Thursday, 11 July 2013

Stoker - The Piano Scene

        Park Chan-Wook’s Stoker is simply a marvel to behold. It's one of those films that manages to marry its technical presentation so perfectly with thematic contents of its story. Having watched it again recently (and, of course, with the benefit of hindsight), I’ve noticed so much more of this throughout and how rich the film actually is in this regard.

        The cinematography, music, sound design, photography – all feature recurring motifs, one example being that they often showing things from India’s point of view. She sees things and hears things that others can’t, often showing things in close details or amplifying sound effects to sickening disturbing levels. The cracking of egg shells, the wind blowing through the grass, sharpening a bloodied pencil. She sometimes gets fixated on tiny details – in the art class she draws the pattern inside the vase, rather than the vase itself or anything else on that table – that image eerily reminiscent of the blood sprayed flower at the beginning and end of the film. Watch out for that similar pattern in other parts of the film.

        The symbolism in the imagery also plays a large part Stoker, particularly with the themes of family and inheritance, the hunter/prey dynamic, sexual awakening and the loss of innocence.
        Let’s look at a few examples. The nature program that is on in the background when the Aunt is at the motel, the dung beetle mirrored by Charlie pushing the big boulders in the garden, the sunglasses that are ‘inherited’ from one character to another – as is the belt (which also carries sexually undertones when it's shown being undone). India’s shoes, marking her progression from young to old, eventually replaced by heels to signify her sexual awakening. The spider crawling up her leg…
        There are so much more and you will keep noticing additional details every time you watch the film.

        The best part of all this is that the symbolism is there to compliment and bolster the themes of the story and makes the whole experience richer without being entirely dependent on it.

        The best part of all of this for me is in the piano scene, occurring half way through the film – wordless, heavy with subtext, the music (by Phillip Glass no less) and how they sit – all defining their feelings and the shifting dynamics between the two characters.
        Here’s how the scene plays out:
        India is alone, sitting at he piano. She starts to play; the same few notes we see her practicing throughout the film. Charlie suddenly appears beside her, his fingers on the lower end of the scale complimenting what she is playing, and as he sits, their positioning mirrors an earlier scene where he flirts with the mother Evie with the pretence he has never played a piano before.
        Charlie then takes over, upping the tempo. Almost indignant, she moves onto something more complex, staring at him while she does so, a defiant look in her eyes. Unfazed, he matches her – the music becoming increasingly complex and exuberant. She tries once again to outdo him but to avail – Charlie is with her there, every step of the way.
        He then reaches over, his arm moving around the back of her, one hand on the high notes, one on the low, trapping her within his embrace. She is helpless but enthralled – she surrenders to the music, surrenders to him as the music soars beautifully. She closes her eyes and shivers, this feeling of pleasure so new and dangerous. Charlie relinquishes control once again- allowing her to take on the part he was playing.
        India has never felt this way before, her legs tense up as if in sexual arousal, her breathing heavy, the expression on her face says it all. They music builds and build until…
        Charlie stops. India’s notes trail off. He turns to her slowly and smiles. He knows she is just like him; her awakening to the role she was born to play has truly started. He leans in slowly toward her, seductively. She seems unable to move. She can’t even look at him. Eventually, managing to compose herself, India turns to look at Charlie - but he is gone. She is alone once again.

        This scene is so expertly done – the music, the editing, the way it is shot, the acting - all coming together so beautifully. It is a technical marvel in that it serves the story and the themes so well – all without a single word being spoken.

        I’m not sure how much of the richness of this film was in the Wentworth Miller’s script or whether most of it was Park’s input, but either way it's the kind of film I wish I had written. A strong contender for one of the best films I have seen this year.

You can read my full review of Stoker at by clicking HERE.

10th July 2013

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