Every Friday this summer we recommend films we like and we think you’ll enjoy. This week we explore themes in two fiction films. We also have an award winning documentary on the menu.
100 Meters is based on the true story of Ramón Arroyo, husband and father with a successful career who has his life changed upside-down when he is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 32. He’s told that within a year he won’t be able to walk even a 100 meters, but Ramón decides to prove them wrong and starts to train for a triathrlon (3,8 kms swimming, 180 kms cycling, 42 kms running). To achieve his goal he needs support from his wife and son – and his grumpy father-in-law.
About Themes in Movies
Last week we looked at dystopian film and how the film’s plot is on the surface while the film’s treatment of themes are found under the surface. On the surface 100 Meters is a classic film narrative while under the surface we find a range of interesting themes to explore.
A single film often contains more than just one theme and apart from the most obvious ones, which themes we discover differ from person to person. We are all different with different backgrounds, experiences, values, opinions and knowledge and so different themes become visible to different people even when they watch the exact same movie. I can discover themes others won’t see and others will make me aware of themes I didn’t notice. Through conversations we can therefore increase our understanding of the film and the film’s value.
Here I also want to point out that when we look for themes in a film we’re not searching for one correct answer, nor what the filmmaker really meant, as long as we can identify a theme and demonstrate how the film treats this theme. Therefore a single film can have any number of differing themes we can identify and discuss.
Identifying the film’s themes is only step 1 though. Step 2 is to explore how the film treats these themes. The film encourages us to discuss what the film is saying about a theme, something that hopefully leads to step 3 where the film’s arguments challenge our own views and encourages us to reflect and talk about them.
Analysis av a theme: Ramón vs Manolo
The contrast between the film’s two main characters Ramón and Manolo is obvious from the very start of the movie. We get to know Ramón in the big city making a sale. He’s got a good career, a beautiful family and lives in a modern apartment with all the modern electronic devices. Manolo on the other hand is a slob living in a messy house that’s falling apart, located in the countryside, far away from civilization where there’s not even any reception.
Ramón represents the modern life in the city, a life of smart phones, careers, computers, iPads and modern cars. Manolo on the other hand represents the traditional and especially the ‘old-fashioned’ values like real human ‘offline’ relationships which can often be ignored or forgotten in a modern life where people interact mainly through their smart phone. Ramón and Manolo represent two different and contrasting worlds; Ramón fits in and functions like a cog in the modern city machine while Manolo prefers the countryside.
Throughout the film we’re given examples of these two worlds colliding in the form om Manolo and Ramón, both through their relationship but also when Manolo visits the city or when Ramón visits the countryside. When Manolo is visiting the city he uses Ramón’s iPad as a cutting board while Ramón’s modern car doesn’t survive for long when faced with Manolo and the countryside. Something doesn’t fit in and it breaks.
Here I think it’s important to highlight a different theme that shows up right from the start and is treated throughout the film and that is Ramón’s fight against the city he’s a part of. It is only at the start of the movie Ramón actually fits in although he still represent the city life many of us are familiar with. As soon as Ramón is diagnosed he starts to collide with the city just like Manolo, although in a slightly different way. Shortly after the diagnosis Ramón attempts to cross a busy street but is stuck in the middle of the road without the ability to move. He’s blocking the traffic until Inma finds him and helps him out. The traffic moves on – society moves on – but without Ramón who’s left behind. The theme of Ramón vs the city he was once a part of adds a new dimension and possible interpretation to Ramón’s triathlon.
But let’s return to Ramón vs Manolo. The movie is not one-sided in it’s criticism of the modern or the traditional life and it doesn’t favor one over the other. Instead the film tries to build bridges between them, between technology and being offline, between relationships between Facebook and between real human beings. Instead of pitting them against each other the film shows how they can complement each other, like when Manolo agrees to setting up wifi at his house and to use Facebook to connect with Noelia, or when Ramón and Inma brings a ‘piece of the countryside’ represented by Manolo’s old bike into their apartment in the city and let’s Manolo experience old memories through new technology.
In our own culture it’s more common to be a part of Ramón’s modern city life than Manolo’s life in the countryside and the film therefore also functions as a reminder about the importance of not losing the warmth and joy of real human relationships in the midst of all the technology we surround ourselves with. At the same time it shows how a disease or a chronic illness can overnight exclude a human being from society and functions as a criticism of the modern society that doesn’t take proper care of those put on the outside.
100 Meters is available on Netflix.
Original Title: 100 Metros
Country: Spain, Portugal
Runtime: 108 min
Language: Spanish with Norwegian subtitles
Original Title: Captain Fantastic
Runtime: 118 min
Deep in the Washington wilderness lives Ben and his six kids. Isolated from the rest of the American society Ben raises his children through tough physical and intellectual training and teaches them how to hunt and survive in the wilderness, completely independent from the rest of the world. But when the children’s mother commits suicide the isolated family wants to attend her funeral which entails a road trip and facing the American society.
Captain Fantastic sets up an even bigger contrast between two different worlds than we saw between Ramón and Manolo in 1oo Meters. We meet two families who lives on separate ends of the scale; the primitive lifestyle of Ben and his kids and the luxurious style of his in-laws. The collision between the two therefore becomes even greater as well.
Again we’ll take a dive underneath the surface and ask a few questions to help us find some themes and start some interesting conversations:
Matt Ross won the Un Certain Regard – Directing Award for Captain Fantastic at the Cannes Film Festival and is now available on Viaplay.
Original Title: Inequality for All
Runtime: 86 min
Inequality for All takes a closer look at the growing gap between rich and poor in the US. The film is presented by American economist, author and professor Robert Reich and is based on his 2010 book Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future fra 2010. The documentary directed by Jacob Kornbluth investigates what effect this big gap has on both the American economy and democracy.
Inequality for All premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2013 where it also won an award, and has since received praise, nominations and awards. It is now available on Netflix.