Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Subtext – Casablanca, Apollo 13, and Raiders of the Lost Ark

All right, gang, say hello to MaryAn Batchellor, creative screenwriter extraordinaire, all-around smart lady, and author of the fabulous blog, Fencing With the Fog.

Here's her insightful contribution to subtext:

Aspiring screenwriters have widely differing ideas, opinions and misconceptions of what subtext actually is. Many believe it's a simple matter of reading between the lines while others believe that speaking metaphorically is also subtext. Neither is categorically true. There is nothing simple about writing subtext and metaphors aren't subtext unless the metaphor is being used for one example but also means something else. And, there's a difference between story subtext with double entendres and story subtext that has a single entendre but says what it means without saying it. What is a good definition for subtext? I don't know but if I had to make up one, I'd say it was “saying what you mean without really saying it.”



RICK: I congratulate you.
RICK: Your work.
RICK: We all try. You succeed.

Rick means what he says, but he also means what he doesn't say. He's also talking about Victor's relationship with Else.

Apollo 13

JACK: Now the important thing
when you're penetrating
the lunar module... is your attitude
and your relative speed.

He demonstrates with a beer bottle and a drinking glass.

JACK: Now let's say this is me here in the command module, and this is you.
TRACEY: All right. Uh-huh.
JACK: In the LEM. This thing sticks out here in front, that's called the probe.

He inserts the neck of bottle into the glass.

TRACEY: Is that true?
JACK: Absolutely. And, Tracey,

I'll tell ya, when you feel that
thing slide in, everything's
clickin', it's like no other.

Yeah, he's demonstrating the probe all right.


Raiders of the Lost Ark

INDY: I never meant to hurt you.
MARION: I was a child! I was in love.
INDY: You knew what you were doing.
MARION: It was wrong. You knew it.
INDY: Look, I did what I did. I don't expect you to be happy about it. But maybe we can do each other some good.
MARION: Why start now?
INDY: Shut up and listen for a second. I want that piece your father had. I've got money.
MARION: How much?

The word “sex” isn't used here. But that's obviously what we're talking about. She's saying he used her. He's saying she wanted it.


wcdixon said...

On the subtext thing, I think I'm going to have to just read what people have to say about it and try to learn something. The whole 'what they are saying' vs. 'what they are really saying or meaning' strikes me as so analytical and cerebral.

Which is fine after the fact, but I guess I'm more focused on the viewing 'experience' and what viewer is feeling/getting out of the movie/tv show in the moment. And I'm hard-pressed to imagine a viewer recognizing sub-text as its happening on screen. It just seems like more of a 'oh, that's interesting' revelation after digesting or a repeat viewing.

Now to belittle subtext, but what is its value exactly...especially during the viewing experience?

MaryAn Batchellor said...

"all-around smart lady and author of the fabulous blog"? Thanks, MM.

WC, I have a tendency to over-analyze. What's the purpose of subtext? Well, it's to add dimension, interest, and texture to a film where flat and direct dialogue would be prosaic, boring, even cliche.

The Apollo 13 scene would be lame if all he was doing was describing great sex. Instead, he's giving us some boring technical information we need to know later in the film but using it as subtext to describe great sex. It's brilliant.

wcdixon said...

Thanks Maryan - and just to clarify, I didn't mean to say NOW to belittle, but rather NOT to belittle...

Mystery Man said...

WCDIXON - Let me just tell you, my friend, that FOR ME, subtext is the very thing that sucks the audience into a story scene-by-scene because they can tell that a character is not being straightforward about something and so they're involved because they're trying to figure out what's REALLY going on, what's REALLY being said, what the REAL INTENT is behind those strange words they are saying. An audience is far more intuitive than many screenwriters give them credit, and they can, indeed, tell when a character is saying one thing but means something else because they want X. The movies we love are movies that engaged us because they had faith in out intelligence. And we love them for that. At least, I do.

MaryAn, thanks again for your great thoughts. I mean that most sincerely.