Writer-director David Lowery’s A Ghost Story is a contemplative tone poem on the vast expanses of time, captured in a single relationship between two people. As the two main characters reach a turning point about where they are going to live, a car accident removes one of them from the equation – except that it doesn’t. After the body is identified and the sheet pulled back, the body erects itself, walks out of the morgue, and starts observing.
The opening sequence of The Dark Horse depicts Genesis Potini wandering through the rain muttering to himself, intercut with his older brother teaching him the game of chess when they were both children. He stops in a store with a few chessboards set up, and continues his frantic word salad as the shop owners look on nervously. Then, Genesis starts moving the pieces with a preternatural celerity, waxing poetic chess theory, comparing the relative qualities of the Sicilian defense and the Scotch game. The preamble continues until Genesis is discovered by his handler and whisked back to the mental hospital. The title flashes across the screen, and we understand the fundamental themes of The Dark Horse immediately: dealing with mental health, the importance of family and community, and the transformative power of the game of Chess.
Lucia Aniello’s Rough Night is what happens when you let five raucous friends cut loose during a destination bachelorette party in Miami. All the normal accoutrements are here: beachfront rental property, alcohol-fueled bar crawls, penis-shaped everythings, cocaine, a shredded male stripper, and involuntary manslaughter. Hmm, maybe things got out of hand somewhere . . .
Paul Verhoeven’s Elle opens with a blank screen and the sickening sounds of sexual assault. The first image of the film is of a cat, casually witnessing the rape. Only after this introduction does Verhoeven confront the audience with the actual struggle: a man clad in dark clothing and a ski mask, dominating an older woman and having his way with her. Once he is gone, we’re introduced to Michèle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) wordlessly; she picks herself up, straightens her clothing, cleans up some broken glass, and then takes a bath. The blood floats up from between her legs to color the bubbles with a crimson wisp.
In 1991, dozens of happy accidents converged into one of the greatest thrillers of all time: The Silence of the Lambs. It is the most recent film to win Academy Awards in all five of the major categories (both leading actors, screenplay, director, and best picture). As that distinction may suggest, practically every aspect of the film boasts superlatives. The performances are exceptional. Ted Tally’s adaption of the screenplay structures the film with the familiar beats of the hero’s journey, but provides enough twists to keep us on edge. Jonathan Demme’s direction shows restraint and courage, and produces moments rife with tension, many of which do not exist on the page. The characters, technical work, and writing all cooperate towards a single goal: championing a theme of female strength and intellect in a world dominated by men, and the courage that it takes to confront true evil.
Today, words are exceedingly lightweight. You can say whatever you like because words are as substantive as foam to us. That’s no more than a reflection of how empty our reality has become. And yet even now, the truth is that words are power. It’s just that we’re meaninglessly drowning in a sea of powerless, vacuous words.
-Hayao Miyazaki, 1999 – Director’s notes for Spirited Away