Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sleeping with the Enemy

This morning, I thought of another strong example of "beads" in writing (here's a definition of beads in a previous entry -- really, they're just symbols that pop up at certain times -- link here)

There's an older movie with Julia Roberts, called "Sleeping with the Enemy."  It's entertaining, creepy/scary, and sweet, all in one package.

Without giving too much away, the premise involves an abused wife who escapes her rich husband and finds a life on her own.  Well, at the beginning, the first "beads" show up.  We can see how "particular" the abusive husband is, when Julia's character frantically twists all the labels of cans inside the cupboard until they're all facing the same way, perfectly symmetrical.  Because he likes it that way.  She also does this later, with towels on the rack.  They must be even, perfectly aligned.  Because heaven forbid, if they're not...

When she finally starts her new life, sans abusive mate, her old habits come back, and as she's unpacking, she starts to twist all the cans, but then stops herself.  With a little smile, she turns them all out and around, lets them be imperfect.  She also does this with the towels.  A great symbol of her freedom, how she's let go of her abusive ex.

(Spoiler) - finally, at the end of the movie (the ex has been searching for her by now), she returns from a fun evening out with a friend, and is horrified to find....all the labels of the cans in her kitchen perfectly symmetrical.  The towels are perfect too, which tells her (and the audience) -- he's in the house!!

The ending is dramatic and tense, and it's truly, in part, due to those "beads."  In fact, if it weren't for the beads set up in the beginning, we (the audience) would not be quite so horrified at the end.  But with the careful placement of those beads beforehand, the audience was in on it.  We, like Julia's character, knew exactly what they meant -- those cans aligned, those towels aligned.  And when we see that bead for the final time, it sends chills up our spines.

Anyway, I think this is a perfect example of how to use "beads."  Not heavy-handed, but noticeable.  And, placed very carefully throughout the script.  So that, at the end, those beads pack a very specific  punch.  They make the audience think, "Ahhh.  I know what that is.  I know what that means."  It makes the audience feel smart.  With the beads, they're drawing their own conclusions.  The beads pull the audience into the piece, make them feel interactive.

Beads can be incredibly effective, if handled well.  I think the key is placement (not too many times, not too few) and subtlety (those cans/towels are not super-obvious the first two times they're shown, but wow, at the end, they have huge impact).

Can y'all think of any other movies/books where beads are used effectively?

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