In the current filmmaking landscape, studios are attempting to limit the amount of personal style a director can inject into a film in an effort to make every film identical to one another and marketable to everyone. As a result, it is hard to find modern directors who’s entire filmography warrants a viewing, yet while this epidemic is plaguing filmmaking, there are still a series of directors who have been able to go against this grain. For this article I have chosen to talk about Denis Villeneuve, who’s latest film, Arrival, has shown that mainstream audiences are into more than the spoon feeding formulaic films that are taking over Cinema. The reason Villeneuve style is able to appeal to mass audiences is because it provides exactly what mainstream films are lacking in. The hand holding films of today give audiences everything that they need to understand a story so that they feel complete and can go about their day by the end of it. Conversely, Villeneuve’s films invite the audience into the world of the film and presents them with thoughts that by the end are not answered by the film’s plot and instead deal with their own personal thoughts on morality and life.
Before Villeneuve is able to make the audience contemplate his films far after they leave the theater, he first has to make sure he grabs their attention during the film so thy pay attention to the complex themes he attempts to tackle. The easiest way to do this is to make the audience engaged with what is going on throughout the entirety of the film. Most films often have moments that drag on and cause the audience to break concentration with the film. However, there is one genre of film that allows a director to make sure the audience is searching every aspect of it; this is the mystery genre. By having the characters in the story try to solve a mystery or crime, the audience by default follows suit and pays attention to not only every scene but also every object in every scene so they can solve the mystery. The reason that audiences do this is because it is inherent for people to want to appear smart and ahead of not only the characters in the film but the people they are watching it with. Because of this motivation to want to be smarter than everyone else, they take the mystery of the film as a personal objective and in doing so Villeneuve is easily able to get the audience immersed in the world of the film.
Now the concept of immersing the audience into a film through mystery is not a groundbreaking trick of filmmaking, however Villeneuve uses it a bit differently than most directors are able to do. Once you have an audience this deeply engaged into your film’s mystery, you can easily run into several risks. When the film’s mystery is too easy to solve and the audience figures out what is going on halfway through the film, the audience will get mad at the main characters for not figuring it out sooner. On the other side, if the mystery is too hard to solve, the audience will get angry with the director for making them feel dumb. In order to make sure either of these issues is not present, in the closing scenes of his films, Villeneuve makes it apparent to the audience that the actual plot of the film is not what matters, but instead the real importance lies in what the plot has to say about morality. By restructuring the point of the film’s mystery seconds before the credits roll, the audience realizes that all of the lines they have been drawing between clues in the film do not pertain to the film’s story but to real life morality. As a result, the audience leaves the film and tries to recontextulize the meaning they though the evidence provided. Ultimately, even though this route takes much longer, once the audience comes to terms about what the film is trying to express, their sense of accomplishment is much more than what they would have got if they were spoon-fed the plot in a traditional mystery.
While it seems like most films released do not evoke much thought once you leave the theater, it is nice to know that there are still filmmakers who’s goal is to leave lasting impressions in our minds. Whether it is a film from a few years ago such as Prisoners, or his newest film Arrival, Denis Villeneuve will make sure audiences can go to the theater and leave with something to take home. If you have not yet had the pleasure of watching one of his films, I recommend you check out his filmography because I promise Villeneuve will fill the void you may be feeling from the mind numbing action films that are dominating the film industry.
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