Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Movie posters

Here's a movie poster of the 2003 film, Elephant, directed by Gus Van Sant. If you haven't seen this movie or heard what it's about, you might find it difficult to predict the story just by looking at this poster. I'll start by looking at the poster for what it denotes.

Fact: There is an orange elephant with a square photo superimposed, in which we see a black-haired girl and a bleach-blonde boy. The background is white. Fact: There is no tag-line; the only text is the title (in a black, serif font), who the film is by (the name in red, inconsistent outlining, followed by the crew names), and awards it has won (in their respective logos). I don't know how much more basic I can get.

I feel like movie posters are supposed to sum up the entire movie by an image if not by its title-- or maybe that's how it works for "mainstream" or "Hollywood" movies. Unlike judging a book by its cover, I expect a movie to make me want to spend money and time on experiencing it. But if I were to figure out what the Elephant is about, just by looking at the DVD cover, this is how it would go (and actually did go, because when I bought the movie, I had no idea what it was; I just like the director. I didn't even read the back description)..

So I see an orange elephant, of which the color brings no significance to me. An elephant? There are two sayings I think of: "elephants never forget" and having an "elephant in the room." I'm not sure which one of those, if any, apply. The girl kissing the boy on the cheek doesn't look passionate, so I suspect the movie will be serious instead of a silly romantic-comedy; I think I can place the genre as drama. There's something mysterious about the movie because the cover isn't saying much about the plot or anything. Maybe the movie is about a girl who loves a boy with a short-term memory? (Wrong.)

Reviewing this movie poster, while knowing what the movie is about, makes me reconsider what it means to have a sign in which I have to place value on the signified. Adding in the factor that this image is the poster/cover of a movie gives it a dimension of what a sign is because it's representing something cinematic, not static. It's like an inside joke that only viewers understand. There's a whole explanation for the image in 81 minutes, including credits scrolling on a screen. I feel like I'm doing a poor example of doing a semiotic analysis of an image, but I don't think I'll always understand images because I won't always know the context.

PS. I don't want to tell you what the movie is about if you don't know, but please do look it up for yourself/comment so I don't spoil it for others here.


  1. We actually discussed this in my AP Language class back in 2005--the teacher was a big film buff. The film was a response to Columbine, and the "elephant" was supposed to represent the old proverb about several blind men being shown different parts of an elephant, and each man having a different opinion of what he was experiencing. As the film deals with different perspectives on a school shooting, it's fitting.

  2. ohh, that's pretty perfect. Thanks!