Adventures at the Video Store: Analysis

Category – Surrealism

MoviesThe Cell and Meet Joe Black

Storytelling strategy #1: Striking visual that crystallizes horror and puts the viewer into

the shoes of the character experiencing the event.

Examples: when an FBI agent, Peter Novak, finds himself in a bind when he enters the mind a serial killer Carl Rudolf in an attempt to save Catherine Deane from the dangers lurking there and when Brad Pitt’s character first meets Susan Parrish, they part, walk in different directions, and Brad gets smoked by three cars.

Analysis: Both movies use shock and awe tactics to make the view jump and squirm at the sight of the images produced. In The Cell, Peter Novak enters Carl’s twisted mind with the intention of helping Catherine, but almost instantly finds himself ambushed, blacked out, then awake again but securely fastened to a table. Meanwhile, Carl prepares his instruments of torture while humming insanely. He approaches Novak with scissors in hand, crouches down beside him, and slowly slips the sharp metal into Novak’s stomach. Then while Novak screams “This isn’t real! This isn’t real!”, Carl puts down the scissors and dips his fingers into the wound, causing it to spout blood. And it doesn’t end there, as Carl proceeds to cut out Novak’s intestines, pull them out, connect them to a rotisserie device, and slowly wind the intestines out of the poor man’s stomach, all while his victim watches helplessly. The strategy behind using imagery in a movie is to evoke strong human emotion. In the case of The Cell the images are included to evoke emotions in the realm of terror, and separate the movie from being viewed as anything else but a thriller. We are made to experience Novak’s pain, and imagine how it would feel, as we see the scissors go in, and the intestines come out. Being meticulous with the things we see, as all directors are, the fact that he included these dreadful visuals hints to the viewer that such visuals must be included in order to get the desired response from the viewer. In Meet Joe Black, our pre-conceptions of a love story are challenged. Initially, the film starts out as any other romance might: a woman thinks she is in love until she meets another man who sweeps her off her feet in a chance encounter. After they part company, they each take turns looking back to see if the other is looking back, but are disappointed at every turn. Finally, Susan Parish disappears around a corner, leaving Brad Pitt (whose name is hitherto not revealed) to turn once more, while standing in the middle of the street. Suddenly, a horn blares as a car speeds by missing him by inches. He is not so lucky with the passing of the next three vehicles, all of which hit him in succession sending him flying in all directions. What makes this visual so horrid is its utter unexpectedness. The film at this point leaves the viewer with an agape mouth and an anxious mind. In this case, a shocking image is utilized to challenge the genre in which most viewers have already placed the film. At its core, this remains a love story, but the picture of a man being crushed by multiple cars is not indicative of that fact. Therefore, form challenges the content of this romance by reverting back to realism and including something that wouldn’t happen in an ideal romance, but would happen in real life.

Storytelling Strategy #2: Sudden shifts in plot and setting.

Examples: In The Cell when Catherine isn’t sure at first whether she is dreaming or not and in Meet Joe Black when an assumed dead Brad Pitt reemerges as Joe Black, also known as DEATH.

Analysis: Both films succeed in giving the viewer a disoriented feeling. In The Cell Catherine is lead to believe, by the tricks of Carl’s mind, that there is a malfunction with the machine that allows her to enter his mind. In reality, she has already entered his mind and is being manipulated by Carl to make her vulnerable. When she herself realizes this deception, she curls herself into a ball in the laboratory corner and without warning she is transported out of the lab and into a glass cage sitting atop a stone pillar. This sudden change in setting is used to blend conceptions of the real world with the fake, reminding us ‘that what we consider reality is a thin shell’, just as a good surrealistic film should. The presence of such hasty changes of scenery is often found in horror films. In Meet Joe Black, the plot is shifted abruptly once when we see that Brad Pitt’s character is still alive, and then again when he proclaims himself to be Death. Once more, as stated above, our view of where this movie is headed (plot-wise) is contested. Furthermore, including a mystical character like Death places this film into a dream-state, in which a character like Death could only exist.

Storytelling Strategy #3: Including metaphysical ideas to give the viewer something

deeper to think about.

Examples: In The Cell when Carl is killed and in Meet Joe Black when Bill Parish disappears over the bridge.

Analysis: Both of these movies delve into highly philosophical ideas about the nature and meaning of existence and spark thought along these lines in the minds of the viewers. In The Cell, we are constantly reminded of the fact that the body cannot live without the mind; this is the main danger of the experimental treatment that involves one consciousness entering another. At the end of the movie, when Catherine kills Carl, his mind is expelled from hers, his body is dead, but what happens to his soul? Whether he has a soul or not is left up the personal philosophy of the viewer. The fact that it is left out of the equation of mind, body, and soul is the interesting part. If the mind can continue to function without the use of the body, what happens to the soul without the use of the mind? Questions such as these spring forth as a result of watching this movie. This film forces us to question our understanding of our existence; physically, mentally and spiritually. Forming the movie in this manner contributes to its surreal effect as it tries to explain the ‘most powerful elements of the human experience’. In Meet Joe Black we are invited to contemplate death, another powerful element of human existence surrounded by mystery. At the end of the movie we see Bill Parish being taken ‘away’ by Death but we do not know to where he is being taken. His destination is left up to the imagination of the viewer. By leaving certain plot details open to interpretation, and touching upon ideas that seem other-worldly, both these films remain true to the surrealist genre.


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