Symbolism in movies

When you watch a movie the viewer doesn’t expect to know everything, by the end however everything should have been resolved and understood (unless a sequel is coming) But what about the things that aren’t noticed in the movie, that the director has cleverly included but not told in the movie. Some viewers will see it immediately, others may further research the movie and discover it and some will find it in the multiple movie magazines and reference books. A movie that does this so well is  the 1997 production of Titanic. Director James Cameron put his heart and soul into this movie and the hidden messages and underlying facts are extraordinary. For instance in the end scene an elderly husband and wife are hugging on the bed as the water pours in. To most viewers this is purely a sad emotional scene and you think that maybe they weren’t well enough or strong enough to face the North Atlantic waters. However the truth is that this is actually a true story that took place on the Titanic. Ida and Isidor Straus ‘A devoted couple…writing to each other whenever they were apart ” They were on the Titanic when it hit an iceberg. All the woman and children were to be put into lifeboats and the men to stay behind and help but Ida couldn’t bear to leave Isidor and refused to get into a lifeboat. Isidor was even offered a seat but he was such a good person he refused to and put the woman and children first. “I will not go before other men.”

Faced with certain death Ida said, “I will not be separated from my husband. As we have lived so we will die, together.” And so they stayed behind arm in arm as the ship went down.

This story is so poignant and runs asymmetry to the story of the protagonists, Rose and Jack the fictitious lovers. “Where you go, I go,” Rose says to Jack also said by Ida. Just like Ida, Rose leaps out of a lifeboat to stay with Jack though whilst Rose survives Jack freezes to death in the frozen waters. It’s a heartbreaking scene.

Other hidden stories were the wooden panelling that saved Rose’s life, this again is true, it exists in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Nova Scotia. Jack says about a time he was ice fishing and fell into the freezing water. He described the feeling like, “being stabbed with a thousand knives over your body.” This was an actual recount from one of the survivors of the Titanic.

Not only is this a tribute to the movie or the fact that it makes it feel even more real, it’s a way of creating hidden depths through the movie that people will enjoy discovering and finding out. Such as in Jungle Book, the legends of the elephants based on Indian culture.

Sometimes these hidden stories are based on true experiences of the director, take Hayao Miyazaki’s beautifully created Spirited Away, in one scene a stink spirit, a rotting carcass of filth arrives at the bath house. It takes several people to pull the bicycle embedded in it’s side. When all the gunk explodes out it turns out it was actually the water spirit of a polluted river. And this was based on an experience that Hayao had, “I cleaned a river once. My local river. And there really was a bicycle. It was stuck in there. Ten of us wrapped a rope around the bars and slowly pulled it out. We really cleaned up the river, and the fish are back. And that’s why I added that scene.”

Other symbolism can be used such as the meanings of names, Simba means Lion in Swahili, in the Hunger Games Katniss is the archer. And her name is a plant in the genus Saggitaria, meaning, archer. It’s even used in Doctor Who, the huge mystery of Donna Temple, Noble could have been told immediately for a reader of Latin, Donna = Lady, Temple = tempus meaning time and Noble = lord. Lady Time Lord.

And why do people hide these meanings? Why do we go looking for them. Put simply the author Kamila Miller said, “Because it’s fun” And it is fun, we watch movies to be entertained and finding hidden meanings and creating our own just extends the fun we get from one movie.


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