Short Concepts: The Arts and Their Many Meanings (Part One)

Brand new to the world of parenting, my father was forced to raise two kids as a single parent at a young age. He had dropped out of college but had secured himself a steady job and the ability to provide for his family. Events eventually caused him to move back in with my grandparents and he went to work as a part time employee at several jobs. Struggles ensued over the next few years as my father tried to find some form of solace in the world while doing his best to raise two kids. The story is poetic at times; a father trying his hardest to maintain a semblance of control while fulfilling his role as a parent. However, his story is also complex, stuttered, and bounces along the full spectrum of emotions and problems. Telling his life story through music and dance would be a complicated tale of despair, determination, happiness, triumph, and failure. With this in mind, his story would consist of the oratorio music style and jazz dancing.

This combination of epic orchestral themes and sporadic, syncopated dancing would tell a great story. Beginning with my birth, the orchestra would start solemn and quiet. A different soloist would sing a lamenting aria for each moment in his life and the orchestra would use the music to help compliment the singer’s words. After the first scene, we would hear the telling of my sister’s birth, his divorce, our first move in with our grandparents, his best friend showing up to offer him a job, and the graduation of high school by both children.

Even though oratorio usually lacks dancers or actors, next to each soloist would be a pair of dancers. The reason I decided to mix the orchestral music of oratorio with jazz dance is simple: chaos. While oratorio will provide long, exaggerated arcs of poetic music, the jazz dancers will provide sporadic and syncopated movements. Even though the dancers would move with the same rhythm as the music, there would be a certain lack of likeness between the two. A vast difference between the music and the dancing would be evident.

The program would end with the proverbial death of my father. The jazz dancers have been dancing a stuttered, chaotic dance the entire time. For this ending, everybody dances, plays, and acts in sync. My father is my hero, and I want nothing more than for him to find balance in his life. The ending of this program needs balance and that is exactly what the dancers and music would provide.

I remember a teacher in high school explaining the symbolism of the animals in Animal Farm and how I failed to see the particulars she was trying to teach. I also remember reading Lord of the Flies and the teacher attempting to explain the parallels between the current society and the kids in the book. All of it was lost on me and I still struggle with understanding the symbolism. I was hoping a little bit of research into it would help me, but unfortunately, I’m still wading through lost waters trying to figure some of it out.

I found a myriad of definitions of symbolism in movies. However, the consensus of the definition is as follows: “the art of hiding meaning behind something apparently non-related.” Symbolism is often used as a form of helping iterate how the audience should feel. I consider symbolism to be mirrored by the difference between plays and musicals. Plays that are seen in a theater are often emotionally challenging. It is the job of the actor, the director, and everything else contributed to the show to provide a story. It is the audience’s job to determine how they should feel while the action is taking place. A musical is a layman’s way of watching a show. The music and lyrics tell the audience how to feel. The music captures the emotional moment and hands it to the audience on a silver platter. Symbolism is like a play in that it challenges the audience and only provides a background of emotion or feelings.

I found a few examples of symbolism in the following movies: All Dogs Go to Heaven, the Matrix trilogy, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and The Departed. In All Dogs Go to Heaven, the story mirrors and follows the spiritual journey from the Book of Genesis through the New Testament. In the Matrix trilogy, Neo represents Jesus Christ and his role as the savior of mankind. In Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Luke wears black to symbolize his possible fall to the dark side, however, in the end, after he helps destroy the Emperor and Darth Vader, his jacket falls open to reveal it was always white underneath. In The Departed, every character’s death is predetermined by a symbolic “x” shown somewhere on the screen.  

Most of the symbolism is actually surprising to me. I originally watched All Dogs Go to Heaven as a child. Even as an adult, the movie seems like a normal movie told through the eyes of a dog. The Star Wars symbolism is actually quite nice and does increase my enjoyment of the movie. It tells me that Luke himself always knew he was going to remain good but that the struggle was definitely possible. The symbolism throughout the Matrix trilogy was obvious and did not take away from my enjoyment of the movies. After learning of the “x” before each death, I had to go back and watch the movie again. It definitely did not take away or increase my enjoyment of the movie.

Perhaps as time goes on, symbolism will begin to mean more to my enjoyment of film. However, as it stands now, I find myself too entwined into the acting and the story to pay attention to the symbolic meanings behind certain things in movies. Perhaps this is why my ability to review the arts will always be stunted and poorly conceived.

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