Öykü Canli, Senior Editor, Film
This is the second in a series of monthly articles to follow in which Öykü Canli takes a deep look into symbolism and meaning in film.
Do we truly grasp the movies we watch? What's this "reading a film" anyway? How does one "read" a movie? How do we truly understand it? Can we unravel its deeper meanings? Or are you thinking, "Isn't watching the movie enough? Why 'read' it too?"
There are two kinds of movie-goers: the watchers and the readers. The watchers indulge in films for entertainment, lessons, or to stir some emotions within them. The readers, however, are art enthusiasts; while they relish the viewing experience, they search for a deeper meaning in everything they see on screen, finding profound pleasure in their discoveries.
So, how does one "read" a movie?
If we truly want to understand a film, it's essential to familiarize ourselves with the scriptwriter and the director. What are their past works? What themes do they typically explore? What's their style? Filmmaking is profoundly subjective, a reflection of the director's personal narrative. To truly get it, it's crucial to know the storyteller. After that, we can embark on our film "reading" journey.
Throughout the movie, pay attention to dialogues, quotes, advertisements, room numbers, car plates, the color of objects, how and where they're used, costumes, makeup, lighting, cinematography... everything on screen. All these can have hidden meanings. For instance, a room number could correspond to a Biblical verse, revealing something about a character's personality, hinting at forthcoming events, or even issuing a warning. Take for example, early in a film, there are coffee and milk on the table and it is in the morning. A character might drink milk instead of coffee. This could be a subtle nod to the character who might do something bad because milk represents sin in the cinema. As the movie progresses, the director might flesh this out, but catching onto it early adds a special thrill to the viewing experience.
Props like books, even if they appear briefly, aren't there without a reason. They relate to the story in some manner. Similarly, if a recurring animal figure, say a dog (which might symbolize bad luck), keeps popping up, we can interpret its presence based on mythology, psychology, or religious connotations. We should also note when these figures appear – during moments of fear, reflection, or revelation. Each instance can be pieced together for deeper meaning.
Some films are designed to offer an experience and deliberately leave things open-ended. The same movie might be interpreted as religious criticism by one viewer and as a critique of capitalism by another – and neither would be wrong. Such movies don't just serve up a tale; they challenge viewers to think, interpret, and engage with the story.
Remember, nothing in movies is shown without purpose. Every element has been deliberately placed for our observation, carrying a certain significance. Approaching movies with this perspective can enhance our film "reading" capabilities.