How to make a movie say WHAT YOU WANT TO

Few times do we talk about what the "message" of a literary work is, even amongst those of us who study literature.  Finding out what the message is behind any human expression, however, is fundamental for surviving, as it allows us to filter what we are being told –to separate and retain what serves us, and to prevent us from falling prey to cheaters and liars.
Learning to see through information, allows us to make better use of media, too, without resorting to censorship or limiting our freedom of expression.

Evelyn, the movie (with Pierce Brosnan in the leading role), is a popular work, which was produced to help advance an unpopular political agenda amongst the general audience. The slant, the bias, the way reality was altered in it, in order to promote such agenda, is so great and evident, that it easily serves us to exemplify what a "message" is  –what we are talking about; and to show how even a reality-based narration can be manipulated in order to fulfil a given goal.

Abstract

Few times do we talk about what the “message” of a literary work is, even amongst those of us who study literature. Finding out what the message is behind any human expression, however, is fundamental for surviving, as it allows us to filter what we are being told –to separate and retain what serves us, and to prevent us from falling prey to cheaters and liars.
Learning to see through information, allows us to make better use of media, too, without resorting to censorship or limiting our freedom of expression.

Evelyn, the movie (with Pierce Brosnan in the leading role), is a popular work, which was produced to help advance an unpopular political agenda amongst the general audience. The slant, the bias, the way reality was altered in it, in order to promote such agenda, is so great and evident, that it easily serves us to exemplify what a “message” is –what we are talking about; and to show how even a reality-based narration can be manipulated in order to fulfil a given goal.

Paper

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An author’s message…

Many years ago, one of my university professors refused to explain what “the message” of a literary work is, because he himself didn´t understand  what it was.  I soon realized that he did know, but was cleverly avoiding confrontation with his students in regards to values, ideas and beliefs, given that the “message” of a story  usually exposes its author’s ideology.

The ideology ­­–and this is important– colors every piece of information we transmit, and particularly every literary work, every work of art, every mass media product.  Ideology, in fact, intensifies (positively or negatively) the feelings these works awaken in us. Consequently, the “politically correct” version (that is: the “ideology-neutral” version)  of a tale such as Snow White  is perceived as bland and unpalatable by most readers, which renders it entirely unsuccessful in terms of sales, in spite of the admirable intentions of its adaptors (they omitted “dwarf” in order to respect the feelings of shorter people; and Snow White and the Prince did not wed at the end, thus avoiding presenting marriage as a goal towards which we should all aspire, because not everybody is meant for marriage, amongst other things).

How can we explain what a “message” comprises?  The other day I saw  (starring actor: ) which is a film that lends itself well, to illustrate the point.

Evelyn is about a young Irishman –, alias “Dessie”, who is a fine master plasterer in construction, who’s been out of work for some time-, and who spends his days drinking in a tavern.  When he isn’t there, we find him at home singing old songs with his father, …drinking still more.  In general, he is unshaven, and his hair is a mess. It is true that he always shows his deep love of his children, although it doesn’t motivate him to change.  His wife, of course, is fed up with the situation, and goes far away with an Englishman (a crime against Ireland!). She seems not to take any further interest in her children –or if she does, we are not told; but she does communicate with her mother, who, due to her worries about her grandchildren, files a complaint stating her son-in-law is incapable of caring for them.

The judge rules that, indeed, the father is unfit to care for his kids, and unable to provide for their basic necessities; therefore, the judge awards custody to the State.  In turn, the State rids itself of the problem by sending the children to Catholic boarding schools with –according to one of the students– half the girls of Ireland. I find this unsurprising given that if the Mexican Government pretended to do the same, few children would be allowed to remain at home!

Our protagonist fights passionately to recover his children (even attempting to kidnap them), but, of course, he fails as he continues to be out of work, a drunk and unkempt.  His love for his children –now that he has lost them, motivates him to take any work he can find, and stop drinking.  Little by little he even begins to look after his appearance –washing and shaving. Not only this: When the “media” find out about his “story”, he even learns how to express himself in a way that wins both the respect and support of the people –help he badly needs in order to put pressure on the authorities!

In the end, he wins his lawsuit against the Government, which is forced to reform certain laws, as well as to return his children to him.  We, the viewers, rejoice in his triumph, and cry when he gets his children back…

What is the “message” of this story? To answer this, we must ask ourselves: “What did I feel while I watched the film? What did it make me think about? What conclusions did the author want me to come to? What information did the writer omit, and what did he underscore in order to bring us around to his point of view?”

Let us analyze Evelyn:

The protagonist’s wife is the villain of the , in spite of her limited number of appearances in it. She is always recalled in a negative light, and the least offensive adjective given her is “bitch”.  The film does not provide us with any excuse for her behavior. Yet, is it not true that life with the protagonist was insufferable while he drank and remained idle? The bias against Mrs. Doyle is clear.

The Irish government is the second villain in the film.  Why? Because the government wants all Irish children to have food, clothing and an education –even if this can only be achieved through the use of force–; that: even if in order to achieve this end, the children must be forcibly taken from their parents. The orphanages that take in these children are, of course, the third villain.

There is a truly evil nun –Brigitte (the “witch” of the “story”) at the orphanage that takes in Dessie’s daughter.  One day the nun loses her patience and unjustly beats the girl. No one must ever lose control and beat a child –of course; yet the woman is overworked and at-the-end-of-her-tether with so many girls under her charge, who hate her as though she herself had taken them from their parents…; the nun gets no respite:  We see only three nuns taking care of all the girls, and they must manage to do everything by themselves They work as teachers, cooks, hairdressers and they even bathe and rid them of lice upon arrival.

It is quite easy for the government to send the girls there, but there are very few nuns, too many girls and little money.  Nevertheless, the film communicates quite clearly that the Church and the government conspire to take the children away from their parents. One must ask oneself what these two bodies gain in the process, so that we might really believe and be convinced by the argument.

The hero, logically, is Evelyn’s father –played by Pierce Brosnan– who, with the support of the Irish people, fights the established institutions to recover his children. Our hero is this ill-tempered and permanently drunken man whose own lawyer cannot avoid commenting on his intolerable breath; and who forced his wife to abandon her home due not only to lack of income, but to her husband’s distaste for working and maintaining some degree of personal cleanliness, too. Our hero, nevertheless and according to the film, “should have beaten” his wife because that would have motivated her to behave better…

Though it may well be that there is no justification for taking a child out of his/her home (except for very exceptional cases), this movie manages to make the villains appear to be heroes, while those unsuccessfully attempting to do something to repair the situation, are attacked.  The author achieves this by merely skimming the surface of the wife’s crippling circumstances, exaggerating Dessie’s goodness and achievements, and vilifying all who oppose his wishes.

In this way, although we are not subjected to political propagandizing –religious, anti-religious, or nationalist– the narrative itself is created such that we unjustly share the author’s views in these issues. Lukacs said that all authors are partisans, since they always preach on behalf of one cause or another.  Objectivity is impossible –he said– given the fact that the writer selects those fragments of reality which serve and support his/her own beliefs.

How can we prove this? We must ask ourselves if the same “story” could have been told differently. And so it is that Evelyn , for example, could have been used to call for change in women’s rights with regard to irresponsible male partners (let’s not even consider love and care!), or in praise of “self-improvement and transformation for love’s sake”, given that our hero would never have changed if they hadn´t taken his children away. His achievement is truly great, because he did achieve a great deal.

It is important for all of us to learn to detect the ideology hidden in any type of work –be they films, television, video games, radio programs, comic strips, books or magazines, YouTube videos, or other internet sites’ material…  It makes no sense for us to fight for narratives without ideological messages, as many now are doing.  This leaves them “bland”, apart from jeopardizing the right to free speech which we are still struggling to attain. However, it does make sense for us to learn to identify the distinctive shadings used by each author in order to bring us around to his/her point of view, and thus make us believe the same things he or she does.

If we learn how to analyze stories and other information this way, we will be freer, because we won´t allow anyone to use us –through our emotional and gut-level responses to the suffering of others– as cannon fodder to fight at the front of a war that is not ours, or that may not be good or right.

The final scenes of a film usually give us the key with which we can confirm or disconfirm whether we have correctly understood the ideological message, consequent to the “awards” given to the “winners” and the “punishments” given to the “losers”. In Evelyn, the hero is about to celebrate Christmas dinner which he can finally enjoy with his children.  The house is freshly painted, decorated and beautiful, and there is food in the kitchen –unlike at the beginning of the film.  Beside Desmond we see the woman he loves –not his wife– ,pleasingly preparing the Turkey they will soon eat. They share a melting (yet respectful) kiss when the little girl isn´t watching.

Let us not forget that Ireland, like Malta, is a country where divorce is still not understood.  And there are ideological, political and economic groups which share an interest in promoting the acceptability of divorce, so that laws can be passed to legalize it.

And so the message of this movie is clear.  We can also define it as an author’s ideological intention or goal when writing a certain work.

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ARTICLE FIRST PUBLISHED…

(SOURCE’S BIBLIOGRAPHIC/HEMEROGRAPHIC/VIDEOGRAPHIC DATA):

Blanca de Lizaur; “El mensaje del autor…, o Cómo escribir una película para que diga lo que quiero”; Humanidades-UNAM # 250 [2003]; pages 8 an 22.

Currently available… (current repository):  http://www.bettermedia.org

 


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About Blanca de Lizaur, PhD, MA, BA