Motifs in Cinema is a discourse across film blogs, assessing the way in which various thematic elements have been used in the 2013 cinematic landscape. How does a common theme vary in use from a comedy to a drama? Are filmmakers working from a similar canvas when they assess the issue of death or the dynamics of revenge? Like most things, a film begins with an idea –Motifs in Cinema assesses how various themes emanating from a single idea change when utilised by varying artists.
There's a moment in Saving Mr. Banks when P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), famed author of the Mary Poppins book series, reveals just how much the time-honored children's story and characters mean to her. "They are like family," she reluctantly admits. It's a rare moment of vulnerability from the cantankerous writer, positively beside herself over Walt Disney's (Tom Hanks) plans for a film adaptation. Once she relinquishes her anger, we can see how she had been completely overwhelmed by the burden of autonomy she had been carrying all these years. But what is most interesting about this admission is how it highlighted a theme in last year's film; the power that can come from having a familial love for something or someone who is not your actual family.
We've seen how this motif influenced other 2013 films, including The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete. Michael Starrbury's Independent Spirit Award-nominated screenplay shows how two young boys discover an unlikely friendship through shared loss and utter tragedy. When 13-year-old Mister (Skylan Brooks) is abandoned by his addict mother (Jennifer Hudson) and left to fend for himself, it is only his once reluctant solidarity with Pete (Ethan Dizon), a similarly lost child in the neighborhood, that maintains his determined spirits and keeps him from tumbling into an irrevocable despair. Though the two are united under dire circumstances, it ultimately leads them to a better place emotionally as they come out stronger on the other side. They lean on each other when their parental figures--and the system--fail them and they become the family they never got to have before. In the process, Mister comes to terms with his own mortality and stunted adolescence.
Similarly, in Blancanieves a young girl is forced to live with her malevolent stepmother, Encarna (Maribel Verdú), after her father is bound to a wheelchair and unable to care for her. Locked in a dark castle and doomed to spend the rest of her days as a servant for her acquired guardian, the Snow White-inspired Carmen (Macarena García) spins out of Encarna's twisted web using her own brand of shrewdness and allure, becoming her own heroine in the process. Despite Encarna's caustic hold on Carmen, which allows her to be both sole provider and number one nemesis, the adolescent eventually takes charge of her own destiny and finds a new kind of family that cares for her in a way she hadn't experienced in too long.
These stories are true testaments on how even the hope, fear or comfort of a familial figure can impact our outlook, or send us sprawling backward down a path we least expect it.
Motifs in Cinema is an annual blogathon led by Encore's World of Film that explores common themes presented in a year's worth of film. For more information on the list of themes and participating blogs, click here.