I’ve officially completed my first semester of grad school and all I want to do is hide out in the cozy art house theatre down the street from my apartment and watch a marathon of movies. The Logan Square Theatre is decked out for the holidays and screening a winter wonderland program of new releases, such as Lady Bird, The Disaster Artist, and The Shape of Water, and classic holiday flicks, including Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, Home Alone, and Edward Scissorhands.
As I spend the first week of the semester break decompressing while watching movies and eating Christmas cookies, I can’t help but deconstruct every film I watch. Having spent the entire semester breaking down films into story beats and themes while comparing production budgets to box office results, the deconstruction of films has become an instinctual process. The same goes for movie ideas. As I sit with a small group of friends drinking bottomless coffee and discussing movie plots and character arcs, I can’t help but be the one that asks, “but what’s the theme of the story?” The full momentum of our conversation comes to a halt. Nobody has a quick answer.
Theme comes up all the time, whether I’m in a class discussion, watching a film on my own time, writing a treatment, or developing a script with a screenwriter. Theme is everywhere, following me like a friendly, pestering animal. Sometimes I don’t want give it attention, and yet it can’t be ignored. Theme is not genre, and it’s not just a subject or issue presented in a story. It’s a statement about a subject. For example, Edward Scissorhands, a holiday movie at heart, is about a gentle man with scissors for hands who is brought into a new community after living in isolation. The film explores the issues of conformity, isolation, and discrimination. However, it’s also making a statement about these issues, highlighting the importance of diversity and the universality of empathy, exploring the notion that we are all the same and different.
Other films I saw during my movie marathon were Lady Bird and the The Shape of Water. Lady Bird is a charming and unique coming-of-age story set in Sacramento that explores a mother-daughter relationship. It’s also about the strain growing up lower-middle class, and its strongest theme is about the importance of understanding your parents in ways that you didn’t before. Lady Bird has received near perfect reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and was for a time the best reviewed movie. The Shape of Water, which won the Golden Lion feature award at the Venice Film Festival, was the last film I saw during my movie marathon. The film is about an isolated woman who works at a government laboratory and becomes friends with the lab’s captured marine monster. Interestingly, the film shares similar themes with Edward Scissorhands. Ultimately, the film is about finding love and companionship in the midst of alienation, and in the end, the theme acts as a through line, unifying the plot, characters, and dialogue.