Bet MacArthur requests:
> While many of us would say that a film is .in itself. an interpretation of
> the makers' image --- here I am instead seeking suggestions of readily
> acquirable films from any period which .contain. scenes of a character(s)
> offering an interpretation about something to another character(s) -- whether
> of an event, or of the second person's (or someone else's) behavior, or of
> something the 2d person has said, or about a third party's behavior or
> Eg: the last scene of _Psycho_ where Martin Balsam explains (inerprets)
> the landscape of Norman Bates' madness to the gathered detectives. OR:
> Woody Allen following his wife around the apartment in _Deconstructing Harry_
> spewing any number of manipulative interpretations about her needs or
> intentions -- clearly 'acts of aggression' on his part.
As you say, there are numerous examples of this kind of thing, which is
a very common device of classical narrative form (appropriated, in
part, from fiction and drama). (BTW, the shrink at the end of PSYCHO is
played by Simon Oakland. Balsam--or his character, anyway--is dead by
You could start with any number of detective films, especially in
lower-budget series like the Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films, Charlie
Chan, Boston Blackie, etc. Even by the time of THE THIN MAN, the
device of gathering all the suspects together to explain everything had
become a subject for self-parody. Adaptations of Agatha Christie (eg,
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS) and others in the Poe-Conan Doyle British
tradition are easy to find, but explanations abound even in hard-boiled
American private eye and police films, from THE MALTESE FALCON to
CHINATOWN and LA CONFIDENTIAL. Also see the many films dealing with
serial killers, where the detective or a shrink profiles the offender
(eg., the current THE WATCHER, even if it isn't terribly good at it).
Many films dealing with the supernatural (eg, vampire movies, the Lon
Chaney WOLFMAN, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, etc.) offer explanations,
however far-fetched they may seem. Look at how Patrick Swayze
has to learn how to be dead in GHOST. Recent films like THE SIXTH
SENSE and THE KID are no exception. Foreign films such as Chen Kaige's
LIFE ON A STRING and Souleymane Cisse's BRIGHTNESS also offer
"explanations" based on particular belief systems.
As you also suggest, psychiatrists and psychologists offer many
examples. Some notable ones include Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND, Huston's
FREUD, ORDINARY PEOPLE, GOOD WILL HUNTING, and the current THE CELL.
The self-analysis in Woody Allen's films is often appropriated from
and/or parodying the kind of analysis in many of Bergman's films: WILD
STRAWBERRIES, PERSONA, just to name two.
The device is common in most other genres to one degree or another. In
Westerns, for example, "explanations" may range from why the bad guy is
buying up all the ranch land around in any number of B movies to deeper
matters, such as why Ethan Edwards really wants to find his niece in
THE SEARCHERS, and how the John Wayne and Montgomery Clift characters
feel about each other in RED RIVER, to why Gary Cooper feels compelled
to stay in town (and why no one will help him)in HIGH NOON .
Explananations of motives and motivations are common also in romances
and tearjerkers. (Shakespeare might have started it all with ROMEO AND
JULIET and ANTHONY AND CLEOPATRA.) As a tearjerker, STELLA DALLAS
might stand as an archetype.
Comedies (yes, including Jim Carrey) also use the device, often
approrpiating or parodying a particular genre. (Comic detective films
from Red Skelton's WHISTLING IN . . . series and some of Bob Hope's
films to ACE VENTURA, PET DETECTIVE; THE MASK and GHOSTBUSTERS as comic
supernatural films; etc.) Consider the rather unsatisfying genre
explanation scenes in post-Paramount Marx Brothers films, such as A DAY
AT THE RACES or THE BIG STORE. The Blue Brothers explain that they are
on a "mission from God."
And so on.
In fact, the device is so common that you might find it more
interesting to probe examples of where the "explanations" are
1) multiple but inconclusive (eg. CITIZEN KANE);
2) red herrings (as many critics have suggested about PSYCHO);
3) only implied by the narrative but never spoken by the characters
(eg., Coppola's THE CONVERSATION); or
4) virtually non-existent (most of Kubrick's films from 2001 on, even
in spite of the final "explanation" in EYES WIDE SHUT; the films of
Donald F. Larsson
English Department, AH 230
Minnesota State University
Mankato, MN 56001
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