The Power of
Tim Yearsley, Navigators Rep, Nottingham
19 March 2019
Normally I’m not the last guy out of the cinema. I don’t consider myself a particularly ‘emotional’ person. But on this day, with this film, I found myself with my head in my hands, weeping in the dark, as the credits rolled.
My experience of watching Michael Dudok De Wit’s The Red Turtle was not what I expected. A fairytale, or perhaps a parable, unravelling in hand-drawn animation, had seemed like a pleasant enough prospect to begin with. I was not ready to have my emotional life spoken back to me with no words.
What happened? To deconstruct the film or my experience of it with cool, detached rationality would be like dissecting a joke – under the microscope it becomes lifeless. I cannot point you to a constituent piece that explains its impact. But my experience with this film, and perhaps your experiences with your favourite film or art, reveal something of the power of art as a means of storytelling.
The arts have a language of their own. Beautiful art seems to connect with us on a profound level, bypassing words and speech. Art can evoke powerful responses in us, often before the ‘rational’ parts of our brains have caught up and wrapped words around our experience. How can that be?
In his book on the nature of story as art form, Into The Woods, John Yorke writes:
“[There is a] conflict between who a character is, and who they want to be. Truly archetypal drama induces a sense of peace; the story works as a temporary balm, purging our own inner distress. We heal as we watch, not because the work articulates the need for conflict resolution, but because it allows us to enact the process ourselves.”
Perhaps at the deepest level, film can articulate our own desires back to us. Desires for intimacy, forgiveness, freedom, purpose or perhaps redemption. Ultimately, we love to celebrate characters that achieve these things and become more ‘fully alive’ as a result – we vicariously share in their triumph. Or perhaps we watch, with great fascination and horror, those cautionary tales of characters who end up more like the ‘living dead’ as we wonder if they could have been us.
Reflecting well on the arts, and in particular film, can help us understand why we feel the way we do when we watch certain stories. As such, the best films can open up parts of our own stories that we have long buried; or perhaps desires we did not even know were there.
Learning to reflect and discuss is a practice – but applied to film, that practice can be a lot of fun. The questions below deliberately steer away from conversation about the ‘technical’ nature of films (though particularly stylistic films are worth discussing on this level). Instead they aim to open up conversation around the points of connection the film has made with us, provoking responses that are personal before they are academic.
May your film watching be full of evocative experiences, truthful discoveries and enacted victories. The Red Turtle might be a good place to start.
- What struck you most from the film? Why do you think that struck you?
- Which character did you like most or least?
- Did any characters grow or change through the film? What caused this? Was it for better or worse?
- What did you notice about the nature of the relationships in the story?
- What was the film suggesting about what it means to be more fully alive?
- Think about the first and last scenes in the film – does the contrast reveal anything?
- What do you think would have happened next in the story?
- Why do you think the film had this title?
- Which scene do you think will stay with you? What was it about that scene that you liked/disliked?
- What ‘big themes’ were in this film? (Themes like forgiveness, sacrifice, redemption, love, purity, sacredness, etc)
- What is there to celebrate in this story? What is there you would like to challenge?
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