When Films Do ‘Too Much’ Just Right
Films are wonderful pieces of art. They are gateways to limitless creativity and stand as endearing reflections of our lives. Sometimes, we love a film that is understated in its messages, with its beauty lying within its simplicity.
Stories told in the likes of ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Lady Bird’ are contained within reality and tell us a tale in ways that we can immediately recognise and identify with. Blunt in their delivery as they may be, these films instil us with emotions and social perceptions according to what we already acknowledge to be present - be it race and sexual orientation in the former or youthful rebellion in the latter. That’s not a bad thing, of course. In fact, it’s only natural. At the same time, it’s not hard to appreciate a film for its cinematic depiction of our own realities.
Now I must add a disclaimer that I'm not trying to undermine these films; they are masterpieces that are rightfully deserving of all their accolades. However, I wish to point the spotlight towards films that indulge themselves in excess and examine how such over the top elements actually help these films convey an equally effective message to us as the audience.
When I say ‘excess’, I don’t mean an overblown budget spent on CGI explosions and unnecessarily complicated action sequences. Instead, I refer to ‘excess’ as films that contain plots almost too ludicrous to be true, elements of grandeur that come unexpectedly and characters that almost border on being caricatures.
But somehow, these films aren’t making a mockery of things. They do contain genuine emotional heart and powerful themes and yet they are still capable of throwing themselves at the audience without pretence.
Photo Credit: TimeOut
Take for example one of my all-time favourite films, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ by Wes Anderson. Released in 2014, this comedy-drama depicts the relationship between the hotel’s concierge, M.Gustave, and the newly hired lobby boy, Zero, as they find themselves on a quest for fortune.
It is a film that embodies the word ‘quirky’ and in true Anderson fashion, it relishes in its excess. Set against an Eastern European backdrop, we witness extravagant people going through outlandish events all framed through the lens of disarmingly perfect symmetry and colours. Yet, for all its controlled bursts of insanity, there is an element of thinly-veiled melancholy hidden underneath it all.
Something almost feels…sad when we see M.Gustave’s relationships with the hotel’s guests, each more superficial than the last. Or when we follow Zero’s journey and realise how he is aptly named for he has nothing and no one in his life.
These characters are overwhelmingly lonely, and the excessive exaggerations of the film both masks and reveals this aspect. It signals to us how genuine relationships are scarce in our world, even if we don’t have scheming heirs chasing after us to claim a family inheritance.
The Grand Budapest Hotel somehow manages to retain its human vulnerability despite all its bells and whistles, which makes it even more poignant to us when we see how our cinematic reflections escape the dread of loneliness by indulging in riches and fantasy.
Photo Credit: IMDB
In a similar vein, the works of Quentin Tarantino show us how excess in the form of violence and humour (often dark) can also be effective in their own right in conveying its intended message to the audience. Movies like Pulp Fiction (1994) and Django Unchained (2012) have garnered immense praise from audiences worldwide, and continue to do so even years after their release.
A recurring theme across Tarantino’s films are often long extended monologues that tend to precede scenes of graphic and some might say, gratuitous violence. The nature of these monologues are usually humorous to some degree and they almost feel out of place in such situations that would otherwise call for a much more serious attitude. Furthermore, when you add silly visual cues of over-the-top violence that doesn’t hold back in its absurdity and non-realism, it almost feels like the film is making a mockery of itself.
GIF Credit: GetYarn
But that’s just it. Tarantino’s works often deal with heavy and sensitive themes but through this careful presentation of ludicrous dialogue and ‘aesthetically glorified’ violence, it’s almost as if Tarantino himself is telling us, his audience, that this is a film that’s not meant to be taken too seriously. It’s a piece meant to entertain and should be enjoyed as such.
We are given a reprieve from immersing ourselves into the cinematic realism that we are used to and are instead allowed to indulge in a fantastical world of excess where we can freely cheer for the ‘good guy’, even if the ‘good guy’ wins by violently dispatching the bad guys cause I mean, they deserve it right?
As mentioned earlier, films are a beautiful form of escapism and we don’t always have to be given a ‘realistic’ story for us to relate to it. Reality itself is often ‘too much’ for us, with all its unpredictability, twists, turns and the way nothing ever goes according to how we want it to. By translating that unspoken excess into loud visuals and even louder characters, these films endear themselves even more to us.
After all, it is these very characters that truly bring the film to life, whether they’re in situations that are impossible or possible, we want to see a piece of ourselves in them. By doing ‘too much’, films allow us to lose ourselves in something both nothing like and exactly the same as the world we live in and maybe…that’s all we need to feel a little less alone.