Art has a tendency to reflect the world around us. Shakespeare’s plays reflected prominent issues in 17th century England, from the fickle nature of love in A Midsummer Night’s Dream to racial prejudice in Othello and The Merchant of Venice. Modern street artist Banksy has taken on topics like war crimes and poverty in his mysterious urban artwork.
Film is not exempt from this notion of acting as a mirror; in fact it has probably evolved into the leading artistic medium in regard to significantly influencing our culture. Directors and writers in the film industry are constantly finding new and creative avenues to express a variety of topics– sometimes in ways that catch us off guard.
As Roger Ebert once wrote his famous essay Reflections After 25 Years at the Movies, “movies are hardly ever about what they seem to be about. Look at a movie that a lot of people love, and you will find something profound, no matter how silly the film may seem.”
Del Toro at the Sitges Film Festival in 2017 (wikipedia)
A great film is one that you continue to think about after you’ve left the theater. When I ask myself about what films have stayed with me for one reason or another, they all have one thing in common– they surprised me. Guillermo Del Toro is a director that I (like many others) admire immensely. When it comes to films that challenge their audience, Del Toro’s work tops that list. In Pan’s Labyrinth, Del Toro utilizes the traditional fairy tale style in order to tell an incredibly dark and twisted, but ultimately beautiful story of a young girl navigating a violent world controlled by violent people. In The Shape of Water Del Toro again employs the fantasy genre to tell an all too real story of loneliness, discrimination, “the other,” and ultimately hope in the face of despair. Both films give us so much more than what we originally expected and bargained for.
Perhaps that is the reason why films that portray the profound, even in the simple things, are so necessary. In this day and age, it can seem as though big production companies churn out movies that have no trust in their audience. Everything is given and expected to be taken at face value.
It is important for filmmakers to trust their audiences to be critical of what they see on screen. But more importantly, it is crucial for filmmakers to respect their audiences, and their own work, enough to inject some nuance into their stories. Great films don’t encourage you to sit back and turn your brain off. They feed you something that you can chew on for hours, days, even a lifetime.