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Old 03-24-2020, 06:48 PM   #1
Cremildo Cremildo is offline
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Symbolism is the use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities, by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal sense.

Symbolism can take different forms. Generally, it is an object representing another, to give an entirely different meaning that is much deeper and more significant. Sometimes, however, an action, an event or a word spoken by someone may have a symbolic value. For instance, “smile” is a symbol of friendship. Similarly, the action of someone smiling at you may stand as a symbol of the feeling of affection which that person has for you.

Symbols do shift their meanings depending on the context they are used in. “A chain,” for example, may stand for “union” as well as “imprisonment”. Thus, symbolic meaning of an object or an action is understood by when, where, and how it is used. It also depends on who reads the work. source
Not sure if many of you will relate to this, but identifying and decoding symbolism in movies is often a challenge for me. Sometimes I watch a movie (generally an arthouse one), then read an analysis of it and go, "Oh, so that image/object/camera angle/sound/etc. was supposed to convey [insert meaning]."

Discussing how filmmakers can achieve meaning through non-literal representation might be a way to deepen our understanding not only of specific titles but also of artistic expression itself.

What are the most revelatory examples of symbolism in movies for you? Which filmmakers are adept at it in your opinion? Are there any instances that still confound you?


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Old 03-24-2020, 06:56 PM   #2
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Old 03-24-2020, 07:04 PM   #3
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The scene from Blade Runner where Roy puts a nail in his hand. It draws parallels to Jesus Christ, the nail is important in the overarching film. It helps to develop Roy's internal character even more. His shaking of the hand represents his uncertainty of his mortality. He needs to calm himself down and by putting a nail in his hand, he understands his destiny. Although this isn't the scene where Roy decides to spare Deckard, it is a crucial scene in developing the eventual epiphany of Roy. The nail scene builds up to the famous "Tears in the Rain" soliloquy while still serving a symbolic purpose.
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Old 03-24-2020, 07:44 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Himmel View Post
The scene from Blade Runner where Roy puts a nail in his hand. It draws parallels to Jesus Christ, the nail is important in the overarching film. It helps to develop Roy's internal character even more. His shaking of the hand represents his uncertainty of his mortality. He needs to calm himself down and by putting a nail in his hand, he understands his destiny. Although this isn't the scene where Roy decides to spare Deckard, it is a crucial scene in developing the eventual epiphany of Roy. The nail scene builds up to the famous "Tears in the Rain" soliloquy while still serving a symbolic purpose.
Hmm, I dunno ...

In Christianity the nail through the hand might represent the cruxification = dying for our sins. That's not the theme of Blade Runner. Roy just has to die because his life span ends, he doesn't choose do die for anybody. His death is not a moral choice but a technical factor.

I'd say Roy puts the nail through his hand because he is close to death and wants to feel any intense sensation. The pain reminds him that he is still alive and capable to feel llike a human being, something he longs to be right to his very end.

Of course I respect your interpretation, just offering a different view. Sometimes a cigar ist just a cigar.


On another note, I still don't know what the makers of THE NAKED GUN 2 1/2 wanted to symbolize with this montage.

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Old 03-24-2020, 07:57 PM   #5
Alister_M Alister_M is offline
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Robocop also has a lot of "christ-like" symbolism. Particularly the shot where he walks through a puddle while shooting (walking on water), and when he's being tortured by Boddicker right before he stabs him in the neck (spear of destiny). In addition to the whole death-and-resurrection theme that defines the character.
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Old 03-24-2020, 10:12 PM   #6
TajSamKojiJesam TajSamKojiJesam is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cremildo View Post
Not sure if many of you will relate to this, but identifying and decoding symbolism in movies is often a challenge for me. Sometimes I watch a movie (generally an arthouse one), then read an analysis of it and go, "Oh, so that image/object/camera angle/sound/etc. was supposed to convey [insert meaning]."
In my experience, picking up on symbolic patterns generally becomes more spontaneous and second-nature over time as you watch more movies and read director interviews to see what the filmmakers themselves have to say.
You might also want to read up on symbology. There's books and articles on film criticism of course, but for me some of the most helpful resources were perennialist books such as Manly P. Hall's masterpiece Secret Teachings of All Ages. Since many directors and critics are into psychoanalysis, Freud, Jung and similar authors can also help.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cremildo View Post
What are the most revelatory examples of symbolism in movies for you?
I don't think I was much interested in movie symbology until I watched James Quandt's video essays on Teshigahara's films years ago. He had some insights on Woman in the Dunes (1964) that never popped into my mind yet are very intuitive.
For example the shots of feet entering the cottage whose doorstep is overflown with sand. Quandt sees this as an elegant symbol of untamed nature and primitive lifestyle where humans are subordinate to nature rather than the other way around.
The Japanese custom of taking off one's shoes when entering a house isn't only practical/hygienic, but also rooted in Shinto purification rituals. One might say that the doorstep is what separates the filthy outside world from the purity of home. In a way it's a classic spiritual metaphor of exiting the Material and entering the Ineffable.
So, the metaphor in Woman in the Dunes indicates that the film's world isn't one of spiritual orderliness. Rather, it's a materialistic vision of Sand as an entropic force that threatens to swallow the house whole, and the protagonists' actions are focused on fighting this entropy. The doorstep's border erased by sand is an encapsulation of this concept of a naturalistic world where benchmarks of civilization, morality and truth aren't visible and what remains is insect-like struggle for survival.

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Old 03-24-2020, 10:34 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David Lee Parks View Post
I'd say Roy puts the nail through his hand because he is close to death and wants to feel any intense sensation. The pain reminds him that he is still alive and capable to feel llike a human being, something he longs to be right to his very end.
I completely agree with your interpretation.
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Old 03-24-2020, 10:39 PM   #8
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Put The Matrix trilogy down for even more Christ symbolism--not particularly subtle given that
[Show spoiler]the main character literally dies and is reborn as a prophesied savoir, then sacrifices himself in the last movie to purify the world
. But the point is driven home by the names (Neo, an anagram for "One," and a word meaning "New," has a relationship with Trinity), numerology (the first movie begins and ends in hotel room 303), and the visual representations/framing in certain scenes (one of my favorites being the shot in the Merovingian's castle, where Neo stands in front of an angelic mural so it looks like he has light and wings coming out of his back).

I feel like the Christ parallels (specially the pose of having one's arms outstretched) appears very often. Keanu Reeves does it again at the end of Constantine. Cool Hand Luke has one shot where the guy does this pose, and I'm pretty sure Luke's characterization is meant to mirror Christ's in the way he challenged authority (as Christ did when he kicked the money-changers out of the temple) and saw through certain things (like the temptation of the girl washing a car). Donnie Darko does the same thing as Donnie challenges dogmatic teachers and exposes one of them for a heinous crime, and Donnie goes on to
[Show spoiler]sacrifice himself (or rather, time-travel and embrace death) to save others
.

And, of course, Superman is loaded with parallels. The '78 film makes it explicit with the "father becomes the son" dialogue. Superman Returns features a shot of Superman doing the Jesus pose in front of the sun--given that the sun is typically a symbol for God (and Superman gets his power from the sun), this is as on-the-nose as it gets.

There are probably many more examples I'm forgetting--I feel like it's everywhere.

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Old 03-24-2020, 10:57 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TajSamKojiJesam View Post
In my experience, picking up on symbolic patterns generally becomes more spontaneous and second-nature over time as you watch more movies and read director interviews to see what the filmmakers themselves have to say.
You might also want to read up on symbology. There's books and articles on film criticism of course, but for me some of the most helpful resources were perennialist books such as Manly P. Hall's masterpiece Secret Teachings of All Ages. Since many directors and critics are into psychoanalysis, Freud, Jung and similar authors can also help.

I don't think I was much interested in movie symbology until I watched James Quandt's video essays on Teshigahara's films years ago. He had some insights on Woman in the Dunes (1964) that never popped into my mind yet are very intuitive.
For example the shots of feet entering the cottage whose doorstep is overflown with sand. Quandt sees this as an elegant symbol of untamed nature and primitive lifestyle where humans are subordinate to nature rather than the other way around.
The Japanese custom of taking off one's shoes when entering a house isn't only practical/hygienic, but also rooted in Shinto purification rituals. One might say that the doorstep is what separates the filthy outside world from the purity of home. In a way it's a classic spiritual metaphor of exiting the Material and entering the Ineffable.
So, the metaphor in Woman in the Dunes indicates that the film's world isn't one of spiritual orderliness. Rather, it's a materialistic vision of Sand as an entropic force that threatens to swallow the house whole, and the protagonists' actions are focused on fighting this entropy. The doorstep's border erased by sand is an encapsulation of this concept of a naturalistic world where benchmarks of civilization, morality and truth aren't visible and what remains is insect-like struggle for survival.
The Kindle edition of The Secret Teachings of All Ages is just 77 cents on Amazon. I might as well pull the trigger. Thanks for the recommendation.

I did a Google search on Quandt and Woman in the Dunes (a film that I found deeply enigmatic when I watched it for the first time) and, much to my surprise, I realized that I had already watched his video essay which, needless to say, was quite enlightening. That's precisely the kind of thing I had in mind when creating the thread.
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Old 03-24-2020, 10:58 PM   #10
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Uncomfortable as it is, "Sword of Doom" had one glaring example of visual storytelling when a woman is raped and rather than show the act there's an uninterrupted shot of a log hammering a hole in a watermill where the deed is done.
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Old 03-25-2020, 01:33 AM   #11
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Malick is a master of this in film. Scene in A Hidden Life where the wife is writing to her husband about burning the weeds out of the crop. Lot being said here in a few seconds. Shes telling her husband she has faith in him and has burned all doubt from her. Also ties into what Jesus said in the Bible about weeds in the crop.

Seems like every time I rewatch a Malick film, discover more of what his imagery and dialogue is saying.
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Old 03-25-2020, 01:50 AM   #12
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I can only think of Ralph Wiggum, and his comments on the final shot of The Departed:

"The rat symbolizes obviousness."
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Old 03-25-2020, 02:48 AM   #13
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John Woo and his white doves.

"When we were shooting the final scene of The Killer on the church set, I was trying to find a way to show the true spirit of the two protagonists – the cop and the killer – in a movie this heroic and romantic. Both have been misunderstood by the world and I wanted to figure out a montage or a shot that would somehow reveal their true character. It suddenly occurred to me to put some white doves in the scene. When our hero was shot, I cut to the white doves flying over and it looked beautiful. When those two shots were edited together, somehow the viewer could feel the heart of the movie. Also, these guys have done some bad things in their lives but their souls got saved in the end, which I also wanted to express through this image ".

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Old 03-25-2020, 03:33 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Himmel View Post
The scene from Blade Runner where Roy puts a nail in his hand. It draws parallels to Jesus Christ...
I agree with this interpretation, as Roy is the “prodigal son” as quoted by his Creator/Father, Dr. Tyrell.

Quote:
Originally Posted by David Lee Parks View Post
Hmm, I dunno ...

In Christianity the nail through the hand might represent the cruxification = dying for our sins. That's not the theme of Blade Runner. Roy just has to die because his life span ends, he doesn't choose do die for anybody. His death is not a moral choice but a technical factor.
Have you considered that the crucifixion symbolizes the defeat of death by life, i.e., Roy saves the life of Deckard, and in doing so, finds redemption and forgiveness for his sins? For example, his confession to his Creator that he has done "questionable things,” illustrates his moral conflict, and in his act for humanity, provides an example which Deckard later follows in his decision to spare and assist Rachael (there’s a biblical name for you!)

Now, if indeed Deckard was a replicant, wait...
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Old 03-25-2020, 04:29 AM   #15
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!&?--^>
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Old 03-26-2020, 06:00 PM   #16
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Storytelling-wise, I see the nail as a little turbo boost at the end of Roy's life or 'over-clocking', so to speak, to have a short extension to finish his fight with Deckard.

One has to ask why a nail was specifically chosen (a big long one at that) and specifically piercing the hand? If pain was the objective, then a brick to the head would have achieved the same blunt purpose.

Narratively, Roy dies because that is his programming/fate/destiny, deliberately made so by his maker/god. The maker/god decided the life span of Roy and other replicants.

If we are to really read into Roy's sins, they are really not his; he was simply following orders as a replicant soldier. It was the humans who created Roy and deployed Roy's combat unit to fight. So Roy was created to sin on behalf of humans who did not want to get their hands dirty.

At the end Roy comes to the realization of his actions (no worse than actions of humans) and redeems himself by saving Deckard, or humanity. He is washed clean of his sins, by the rain, a metaphor for rebirth/baptism. Not to mention the flying rat (dove) at this point...

We humans, playing gods, commit atrocities against fellow humans and replicants but it is a replicant who ends up redeeming his own soul and earns the symbolic eternal life... And same thing happens at the end of BR2049.
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Old 03-26-2020, 07:08 PM   #17
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For an opposite perspective, I'll leave Andrei Tarkovsky's thoughts on symbolism here.

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If you look for a meaning, you'll miss everything that happens.
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An image cannot be a symbol in my opinion. Whenever an image is turned into a symbol, the thought becomes walled in so to speak, it can be fully deciphered. That's not what image is. A symbol is not yet an image. Although image cannot be explained, it expresses truth to the end... Its meaning remains unknown. I was asked once what the bird on boy's head in The Mirror meant. But any time I attempt to explain, I notice everything loses its meaning, it acquires a completely different sense than intended, moves away from its rightful place. I could only say a bird would not come to an evil man but that's not good enough. A true image is an abstraction, it cannot be explained, it only transmits truth and one can only comprehend it in one's own heart. Because of that it's impossible to analyse a work of art by utilizing its intellectual significance.
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Mysterious elements in my films? I think people somehow got the idea that everything on screen should be immediately understandable. In my opinion events of our everyday lives are much more mysterious than those we can witness on screen. If we attempted to recall all events, step by step, that took place during just one day of our life and then showed them on screen, the result would be hundred times more mysterious than my film [Stalker]. Audiences got used to simplistic drama. Whenever a moment of realism appears on screen, a moment of truth, it is immediately followed by voices declaring it "confusing." Many think of Stalker as a science fiction film. But this film is not based on fantasy, it is realism on film. Try to accept its content as a record of one day in lives of three people, try to see it on this level and you'll find nothing complex, mysterious, or symbolic in it.
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I never create allegories. I create my own world. That world does not signify anything unusual. It just exists, it has no other meaning. I think symbol and allegory rob the artist. Creator brings up images which express, reveal life the way it is. They are not Aesop's fables. This manner of working would be too primitive not only for the contemporary art but for art of any era. Artistic image possesses an infinity of meanings just like life carries an infinity of meanings. An image changed into a symbol cannot be analysed. When I create my images I use no symbolism of any kind. I want to create an image, not a symbol.
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Old 03-26-2020, 08:30 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by cgpublic View Post
Have you considered that the crucifixion symbolizes the defeat of death by life
In Christianity the cruxification symbolizes dying for our sins. The symbolic defeat of death by life comes later with the resurrection. Only then death is overcome in a mythological sense.

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Originally Posted by cgpublic View Post
Roy saves the life of Deckard, and in doing so, finds redemption and forgiveness for his sins? For example, his confession to his Creator that he has done "questionable things,” illustrates his moral conflict, and in his act for humanity, provides an example which Deckard later follows in his decision to spare and assist Rachael (there’s a biblical name for yout...
That’s a nice train of thought.
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Old 03-26-2020, 09:45 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David Lee Parks View Post
In Christianity the cruxification symbolizes dying for our sins. The symbolic defeat of death by life comes later with the resurrection. Only then death is overcome in a mythological sense.
If you are speaking of your own personal interpretation, perfectly understood.

To be clear, for many, the cross, and by extension the crucifixion, represents both as inseparable, his sacrifice and the defeat of death by everlasting life:

Quote:
For Paul, the crucifixion of Jesus is directly related to his resurrection and the term "the cross of Christ" used in Galatians 6:12 may be viewed as his abbreviation of the message of the gospels. For Paul, the crucifixion of Jesus was not an isolated event in history, but a cosmic event with significant eschatological consequences, as in 1 Corinthians 2:8. In the Pauline view, Jesus, obedient to the point of death (Philippians 2:8) died "at the right time" (Romans 4:25) based on the plan of God. For Paul the "power of the cross" is not separable from the Resurrection of Jesus.
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Originally Posted by David Lee Parks View Post
That’s a nice train of thought
Thanks! There's a wealth of differing opinions about the film, the intent of the author, director and screenwriters.

Symbolism provides a path for the viewer to find their own interpretation, without judgement, and therein the beauty.
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Old 03-26-2020, 11:01 PM   #20
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I don't think Roy Batty saving Deckard's life in the end, had anything to do with redemption. I believe he - a replicant - had developed empathy and that empathy encouraged him to save the life of another, as his last act in life. This is mirrored in Deckard's growing empathy for Rachael, which evolves into love.

The whole theme or motif in Blade Runner revolves around androids becoming more human than humans themselves.
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