A Living Thing: How Paul Thomas Anderson Makes Emotions Visual

A Living Thing: How Paul Thomas Anderson Makes Emotions Visual

Thus, by slowing the pace of his films down, Anderson is creating a truly different type of film. Gone is the messily frenetic pace of his early works and here is a composed and more sedate experience, one where the emotions are allowed to gradually reveal themselves to us. The forceful performances, an undercurrent of dark humor and a powerful father-son story assure that this is still very much a Paul Thomas Anderson film—but it’s unmistakable how different There Will Be Blood feels from everything that came before it.


The directing style employed with The Master represents the guarded and closed-off emotions of both of its protagonists in a subtle, tactile manner. Where characters may have spoken in an earlier Anderson effort, here we are presented with just their face. We never learn much about main character Freddie Quell, as just a few tantalizingly romantic tidbits about his bygone love Doris are relayed to us. As Film Radar shows however, we are told a great deal about the eclectic characters of The Master through their body language. Quell hunches over, almost receding into himself as his body contorts into unnatural positions. Oftentimes we can also see the discernible pain in his eyes while he is attempting to be dismissive. With Lancaster Dodd, there is a simmering seething anger beneath the surface, a signifier of insecurity, insecurity in the fact that he may not have all the answers. Anderson and Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s humongous 70mm lenses often do nothing but observe their character’s faces for extended periods of time, telling us a story through the visuals.


With Inherent Vice, though, you don’t necessarily need to understand what is happening to be engaged in what will happen next. In Phantom Thread, there are numerous moments where we, the viewer, are bewildered with what is happening, yet we are never pulled out of the world. “I never remember plots in movie,” Anderson says, “I remember how they make me feel.” What this video essay emphasizes is that Inherent Vice carefully wades through mountains of exposition while stepping around the pitfalls of it. Characters know each other and have known each other for a very long time. Every new scene is some type of exposition delivery but to what end? In the end, the lovable characters that Pynchon and Anderson have created are what ground everything, proving that though we may have exhausted the number of stories we can tell, there are always new ways to go about telling them.


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