Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Gestures: the Significance of the Insignificant

Joe Gillis (William Holden) dead in the swimming pool
at the start of Sunset Boulevard.
In my “Intro to Film Crit” class, my professor pointed out to us in Sunset Boulevard an odd moment when Joe Gillis (William Holden) is leaving Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) on New Year's Eve and the chain of his watch—which was a gift from the rich and crazy recluse—gets caught on the door (later in the film Norma shoots him dead and he ends up face down in the pool). One film critic interpreted the watch chain getting caught as the “umbilical cord of material dependence” keeping Joe in Norma’s and hence the real reason he can't leave her.
The seemingly insignificant gesture acts as an excellent example of how we marginalize gestures or words that we don’t understand at the moment, but contains vital clues to the characters and plot so, if something odd happens, don't ignore it, try and figure it how. 
Here are more useful examples.
The Talented Mr. Ripley from 1999.
Another example of the “umbilical cord” symbolism is in The Talented Mr. Ripley. When Ripley (Matt Damon) is getting off a bus, the strap of the shoulder bag he carries gets caught on the handle of the bus door, snagging him. There are many possible interpretations for this, e.g., his poverty will hold him back, his social awkwardness will hold him back, his very ambition will hold him back, etc., I think the "umbilical cord" symbol deepens our understanding the greatest.
One of Tom Ripley's few happy moments in the film.
There are only two mothers in this film: the one is the beautiful girl that Dickie (Jude Law) impregnates and who drowns herself, and the second is Dickie’s mother, Mrs. Greenleaf who is wheelchair bound.  If there is a parallel made between Ripley and the handicap mother, Ripley himself is socially handicapped as Mrs. Greenleaf is physically handicapped. Likewise, if we compare Ripley to the pregnant Italian girl who drowns herself, Ripley is has incapable of dealing with the escalating social demands (mixing with Dickie's social crowd and their lifestyle) as the young Italian girl with her unexpected pregnancy and like her, Ripley drowns himself for Dickie (he drowns his identity as Ripley for the identity of Dickie).
Gus van Sant's 2002 critically acclaimed drama Gerry.
Another Matt Damon film, Gerry, also starring Casey Affleck, with both stars bearing the same name of Gerry, essentially get off the path and become lost in a desert, unable to find their way back. At one point, they split up to go up different mountains to try and find their car, and when they are reunited, Affleck’s Gerry has lost a shirt that he was wearing, while Damon’s Gerry has wrapped one of his shirts around his head, turban style.
Another poster showing
Damon with his head wrapping.
At this point in their ordeal, this simple wardrobe adjustment contributes significantly to the development of the characters: Affleck’s Gerry has “lost it,” while Damon’s Gerry is “keeping a lid on it.” Realizing they are lost and probably not going to get out, Affleck’s Gerry’s lost shirt reveals that he is beginning to succumb to anxiety and fear, whereas Damon’s Gerry’s turban suggests that he’s trying to contain his fear.  The technique foreshadows to the viewer what will happen to both Gerrys.
Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech of 2010.
In The King's Speech, character development is at a high, but I will only mention a few instances here. When the Duchess of York (Helen Bonham Carter) is on her way to see Dr. Logue (Geoffrey Rush), she gets into the elevator and waits; she realizes she closed the doors in the wrong order and then goes back and does it correctly; this same sequence occurs again (it appears that she had forgotten) when Bertie (Colin Firth) joins her in visiting Logue, they have to open and close the doors in the proper order again. This seemingly “waste of time” in the narrative actually foreshadows how they are not going to do Bertie’s speech therapy in the proper order, but are only going to deal with the mechanics first, and then much later, the psychological problems behind Bertie’s stuttering.
The Duke and Duchess of York.
One additional gesture to touch on here, is when the Duchess gets into Logue's office, and he’s in the restroom, he exits without having washed his hands: he is “dirty,” which works as a sign of his status as a commoner, and—when he shakes hands with the Duchess—he wipes his dirt onto her, i.e., future problems will touch them because of his “lowly” stature when it will come up towards the end of the film when members of Bertie’s cabinet try to have him replaced.
The corner of Logue's office in The King's Speech.
Surprisingly, this same technique of a character exiting the bathroom without washing their hands, and it foreshadowing something “dirty” about them, also occurs in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown when Max Cherry exits the restroom and Ordell (Samuel L Jackson) comments that he didn’t wash his hands, an important moment, because it shows that he knows "Max has dirty hands," i.e., Max can’t be trusted, but Ordell trusts him anyway and that’s how he loses his money.
In Sherlock Holmes and the Scarlet Claw, starring the iconic duo of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, the DVD commentary noted how quickly the film had to be shot because it was done on such an incredibly low budget, so quickly, that when the mail man is exiting the boarding house, he bumps into a table on his way out and director Roy William Neill didn’t even bother to re-shoot the scene. I would like to suggest, that the “accidental bump,” was quite intentional.
1944, The Scarlet Claw.
We discover that the mail man Potts (Gerald Hamer) is the villain, and a consummate actor. So when he hears that Sherlock Holmes is on his way to investigate the killings, even though he seems cool and keeping up his charade, that bump into the table reveals that the villain has suddenly gotten very nervous about the carrying out of his plot.
Norman Jewison's 1967 drama In the Heat of the Night.
There are two significant gestures in the opening moments in The Heat of the Night:  the first is the hiding of a pie, the second is the swatting of a fly.
Hopefully, by now, you have an idea of what I am going to say.  But Ralph (Anthony James) who also makes an appearance in Unforgiven (as the brothel owner) swats at a fly and then hides a piece of pie when a police officer enters the restaurant.  The first act of killing the fly reveals his violent nature and indicates that he is the prime suspect for the murder that happened just moments ago.  The second gesture of hiding the pie indicates that he has “hidden” what he has done; the attentive viewer all ready knows who committed the murder.
When I saw Louis (Brad Pitt) see his reflection as he was burning down his southern mansion in Interview With the Vampire, I wanted someone to get fired. (I will deal extensively with vampires in October, but for the moment, we will look at this gesture). By standard conventions, nay, by their very definition, vampires cannot see their reflections in the mirror (this convention was still adhered to in Van Helsing with Hugh Jackson and Kate Beckinsdale). Pondering if there was another reason other than negligence why that moment would have been allowed to happen, I realized it’s because Louis “can reflect” on what it is that he is doing as a vampire and what being a vampire is doing to him. LeStatt (Tom Cruise) sees nothing wrong in killing others, but Louis has “moral issues,” revealed by the simple act of seeing himself in the mirror at the moment he is surrounded by destruction (like the flames of hell engulfing him).
1944 film noir classic, Laura.
In Laura starring Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and the great Clifton Webb, Dana Andrews plays Detective Mark McPherson investigating the death of Laura (Gene Tierney) and, because of Waldo’s (Clifton Webb) close friendship with her, McPherson visits Waldo to question him. Taking a bath while McPherson interviews him (a symbol I will explore at another time) McPherson decides to go follow another lead; Waldo insists on going with him and stands up in the tub… this act of “exposing” himself foreshadows how he will expose himself as the killer, even while he’s taking a bath, symbolic of trying to cleanse himself of the blood he has spilled.
The Exorcist of 1973 may still be the scariest movie ever made.Two moments:  the first in the opening sequence, there is a man working and he turns to face the viewer and his left eye is blind:  that represents the viewer, because we are only going to “see half” of what is going on in the work of the film because it so closely resembles ourselves, that we cannot reflect upon it accurately.
Secondly, Chris (Regan's mom, Ellen Burstyn) is walking and sees Father Damien talking to another priest as an airplane flies overhead.  The noise drowns out what Father Damien tells the priest, but what is important is the seeming “wardrobe malfunction” of Father Damien:  his jacket sleeve reaches up nearly to his elbow, revealing his bare arm.  This is important because it shows that Father Damien isn’t “hiding anything up his sleeve” as he talks to the other priest; conversely, the other priest has a jacket hanging over his left arm, revealing that he is “covering something up.” 
I'm ready for my close up now, Mr. deMille.
I started with Sunset Boulevard and I would like to end with it. The most iconic scene of the film is the very end, when Norma says, “I’m ready for my close-up now, Mr. DeMille,” and the camera moves in close, really close. For close-ups, the camera literally becomes a microscope for the character being “focused on”: when a character talks, or acts or thinks, and the camera is doing a close-up, it’s that moment that is a close-up on the character’s character and their state of being, their flaws, their virtues, indecision, whatever it may be the director wants to emphasize. In Sunset Boulevard, when both the camera in the film and the camera recording the movie move in on Norma, we are moving in on all characters in the movies, not just Norma Desmond, the scrutiny of how narcissistic the film-industry had become by this point, and how there is nothing normal about “Norma.”
So, if you are watching a film and it seems like something ridiculous happens, or you don’t understand why it happened, make a mental note and when the film is done, ask yourself in what way that might have enhanced the character’s development or foreshadowed what was going to happen in the plot and see what you come up with. 
Post ScriptumSaturday, September 3, at 8:00 ET time on Turner Classic Movies, Sunset Boulevard will be on television. It's #12 on the American Film Institute's 100 best movies of all time list, so you may want to watch if you have the chance!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How To Eat Art

Mortality and Immortality by William M. Hartnett. The painting depends
entirely upon symbols, knowing what the symbols means deepens your
understanding of the art.
This post will be constantly referenced, expanded and edited, but I hope that it offers readers a guide to be able to decode messages in art and culture for themselves.
The Judgment of Paris, 1904 by Enrique Simonet
ANIMALS AND THE PASSIONS:  if there is an animal skin, or reference to an animal, this in turn refers to our passions and lower desires, for food, sex and material comforts.  While a part of our humanity, the passions have to be tamed.  In the above example, The Judgment of Paris, Paris sits while surveying the nude Aphrodite to determine which of the three goddesses are most beautiful; he was a good choice for a judge, since he is draped in an animal skin, showing that he is a man of appetites.
St. John the Baptist by Titian, 1542.
On the other hand, St. John the Baptist is wearing animal skins in Titian's portrayal. This is the circumstance of knowing that, instead of being a man of appetites like Paris above, St. John was a man who had conquered his appetites. This is a familiar symbol during times when people live lavishly and foolishly. In short, when considering whether a reference is made to someone living for their appetites or trying to conquer them, the greater context has to be considered as well.   
The Holy Spirit, 1750s, Corrado Giaquinto, private collection.
BIRDS: Birds usually reference the Holy Spirit since it was in the form of a Dove that the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ at His Baptism. I once heard a very devout nun refer to the Holy Spirit as the "Holy It." Due to the great mystery surrounding the Holy Spirit, it's difficult to articulate why the Holy Spirit is represented by birds: the Holy Spirit is not just the body of the bird, or the power of the wings, it is also the wind beneath the wings and the direction in which the bird is flying, it is the bird's ability to fly and in this mode of understanding, the Holy Spirit as a bird also represents the human heart, because when our hearts are free of sin and attentive to doing the Will of God, our hearts fly up to Heaven, carried by God Himself.
The Birds original release poster.
But Director Alfred Hitchcock gives us the obverse in his classic The Birds. Whereas Mitch (Rod Taylor) starts out looking for lovebirds, Melanie's (Tippi Hedren) chasing him turns into obsession, conveyed by not only the aggressiveness of the birds, but also by their shear number. The birds reflect the state of her soul and her need for conversion (neatly underlined by her wearing the same outfit throughout the entire film until the very end when she is finally "changes").
Cloverfield, 2008: Liberty has "lost its head," and we have
become "alien" to ourselves in the way we licentiously behave.
THE BODY: usually it’s parts of the body which are referenced; for example, the head always refers to a “governing” function; arms represent strength and legs/feet stand for the will, for just as our legs take us places, so the decisions our will makes take us through life’s decisions. "The face is the soul of the body," philosopher Ludwig Wittgentstein said, and to see/know the face (at least in art) is to see/know the soul. When there is a scar, blemish or some other marking on the face, it should be symbolically applied to the soul. The eyes are perhaps the most important part of the body, symbolically speaking. When the eyes are covered, as with the "boss" in Cool Hand Luke of 1967, it generally refers to "inhumanity," or "dehumanization," and the same device is invoked later by the Coen Brothers in their 2000 film O, Brother, Where Art Thou? (Video clip of Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke below).
CHASE SCENE/RACE: if the good guy is chasing the bad guy, it’s allowing the good guy to exercise his virtues and endurance so that he can get the bad guy by fulfilling his potential; if the bad guy is chasing the good guy, it’s to alert the good guy of the danger he faces and the necessity of the battle he fights. If the good guy doesn’t catch the bad guy by the end of the story and bring him to justice, the good guy wasn’t good enough to be able to prevail: some form of evil or of sin, some trace, in other words, of the very villain that the good guy was trying to overcome remains within him so he is unable to bring the villain to justice.
COLORS: It wasn't really until Hero that the power of color really was noticed as a new "weapon" in a filmmaker's arsenal for communicating with their audience.


BLACK: Black usually denotes evil, or it can signify "death to the world," and wisdom/holiness. Perhaps the best example there will ever be of how the same color has a double meaning is from the scariest movie ever made: from 1973, The Exorcist:
Black clearly invokes evil because light cannot penetrate the darkness of sin; however, black can also be an absence of the passions (since all the colors have a "passion" or "appetite" which they represent, black not being a color can be the victory over passion).
BLUE: Blue usually represents wisdom. When a character is wearing something blue, supposedly that character has been "converted" to a wiser way of life, or they are exhibiting wisdom. The deeper the color of blue being worn, the greater the wisdom. In Tarantino's 1994 hit Pulp Fiction, Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) wears a blue t-shirt after his "conversion" to show that he has adopted wisdom as his chosen path in life.
Jules in the diner Pulp Fiction.
Melancholy, however, is also represented by blue: because reflection and sorrow are often considered the necessary steps to attain wisdom, the color blue can also be used to relate sadness or depression.
At Eternity's Gate, 1890, Vincent van Gogh.
At Eternity's Gate by Vincent van Gogh, painted in the last weeks of his life, the man obviously suffers from anguish, but his gesture conveys more of that to us than his blue clothing, however, it would seem very out of place if he were wearing, for example, a bright yellow sweater. The color accentuates what the gesture communicates.
Titus as a Monk, Rembrandt, 1660, Amsterdam.

BROWN: is the color of humility, because it is the same color as dirt, it invokes "lowliness." In wearing brown, religious such as monks and nuns, remind themselves and other members of their religious communities that they are to be humble in all ways.
However, because it is also the color of dirt, brown can also convey a sense of dirtiness, or lowliness on the social scale.
GRAY: can refer to a pilgrim or novice, as with Gandalf the Gray in Lord of the Rings; or it may refer to ashes, in both the sense of penance or death/destruction.
Durer's depiction of Sts. Joseph and Joachim.
GREEN: green is both the color of hope (since it is linked to springtime and rebirth, the ending of winter) and envy. In the above example, Albrecht Durer clothes Saint Joseph on the left in a mantle of green, because of the saint's own continual hope in the fulfillment of the coming of the Messiah, and because of the prophetic role Saint Joseph plays in the history of Salvation.
The Art Cafe, 1888, Vincent van Gogh, Yale University Art Gallery.
No one uses color like painter Vincent Van Gogh. In The Art Cafe, Van Gogh releases a very vulnerable wish fulfillment: he wants to be accepted by other artists, he wants to be in a community with them, and he wants to enjoy being an artist. The "sour tone" of the green used in this painting reveals that he himself realizes it to be a false hope that he is going to become a member of this artistic community.
ORANGE: it's blending of yellow and red that makes it a color of passion or vibrancy, and it can be good passion or bad passion. In this segment of Hero, the characters are ruled by their passions, which in turn, leads to death.

PINK: often a color used to describe feminity, it can also describe the effeminate. In Tarantino's 1992 film Resevoir Dogs, actor Steve Buscemi has to play the role of Mr. Pink in a heist, and he puts up a big argument about it, not wanting to be associated with the color pink. In the 1963 Walt Disney classic Summer Magic, Haley Mills sings the song, The Pink of Perfection which enumerated various standards of "womanly virtues."
The Baptism of Christ.
In a spiritual sense, pink can also be considered as "imperfect love." In the above depiction of St. John the Baptist baptising Christ, it's not the John's love for Christ is imperfect, rather, the artist wanted to communicate to the audience that John still had to fulfill his greatest acts of love for Christ, namely, being arrested and executed by Herod. In these terms, pink is "on its way" to becoming red, the red of a martyr's spilt blood.
"The bad color."
RED: In M. Night Shymalan's The Village of 2004, red is "the bad color." What's so key about the way he employs this strategy is he never tells you why, but leaves the audience to decide for themselves. This is a perfect example of the "ambuguity" of symbols, when in one context it can mean one thing, but in another context the same symbol can mean the exact opposite. Probably the reason it is considered "the bad color" in the film is due to it being the same color as blood, and those who started the village had lost loved ones to violent deaths; however, red being the color of blood is also the color of love, because we lay down our lives for those whom we love, such as Ivy going to the city to save Lucius.
Cover for Picnic At Hanging Rock of 1975.
But "red" is also a color of appetites. In Peter Weir's 1975 film Picnic At Hanging Rock, several school girls disappear and one, Irma, is found several days later with no memory of what happened; whisked away to Europe, Irma reappears at the school she and the other girls were attending, completely dressed in luxurious red clothing. It suggests that Irma's appetites for luxury have been fed to ward off depression over the loss of her classmates, but it suggests that this appetite for luxure will become her life's path.
WHITE: while it usually refers to purity, innocence or faith, it can also mean "lifelessness." In the Old Testament, Laban is the father-in-law of the Patriarch Jacob, the father of Leah and Rachel. In Hebrew, Laban means "white," and it's his constant trickery of Jacob that leads to our understanding of his not having any life within him.
Vincent and Jules in Pulp Fiction.
Consider, for example, a corpse: when it has been dead for awhile, it turns white, the color leaves the lips and the cheeks; life has been "drained" out of the body, and this symbolically means in art that life or grace has been drained from the soul; this is the proper decoding for Vincent Vega (John Travolta) in Pulp Fiction: only someone who already has some life within them can and will accept a miracle; Vega's refusal to see them escaping from being shot to death means that he can't see anything, and his clothing reflects that. 
Roses in a Vase, Renoir.
Yellow: yellow is the color of gold, and for that reason it denotes royalty, because gold is a gift befitting of royalty, but it can also symbolize a coward.  Part of the reason for associating yellow with both royalty and cowardice comes from the same idea: royalty is supposed to be brave; when a king, for example, has not exhibited the characteristics of bravery, they have been cowardly, or not lived up to their destiny. The same applies to all people, for by having a soul, we are reminded of being God's children. Please see discussion under my post Itsy-Bitsy-Teenie-Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini and the Vietnam War.
DECODING: “Decoding” is the purpose and intent of this blog. To “decode,” one must take symbols and, using various techniques and tools, locate those symbols within the art and construct them to form a coherent message which is germane with the art itself; e.g., there has to be some consistency between the art (while still encoded) and the decoded message.
There is an important rule in art: art cannot decode itself. If art appears to be decoding itself, then it is not art, it is a sermon, an essay, a Fine Art Diner blogspot, but it is not art, it is an explication. There are times when it appears that art is decoding art, but when art offers “decoding,” it replaces one symbol or set of symbols with another.
Art cannot decode itself. It always offers
up an alternative value in place
of the value it is supposedly decoding.
One of the best examples of this is Scream.  While Scream “decodes” the genre of the horror film, such as, “Only virgins can jump around a bed and escape death," then it shows Sidney (Neve Campbell) after sex, jumping around the bed. It's not that the makers of Scream have successfully freed themselves of the "chains" of pre-marital sex, because it's the illicit sexual affair of Sidney's mother that prompted all the murderings in the first place. If the horror genre is an exploration of illicit sexuality, Scream still upholds it.
The Matrix, 1999.
DESTABILIZATION OF REALITY/IDENTITY: this is the “hottest” trend in movies today, where the main characters do not know what is real or do not know who they really are. It might have started before The Matrix, but that’s the first big one I remember really offering the theory that there is a “secondary” reality or that our understanding of reality is not stable, it can be compromised and negotiated.  Other examples include Inception, The Adjustment Bureau, Memento, The Others, etc.; even Pulp Fiction—with it’s destabilized sequence of events and narrative—could fall into this category, however, with the conversion of Jules (Samuel L. Jackson), even while it is a “confused” reality, it pointed out the path to “stabilization” through Jules’ conversion (please see my post Pulp Fiction: A Study In Plato and Aristotle).
What about the destabilization of one’s identity? When someone doesn’t know who they are or what they have done, it suggests that, we as a society, have forgotten who we are and what we have done.
The Bourne Identity, 2002.
Regarding Henry, The Bourne Identity series, Adrien Brody's Wrecked, Abduction , Unknown, etc. If we could totally detach ourselves from ourselves, we would be able to objectively assess the situation in which we find ourselves and we could see that what we have become is not what we want to be.
Steven Speilberg, 2005
DREAM THEORY: the importance of dreams has always been related in both the Old and New Testaments as a way of God communicating with His people, but not all of our dreams are divinely inspired. It was Sigmund Freud who first sought out a systematic means of understanding our unconscious world in The Interpretation of Dreams of 1900. The theory Freud posed is that, “All dreams are fulfillments of wishes.” In a dream, the “narrative” our unconscious constructs is based on the drive to be rid of something unpleasant and thereby gain something pleasant. Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds could be understood in this light. Ray (Tom Cruise) arrives home to find his ex-wife, her new husband and his two children waiting for him. The next few minutes are a catalog of what a bad father he is and the tensions existing between him and his children. He then takes a nap and even though we see him waking up, the bizarre sequence of events following could be understood as a dream sequence because it supplies us with intimate information about what this character wishes: to prove his ex-wife wrong. 


The monsters coming out of the ground represent the deep buried problems
that had been in his marriage, how they had both buried incidents during
their time together and those problems became the monsters that threatened
his family once they exploded out of the ground. In fulfilling a wish,
if the movie is a dream, then Ray wants to fight real monsters instead of
just taking insinuations from his ex-wife; he doesn't know how to
do that, but he can protect his family.
Even though she is pregnant, when she is there, she insists on carrying her daughter’s luggage, a sign that Mary Ann is carrying baggage with their marriage.
Maybe Ray isn’t good at grocery shopping or keeping the house clean, but he can protect his children from the forces that threaten them and “bring his family back together.” Well, he can protect his daughter, at least. A sign that the film is probably a dream, is that, when his son runs off and is caught in the explosion, there is no way he could have survived that, but because his unconscious is motivated by a contradiction (to be rid of the conflict he has with his son but to save him at the same time) the dream allows him to be caught in the explosion but still alive when the family is reunited. Note that Robbie is wearing the same clothes, and has the same dirt on his face when he steps out to see his father in Boston; so although he’s been with his mother, he hasn’t changed clothes or gotten cleaned up, a sign that this is a dream and not a real event. (For more on dreams, please see Se7en and Eighth Deadly Sin and Inception: Power, Revenge and Frustrated Staircases).
GAME THEORY: there is Game Theory, and then there is play. In games, there are rules which must be followed, but it the foundation of game theory is that those who make the rules, make rules that will benefit themselves and help themselves win, or stay in power. Converesely, the opponent, or the one whom the rules do not favor to win, must do something to “creatively” swing the odds into their favor. Braveheart is an excellent example of Game vs. Play.
Ready to play? Mel Gibson in Braveheart.
The rules of warfare favored the English, however, William Wallace (Mel Gibson) arrives back in the village of his birth, and his childhood friend challenges him to a contest of strength in throwing the rocks. William throwing the small rock at the forehead of the big man, invokes the story of David and Goliath, and that just as David expertly employed the slingshot and rock to take down the giant Goliath, so William would expertly employ the landscape and guerilla tactics to take down the Goliath army of the British.
The Royal Tenenbaums, 2001.
Another example of “Game” and “Play” is The Royal Tenenbaums. Each member of the family “plays” at something: Margot (Gwyntheth Paltrow) writes “plays,” Richie plays tennis, Chas (Ben Stiller) stages play disaster scenarios, Etheline (Angelica Houston) plays Bridge and Royal (Gene Hackman) plays at being sick. At one point, Royal stands within a closet filled with board games and this really provides the thesis of the film: they are all so consumed with “play,” the family has no rules to govern their behavior and so they have never “grown-up” up, but have remained in this state of immaturity and undevelopment so that Royal, who has no authority as a husband or parent, can’t save his family.
The trailer for Moneyball is a very important kind of application of game theory:

Here with have a literal game, but the question is, why is this movie being made? Just as Coach Beane changed the great game of baseball, so Americans are changing the game of capitalism in a time of economic severity: learning to take what we have and create new advantages and opportunities with it, analyzing what the rules are about, and how we can play them to our advantage. This is a very moral approach to the problem, given the “play” of the stock market by Bernie Madoff and company for his own gain and the ruin brought to millions of Americans.

Poker and international terrorism, anyone?
A few other quick examples of “Game” and “Play” are Ben-Hur (in the chariot race, there are no rules in the arena) and another Mel Gibson flick, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdom where the only rule is “Two men enter, one man leaves.” WarGames with Matthew Broderick revolves around the un-winnable game of tic-tac-toe and global thermo-nucleur warfare. Casino Royale revolves around the “game” of poker and James Bond’s ability to out-play the villain.
HISTORY: History and art don’t mix. When History tries to achieve the status of art, it can become too dramatic, too blurred (there are many documentaries I am thinking of which appear on some channels aim more towards entertainment rather than fact). Contrariwise, art doesn’t mix with history, but the difference is, art doesn’t intend to mix with history: art doesn’t care about the historical accuracies, it only cares about the trans-cultural values it can poach from history. For example, there was a huge stink made when The Passion of the Christ was released, “historians,” complained about historical inaccuracy when a raven plucked out the eye of the thief who mocked Christ to take them down from the Cross. No, this wasn’t historical accuracy (and to accuse it of not being historically accurate is like accusing apples of not being orange). The raven represents death and the eye represents the loss of wisdom, because the thief failed “to see” the Work of Christ’s Cross.
Elizabeth, 1998.
When art references history, for example, in Elizabeth, it’s not referencing history; the writers and director see within a particular historical time period or event, something they feel will offer a suitable vehicle for encoding a contemporary message. In other words, there is nothing historical about history films, they are always contemporary; if they are historical, then they are documentaries and not films.
St. George Slaying the Dragon.
HORSE:  For ages, the horse was the most important animal because it was the primary means of transportation and a status symbol. In Freud’s psychoanalysis, he likened the id, ego and superego to a rider on horseback, but in Christianity, the horse represents the heart and the soul united, because they have been disciplined. (For further discussion, please see The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Battle For America).

HOUSE/HOME: The house or the home usually represents the soul, so when the house is in poor shape, so is the soul; the question to be answered is, “Whose soul?”
The home is such an important symbol, especially in dreams, that Sigmund Freud wrote a special essay on it, “Das Unheimlich,” literally, “The un-home-like,” but usually translated as “the uncanny.” The Shining  Jack (Jack Nicholson) moves his family into the Overlook Hotel for a winter season so he can work on writing a book while he maintains the ski resort; when Jack begins to go insane, we are apt to “overlook” that they are not at home.
The Overlook Hotel from The Shining.
“Haunted houses” such as the “old house on Shadybrook Road” where Dracula just happens to live, wants to visualize to the viewer the state of the soul, and the house is a powerful symbol because the body houses the soul just as a home houses our bodies.  Conversely, there is the old yellow house in Walt Disney’s Summer Magic that represents the family being put back together again.
IMPLIED VIEWER/READER: A friend and myself had gone to see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and were astounded that the characters were “flying.” It was only later that my brother, a film afficiondo in his own right, schooled me that, in Samurai films, enlightened warriors can fly. Far from making Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon look ridiculous for “flying people,” it was my friend and myself who looked ridiculous for not being informed viewers.
There are times when a film or other work of art intentionally seeks to communicate something by referencing something from history, current events, a tradition or another work of art. By somehow invoking that “outside knowledge” the viewer/reader brings to the art (their “baggage,” so to speak), the artist is able to deepen the means of communication with the audience, thereby, enrichening the experience of the art.  
Genius Claude E. Shannon.
INFORMATION THEORY: Originally developed by super-genius Claude E. Shannon, Information theory articulates what counts as information and what does not; why something counts as information and why something does not.
Let us say that we are in Phoenix, Arizona, and someone comes in and says, “It’s going to be hot tomorrow.” That does count as information, however, because it is always hot in Phoenix, the unit of information is very small because there is a very small element of surprise; if, on the other hand, someone comes in and says, “There is a good chance of snow for tomorrow,” that counts as a larger unit of information because it rarely, if ever, snows in Phoenix so the surprise factor is greater. Likewise, someone walks in and says, “It is snowing in Phoenix,” is an even larger unit of information because someone may be tempted to think it was the end of the world; “It is raining frogs” is the largest unit of information because that has the greatest element of surprise.
Art, which contains the greatest amount of information, also contains the greatest element of surprise and vice versa, art which contains the greatest amount of surprise also contains the greatest amount of information. We get bored when we are being given information which we already have or which is so obvious, we do not need to be given it.
There are two additional elements to information I would like to touch on here: the method in which we receive the information and redundancy. 

The colorized Casablanca that never should have happened.

In Casablanca, Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) lets Rick (Humphrey Bogart) know that he knows that Rick ran guns to the independent fighters and throughout Rick’s life, he tended to side with the underdogs; this is “surprising” information because it is not something the audience would be able to deduce about Rick on their own. When Victor (Paul Henreid) basically repeats the same information to Rick, we all ready know that, so there is no new information because there is no surprise to what is being said. (Please see "Redundancy" below for more information on Information theory). 
On the surface, Information theory seems very basic and an unnecessary tool within the critic’s arsenal of decoding art, but when one is having difficulty understanding what art is attempting to convey, it is helpful to start with the precepts of information theory and see where there is a breakdown of information, where there is or is not surprise and the vehicles used to transmit information.
Founder of Deconstruction, Jacques Derrida.
MAGINALIZATION: This is one of my favorite tricks, brought into philosophical parlance by theorist Jacques Derrida, (by the way, be very, very careful about using the term “margins of philosophy,” or dropping the name Derrida… he hasn’t many friends, especially in established philosophical circles). Imagine that a child, learning to read, comes across a word in the text which they cannot pronounce; most children skip over the word and leave it by the wayside, moving onto the words they do understand. Derrida suggested that we do the same thing in art and literature: when we come to an idea, moment or example that we don’t understand, we “push it off to the side, the margins of our thought,” and basically forget about it; the problem is, that is what usually contains the vital clue to understanding the encounter with the art. To some degree, the old adage to playwrights that, “If you are going to have someone stabbed in the fifth act, you have to introduce the knife by the second act,” applies to marginalia because the audience would forget about the knife…until someone was stabbed with it.
The Exorcist, stairwell in final battle.
Georgetown, Washington D.C.
For example, in The Exorcist, when Father Damien is thrown out Regan’s window and he falls down the stairs, the word “PIGS” is written on the wall/stairwell, literally, in the margin of the (left side of the) screen:  this refers to the New Testament account when Jesus exorcised a legion of demons out of a man and sent the demons into the herd of swine and the swine ran over the cliff. By bringing this important clue “away from the margin” and into the light of the rest of the film, our understanding of the film and of the important role of Father Damien in saving Regan is much more fully understood in the fulfillment of his vocation as a priest in fighting spiritual warfare. 
Theatrical poster, The Exorcist.
NIGHT AND DAY: Night usually refers to a time of trial and purgation, as in the Song of Songs and Book of Wisdom from the Bible. While it’s a time of growth and maturity, it’s also usually quite painful. The reason why old creepy houses are almost always approached at night is because the house represents a dark part of the person’s soul and the final overcoming of that part of their soul is a part of their spiritual trials, represented by the darkness. Day and dawn usually denote a awakening and a new time of growth, since everything require sunlight in order to live.
In Inception, the city has been turned
upside-down, or perverted.
PERVERSION: As G.K. Chesterton said, "Any scene can be more freshly and clearly seen when it is seen upside down," and Diogenes wrote, "Bury me on my head, for very soon, this world will be turned upside down." Literally, “perverse” means to “turn upside-down.” It’s used in sexuality to mean that something is being used for sexual ends that should not be used sexually, i.e., children, or monkeys. In art, however, it means that something has been “turned upside-down” so we can have an alternative perspective or so something which may not be able to be discussed openly, can be discussed even if that is only heavily encoded. Please see my post Inception:Powe, Revenge and Frustrated Staircases.
REDUNDANCY: a part of Information theory (please see above) and a branch of Chaos theory, Redundancy occurs when there is information given that is being wasted, i.e., there is no new element of "surprise" attached to it. For example, in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, there is a redundancy of information when Holmes first thinks about a plan of attack to "discombobulate" someone, and then he carries it out; Holmes' thought processes about it are redundant in the film because--as viewers--we willing suspend our disbelief that anything Holmes decides to do, he will and it will go according to his plan because film heroes have a limitless will power. Similarly, in Casablanca, both Captain Louis and Victor convey the same information that Rick ran guns for the underdogs; when Victor tells the audience that, no new information is added so that is redundant.
Redundancy, however, can be used to convey information. For example, a line in The Apartment, we see rows and rows of office "stalls," and then Jack Lemmon's character in the middle of them: the redundancy of this scene conveys that Jack himself is in a redundant situation and needs to get out, while at the same time expressing how a redundant world sucks the life out of us.
The Nuremburg Chronicle depicting Lot's wife (in the center) already
turned into a pillar of salt as Sodom is destroyed.
SALT:  it’s a confusing symbol, salt, for Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt as punishment for looking back at Sodom and Gomorrah as they burned, yet Christ told us to be the salt of the earth, so how is this to be reconciled?  Salt is necessary for life.  Even the ascetic desert fathers, those athletes of God who endured the greatest fasts humans have ever experienced, would take some salt with their food when they ate; salt is also necessary for preserving food.  As usual, we need only look to Mary to understand the difference:  Mary is the good salt, for when she and John the Evangelist left Jerusalem, she took with her—preserved—the Stations of the Cross, the Sacrifice of Calvary, and all that Jesus had taught her; Lot’s wife, on the other hand, wanted to preserve the life she had led in Sodom, and since she perverted the role God was calling her to, a pillar of His Way of life, and she preserved what God was destroying instead of what He wanted to
So, for example, in Mr. And Mrs. Smith John (Brad Pitt) keeps asking Jane (Angelina Jolie) to pass the salt and she refuses; he is asking her to give him that good salt that preserves the love and intimacy they once had, but she hears him asking her to do something for him, not do something for them both.
Lot's Wife pillar, Mount Sodom, Israel.
SLEEP AND ILLNESS:  In the Song of Songs, the beloved is put to sleep, and this represents a necessary rest.  It’s not the sleep of, for example, Sleeping Beauty, where because of her pricking her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel (which represents the loss of her virginity to the young man she met in the woods instead of marrying the Prince she is destined for) sleep here represents a “temporary death” because of the death of sin; similarly, with Snow White, it requires the kiss to awaken the soul.  (Please see The Kiss and Soul: Gustav Klimt).
Yul Brynner as Pharoah in The Ten Commandments.
STONE:  on the one hand, Pharoah’s heart was “hard as stone,” and on the other, we are called to be “living stones,” for Christ, so which is it? Pharoah’s heart was hardened as stone as a sign that it would not receive God’s grace.  Becoming “hardened” is often associated with sin because stone doesn’t “drink” water, and water is a symbol for God’s Grace; so when a person is hardened, they are dead to the spiritual life.  Contraiwise, when a person is alive with God’s grace, they are fortified and strengthened and this strength makes them to be as strong as stone and steadfast.
Johnny Depp as failed director Ed Wood.
SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF: the “willing suspension of disbelief,” is like a contract between the artist and the audience: the artist says, “If you will put aside your doubts, I will give you a wonderful story,” and the audience says, “Okay, we will put aside doubts, now give us a good story.” You don’t question whether or not trees can really talk, as in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, or if James Bond can really survive a thirty thousand foot fall by opening his parachute at the last three seconds as in Quantum of Solace; in identifying with the characters entering into these situations, you want them to succeed, you want them to survive because—if the story is successful—you have invested yourself in them and for them to succeed is for you to succeed.
On the other hand, there are also certain obligations of the artist to insure that your suspension of disbelief is well-earned: in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, tombstones falling over, bad costumes, and actor changes create so much chaos, you can't suspend your disbelief unless you just aren't watching the movie. 
Excalibur and the Lady of the Lake by Aubrey Beardsley. 
SWORD: symbolizes the Sword of Truth and it allows us to break the bond that sin has over us, to undo the slavery of sin; the Truth that we were meant to be free in Christ, allows us to accurately take aim and recognize how a sin enslaves us and by the Grace that represents the power of the sword, we are able to break that hold of sin. Excalibur is perhaps the most famous sword in history. Consider, however in 1981 version of Clash of the Titans when Perseus is at Medusa's temple and he drops his sword, a giant serpent slithers around it and he can't take hold of it. The serpent represents Original Sin, and its intertwining around the Sword of Truth means that Perseus' own sin could keep him from accurately discerning how to use the Sword to defeat Medusa. However, his patience and agility allow him to not only regain the Sword, but use it to gain the head of Medusa. Please see The Medusa Within: Clash of the Titans.
Tree of Death in Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow of 1999.
Trees and Wood: this will nearly always be a sign of the Cross and of atonement, except, of course, when there is evil about, and then the trees will be twisted, for example, in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (1999), the Headless Horseman lives in “the tree of death” which acts as a sign of the general death of faith.
Baptism of Christ by Francesco Albani, 1600s.
Water:  Water is vital to life, but it also destroys.  There are the waters of Baptism, and the waters of the Flood.  There is the water that cleanses and the water that contaminates.  Water, when used as a symbol of vitality and life, is often to be associated with God’s Grace, that is, God’s own Life Force entering into a person and sustaining them. 
From the 2005 film Constantine wherein "water" is considered a universal conductor.
An excellent example of both uses of water’s symbolism can be found in the Coen Brothers’ O, Brother, Where Art Thou? First, the boys get baptized in a river, then later, probably along the same river, they are tempted by the “sirens” into sexual activity.