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Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 Cinema Gave Us The Year in Solitude

2013 has been arguably one of the most provocative years in film we've seen lately. This is in part due to the many movies that have captured the sometimes excruciating, and other times freeing, sense of solitude many of us face in our own lives. Some of the most noteworthy films explored themes of isolation and loneliness in unique ways that make them that much easier to immerse ourselves in. For instance, Her takes the the disconnect and seclusion found in the more recent technology-influenced dating scene to create a one-person self-inflicted relationship. Each character in the film, from Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) to Amy (Amy Adams), is very solitary, despite marginally having each other. It produces interactions that are no closer than arm's length in order to distance the characters from more tangible emotions.

While Her uses solitude to deflect passion, Gravity pushes its lead character, a medical engineer played by Sandra Bullock, further into a more solitary state in order to reignite a passion within herself. Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) is forced into her greatest nightmare alone in space, fighting for her life as she clings to deteriorating spacecrafts she just barely knows how to manipulate and depleting hope. In this desperate state, her solitude is used as a direct catalyst for her uncharted capabilities. Whether or not Dr. Stone actually survives this catastrophe is not as important as the larger themes of her story.

All Is Lost is similar to Gravity in that it uses solitude to propel its solo character out of a tragic situation. But the former gives the pretense that "Our Man" (played by Robert Redford), who's stranded in the middle of the Indian Ocean on literally a sinking boat, is prepared to fight for his life right out of the gate. While Dr. Stone gets stranded and can merely rely on her own potential (her subconscious even pages a hologrammed George Clooney at the 11th hour), Our Man comes in as a hero and knows exactly how to work his situation. Any hint of demise comes at his own consent, not submission, which also contributes to the conversation about the role gender plays in the depiction of strength and self-perseverance in film.

The previous three films offered much to say on solitude this year, but they aren't the only stories that touched on the subject. Nebraska encapsulated the condition of mental solitude with Bruce Dern's aging alter ego, Woody Grant. The possibly senile dad crosses through the whole movie in his personal state of euphoria and matter-of-factness that is unaffected by something as unrelenting as reality. Similarly, Blue Jasmine plays with the notion that delusion-induced solitude protects the Blanche Dubois-esque nominal character from crumbling at the thought of her own fate. Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) stumbles through the remains of her once grand life, hopped on booze, pills and her own inflated sense of worth. The bubble into which she eagerly jumps serves as a barrier against the people, including her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), she feels represent the world from which she flees. But what she doesn't care to realize is that this leaves her in a dangerously remote place.

The Hunt imprisons its lead character, played by Mads Mikkelsen, in his own solitude by interrupting his barely there shell of a life to vilify him as a child molester. This consequently distances him from his job as a schoolteacher as well as a promising relationship with his own son. Lucas (Mikkelsen) moves through the film as a pariah, almost succumbing to his own acquired persona. Likewise, the animate film Frozen banishes misunderstood ice queen Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) to her own winter wonderland alone as she struggles to claim her identity. Ostracized by her kingdom and even her family, she resorts to villainous methods as a means of survival. But ultimately she comes to terms with the fact that love, especially self-love, will yield togetherness and bring her out of despair.

Meanwhile, Inside Llewyn Davis trails its titular character, an out-of-work folk singer played by Oscar Isaac, as he struggles to regain his sense of self when everything and everyone around him is moving further and further away from him. He's engulfed in a singular battle of which he can't escape nor does he want to. He simply wants everything to go back to the way it was so that it can fit back into his small world.

One of the best romantic comedies this year, Enough Said fortunately doesn't play by the conventional rules of romcoms. The film is not just about navigating--or destroying--a potential relationship. Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is simultaneously grappling with her impending empty nest syndrome. Her teenage daughter (Tracey Fairaway) is moving away to college, leaving her in unwanted solitude for the first time in years. Eva's fear of being alone is only compounded by a conceivably unsuccessful relationship that could further upset her own personal growth. Where she is scared to move forward without her daughter, she is terrified to move on with a likely relationship. She's built her own emotional purgatory.

What other films do you think explore solitude?


iluvcinema said...

Wow Candice, like how you encapsulated your cinematic year into a recurring theme. Great way to think about it (especially with your selections). I really was surprised how much I actually loved her. In terms of thought provoking for this calendar year, it has all the other films I considered for the best film of the year beat.

I need to see Blue Jasmine and All is Lost; no desire to see Gravity - initially I did but now, not so much.

Daniel said...

That's a wonderful recap of a running theme in movies this years, I think they all hit on a certain sentiment in our culture at the moment. Really fascinating observation.

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