While critically panned, The Beach (2000) is not as horrid as contemporary collective wisdom such as its Rotten Tomatoes score would make you believe. DiCaprio plays Richard, a young man on a quest for meaning who comes across an off-the-grid island in Thailand that is inhabited simultaneously by marijuana farmers and a cult-like community run by Sal (Tilda Swinton) – with both parties keeping to their respective side of the island. Richard thinks he has found paradise in this community and soon succumbs to madness while trying to protect his utopia from intruders from his past. In this scene of Richard’s hallucination, his perspective is transformed to that of Daffy, a character whom the audience – and Richard – meets at the start of the film and who also happens to be the insane man that started the island cult. Throughout this scene, Richard increasingly loses his subjectivity until his and Daffy’s are one in the same.
The scene opens with a medium close-up of Richard hidden behind leaves, a particular framing that signifies Richard’s loss of identity as well as his loose grasp on reality. After eating a worm, his transition into Daffy’s subjectivity begins. As he looks up, he sees the trees swirling and blurring which serves as a symbolic portal that leads to the mind of Richard and Daffy. Akin to the blurred visuals, Richard’s consciousness has entered a grey area between the sanity he once had and Daffy’s insanity that he will soon absorb. Next, the swirling trees dissolve into Richard’s walking in a hotel hallway whose set design immediately indicates to us that he is walking towards Daffy’s room from the start of the film. While the memorable bloodstained walls appear familiar, spears of light instantly draws our attention to the new addition of a plethora of bullet holes. The simultaneous familiarity and unfamiliarity with the room creates an uncanny feeling which properly translates into the new, combined subjectivity of Richard and Daffy. Reunited, Richard and Daffy move towards the window together, look out to one direction, shoot at the possible intruders as allies, and eventually merge into one vision in a conscientious shot through a singular pair of binoculars. Daffy and Richard’s victims fall down as if they are bad actors in a death scene, a falseness that gives surreal shape to Richard’s mental image of hallucination. While there is harmony between the two characters’ dispositions, there is a stark dissonance from reality when the viewer sees bodies fall so artificially. The joined subjectivity is further articulated at the end of the scene when Richard tells Daffy, “I’m with you all the way.”
Tara Zdancewicz is pursuing her MFA in Film and Television Studies at BU. She enjoys gushing about film to the undergraduates that she teaches.
Editor’s note: Musical in cinema is generally considered an American genre. The very first feature “talkie” The Jazz Singer (1927) is indeed a musical, selling sound as a novelty on the big screen. While musical directors from countries other than the U.S. often admit to being influenced by big Hollywoodian spectacles, the impulse to employ the emotional agency of music in cinema as soon as sound became accessible is not unique to the Americans, as demonstrated by French director René Clair who made Under the Roofs of Paris in 1930. Throughout the history of cinema, non-American musicals have greatly contributed to the sophistication and nuance of the genre. To accompany our Elements of Cinema screening of Jacques Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort, we picked 6 French musical movies that we think you should know, and watch.
Editor of Film Notes
Text By Tara Zdancewicz
Under the Roofs of Paris (Sous les toits de Paris) (1930) dir. René Clair
One of France’s first musicals was not very typical of the genre. With a somber tone, René Clair created a dismal representation of lower-class Paris that was very disparate from the cheerful, operatic musicals that were popular in France during the 30s. French moviegoers expected to be transported away from their problems at the movies, not reminded of them. The film follows a street singer named Albert that falls for Pola, a beautiful Romanian immigrant. However, two other men are also in love with Pola: Albert’s best friend Louis and the incredibly dangerous gangster Fred.
Armed with an MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Martha Coolidge studied acting before entering the filmmaking world in Los Angeles. Her first feature length film, Not a Pretty Picture (1976), told the semi-autobiographical incident of a date rape. Coolidge found her most commercial success with a variety of comedies in the 80s; most notably, for the Romeo and Juliet inspired Valley Girl (1983), which sparked the career of Nicolas Cage. Coolidge also helped to launch the career of Val Kilmer, in the science fiction comedy Real Genius (1985).
Coolidge was lauded for her 1991 film Rambling Rose, a family drama set during the Great Depression, which earned two Oscar nominations. From 2002-2003, the director held the honor of being the Director Guild of America’s first female president. Coolidge continues to direct films and many episodes of television shows such as Weeds, Psych, Madam Secretary, and Angie Tribeca.