A Look at Intimacy

The second in TFR’s Lockdown Recap series, capturing our quarantine viewing habits and the changing nature of cinema.

At a time where meeting people and even touching was largely forbidden, films about intimacy- whether physical, emotional, romantic or friendly- proved important to many of us. In these two pieces, our contributors examine how cinema reflects our current attitudes towards intimacy.

Anderson and Intimacy

Written by Seirce Mhac Conghail

The Cinematography of Wes Anderson's Go-To DP, Robert Yeoman
Bill Murray as Steve Zissou in The Life Aquatic (2004)

Broadly speaking, there is no cinematic universe more suited to the warped, anxious, and utterly bizarre experience of lockdown than that of Wes Anderson. A filmmaker renowned for his attention-grabbing quirks, Anderson’s distinct style is especially soothing when it comes to the treatment of intimacy. As a society, our attitude to intimacy has had to drastically change over the past months. Social distancing is the expected norm, as physical contact has become a near-taboo. We equally crave and fear closeness, which spans not only the realms of touch but of emotion too. We have found ourselves lonely. We have found ourselves wanting things we can no longer have. We are still finding ourselves madly grappling with the growing pains of a new etiquette. 

Where, then, to turn? How can we avoid the resurfacing of the apocalypse genre? Harder yet, how can we escape into fiction without being reminded of the world we so desperately miss? 

Here, the world of Wes Anderson is a haven. It is full of characters who clash with intimacy. They are awkward, physically stiff but verbally expressive, and preoccupied with saving face over showing emotion. Many of Anderson’s films deal with characters who must descend from the constraints of supposedly acceptable behaviour into the brief but truthful madness of their repressed selves. Often this enables the characters to then return to the world of manners, and to live with feelings and external expectations in harmony. The discord of the internal and external is presented so strangely yet so humorously that we cannot help but find an affinity with the characters. We are liberated briefly from the minefield of real-life intimacy as the perplexity of it all is made palatable. 

One stylistic feature that particularly soothes the anxiety of physical closeness is the composition of shots. They are obsessively symmetrical. Often characters are situated at a distance that would normally seem unnatural yet now is protocol. In addition, dialogue is often presented as if flipping on a 180 degree axis, a constant back-and-forth. While feeling jerky and manufactured, this aspect reflects the social interactions we are having today, either in person or through platforms such as Zoom. 

Thinking about intimacy of any kind has taken on an extraordinary amount of weight since mid-March. While some fictional worlds only offer us a twisted mirror, the films of Wes Anderson remain a reassuring escape. The magic is in the detail: while reflecting our remoulded society more accurately than ever, Anderson’s films are so thoroughly consistent, so convincingly constructed as fully operating worlds that they allow us, if only for a short time, to forget.

Austen and Intimacy

Written by Markéta Ní Eithir

10 Sense & Sensibility Movie Facts
Edward (Hugh Grant) and Elinor (Emma Thompson) exchange a passionate glance in Sense and Sensibility.

No touching and a two-meter distance with all but one’s family: not exactly an environment that we imagine romance flourishing in. While there was undoubtedly a resurgence in the popularity of films such as 50 Shades of Grey (Sam Taylor-Johnson, 2015) during these lonely times, there is a different group of films that ooze with an intimacy that is perfect for the corona era. It is a world where everyone’s love language seems to be eye contact and less is often more in the romantic relationships we root for. I am talking, of course, about Jane Austen adaptations.

In Sense and Sensibility (Ang Lee, 1995) Elinor (Emma Thompson) and Edward (Hugh Grant) manage to social distance for just about their entire courtship. Their unspoken love for each other flourishes and eventually reaches its peak, not with a kiss, but Elinor’s relieved sobbing while Edward watches from a safe distance. In a very different approach, the (spoiler) villainous Willoughby is anything but isolated from Marianne (Kate Winslet), carrying her out of the rain, holding her hands as he spins her around and even touching her hair as he cuts a lock of it for himself. We all know only the more corona-safe relationship survives. Coincidence? I think not. 

The films also have plenty of dance sequences, during which the protagonists are often forced to confront their feelings for each other. In Pride and Prejudice (Joe Wright, 2005), everyone else in the room suddenly vanishes as Lizzie Bennet (Kiera Knightley) and Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFayden) passionately bicker while they frolic around each other, barely touching. Emma and Mr. Knightley don’t even need to talk to realize their mutual attraction in 2020’s Emma (Autumn de Wilde), and while their choreography does require more physical contact, most of the ladies are, very sensibly, wearing gloves.

And then of course there is the perfect quarantine activity: walking. From Marianne’s adventurous, and later tragic, wander in the rain to Mr. Darcy’s romantic stroll at sunrise, it is not only the preferred mode of transportation for many of the characters, but a pastime that allows them to process their feelings. Never has walking been so emotional.

The films are also rife with family squabbles that everyone who has been stuck at home for the past few months can relate to all too well. So, if you are craving some socially distanced romance, look no further than the cinematic adaptations of the work of one of the most prolific writers of all time.

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