Film History Expressions of Existential Term Paper

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These blows come in the form of beatings and disappointments encountered by Antoine while he is a student at a prison-like school. Truffaut paints the starkness of his reality effectively in his use of black and white hues. The boys are dressed mainly in dark formal clothes and their surroundings are also dark. This is contrasted with the brightness of the outside world in which Antoine is constantly looking for. He is left to his own devices, as the adults of the film appear to be "hypocritical, unsympathetic, unperceptive and untrustworthy" (Mast 353). This depicts a gloomy picture of Truffaut's outlook on life. His methods of camera technique, palette choice and story structure further promote this feeling. His choice of loner and misfits like Antoine who feel stifled by society also promote changing definitions in society. Truffaut wanted to put these ideas out into the public not only to express his discontent but to also call attention to such social issues.

Truffaut's earlier pieces focus on childhood as a theme. He focuses on the relationships of children with each other and adults to shed light on the fact; innocence has been lost as a result of the war. He believes it is no accident society is changing and life is uncertain. It is this idea, "this deeply rooted existential sense of responsibility, the idea that there are no accident, that makes the childhood world so fascinating for Truffaut and that gives Les Quatre Cents Coups its special tension" (Monaco 16). In doing this, the viewer become uncomfortable but completely entranced. The viewer is reminded there are no accidents yet also knows nothing is guaranteed which is a contradiction.

Rio Bravo

Out of all Howard Hawk films, Rio Bravo stands alone in expression of existential ideas. This mainly comes from Hawk's ability to as Todd McCarthy explains, "his success in putting his seal on them becomes more understandable in light of his freelancing" (Drabelle 2) as his work was his alone. What does Rio Bravo tell us about the questions Hawks had about the world?

The film Rio Bravo is a story about a small town in the American West where a sheriff must hold seek help to keep the bad guy's brother in jail. This dilemma puts the sheriff on the moral fence. He must fight between the law he knows is right and taking the law into his own hands. Also he seeks help from the most unlikely of characters: a disgraced drunk, a cripple and a young gunfighter. This hodge podge team makes the situation more interesting as other obstacles present themselves. The sheriff faces not only doubt about his own abilities and his team but also the loyalty of the town, as he must fight temptation in the form of a beautiful woman (Plot Summary par. 2).

One would assume that the setting of the West already paints a picture of uncertainty and lawlessness. It also emphasizes a degree of despair, which only contributes to the dire situation the hero is facing. Hawks clearly displays the division between good and evil with his acting choices. He picks John Wayne, whose height and strength represent charisma or in other words, America's confidence. By making the villains shorter than him, Hawks creates a situation where the viewer must hope good will win over evil. This division between good and evil also creates a much-needed tension for the film. It opens up the viewer's mind to the possibility that anything could happen. The location, in this way, plays a vital role as it makes the film uncertain in its theme of isolation. Existentialists can appreciate this theme, as in order to ponder life's deep questions one must remove themselves from real world. This removal from the real world is not only apparent in the locale's choice but also emphasizes the sheriff's task of keeping the bad away from the town. By keeping the brother locked away, leaves the town untouched and protected. This makes the film almost hopeful for the future. It comments on the idea that maybe American communities can start over with a clean new life after the war. Still these themes and images as typical of Hawk's work as Gerald Mast comments, "beneath the generic surfaces of his narratives lie complex tensions between the characters' verbal facades and their universalized feelings" (258). This could not be truer of Hawk's choice to cast Ricky Nelson in the role of gunfighter. His verbal facade both in body language and word choice paints him as a complete tough guy when really is he just a young, romantic kid. In many ways, his character acts a foil to Wayne's by further emphasizing the dynamics of the hero. One wants them both to come out on top but also understands there is uncertainty in the situation. This works to create suspense but also allows the viewer to guess the outcome or reflect upon his or her own decisions. Much of Rio Bravo can be viewed for the pure enjoyment of the classic western but it also has real depth when analyzed.


David Walsh writes, Andrew Sarris sees films as "movies pass beyond the parameters of any methodology of the movement, be it sociology or semiotics, technology or stylistics, dramatic narrative or symbolic iconography" (7). Film transcends culture, becomes a part of the heartbeat of people's emotions. This is why film has proven staying power as a medium. It has the power to reflect what people are thinking and if not, put new ideas into the cultural mind. The Auteur as a movement sought to pursue the internal thoughts of the director and succeeded by exploring new subject matter through the art of storytelling. Bergman, Truffaut and Hawks made films that remain powerful today.

This paper analyzed the works of Ingmar Bergman, Francois Truffaut and Howard Hawks as these directors focused on telling stories of an existentialistic nature. More specifically, this paper examined the following films for existential themes: The Seventh Seal, the Four Hundred Blows and Rio Bravo. These films search for a deeper meaning behind life's questions. These films could not be more different in content and style but also hit a nerve. It is rawness that penetrates the filmgoers mind and makes them ponder not only the film's meaning but also their own meaning.

Works Cited

Cowie, Peter. The Seventh Seal. 17 March 2005 http://www.criterioncollection/asp/release.asp?id=11&eid=26&se.

Drabelle, Dennis. "Shooting From the Hip." Washington Post (June 15, 1997): 4 pages. 20 March 2005

Kawin. Bruce, F. Mindscreen: Bergman, Godard and First Person Film. Princeton:

Princeton University Press, 1978.

Mast, Gerald. A Short History of the Movies. New York: Macmillan Publishing, Company,

Monaco, James. The New Wave. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Plot Summary: Rio Bravo. 20 March 2005

Walsh, David. Andrew Sarris and American Filmmaking. 20 March 2005 http://www.wsws.

A org/arts/1998/july1998/sarr-j01.shtml>.

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