian, see, ‘cause she doesn’t want to marry men.”
I’m going to point out that Merida’s sexuality is not defined in the actual content of the film either way* and that statement is missing the larger overall message.
*And actually, a few seconds of the end would indicate she’s quite straight, but hell, if “She just rejected like three guys, she’s totally a dyke” is acceptable reading, then I’d also like to point out that she, uh, shoots straight? Like as in straight-as-an-arrow? Like the archery is totally a subtext for her wanting to get boned, like, totally, man.
Yes, I largely agree, and, just for the record, I also generally don’t find readings favoring direct substitution symbolism very interesting in most, but not all cases so I wasn’t really expecting Brave to be specifically about some sort of lesbian message as much as it potentially having that as an available subtextual response coming from a more generalized thematic or tonal structure as Pixar not only tends to have a direct “moral” message which might be learned or applied to the struggle of the main character, they also seem to have a fondness for an underlying or less directly expressed ideological bent as shown through the larger world they create for each film. That is what I think keeps the “moral” from feeling too cloying or pedantic. In their worse films this doesn’t seem as evident and the “stories” feel comparatively thin as the main character narrative and lesson is all there is to hold on to which makes the “moral” come across as cheap or annoying like a bad Saturday morning cartoon. So, I don’t have any problem with your reading of Brave and can see where more specific claims come from out of it. (Sorry if that is too vague, but being more specific would require some effort given how long its been since I’ve seen any Pixar films. At their best, Up, Wall-E, Finding Nemo, Toy Story, Pixar manages to create some rich stories/worlds as they are expansive enough to give secondary characters their own story arcs rather than holding to a more linear narrative pattern. This makes their worlds seem “real” or alive in ways that one doesn’t see in as much in their competition. Their worst Cars, A Bug;s Life, films don’t do that and are every bit as annoying as the usual children’s films, while they also have made some movies Toy Story 3, Ratatouille, that bug me for reasons that have more to do with the first category than the second as the larger worldview seems disagreeable for varying reasons.
If you feel like it, Greg, I’d like to hear you expand on Toy Story 3 since I liked the film a lot (hated the second, really like the first), especially the ending which moves me every time.