Monday, June 16, 2014

Why You Should See X-Men: Days of Future Past AGAIN

Lately I've been studying cinematic storytelling techniques and conventions. I just mention this because it is the only reason I noticed what I'm about to tell you.

SPOILER SORT-OF WARNING: I won't give away any plot details that aren't explicitly narrated in the opening shots of the movie, but if you read on you might find yourself distracted next time you see the movie.

I saw X-Men: Days of Future Past the first time because I like genre films and this one got good reviews.

I saw X-Men: Days of Future Past the second time because I loved it the first time and I'm a wee bit obsessed with Michael Fassbender.

I saw X-Men: Days of Future Past the third time because I wanted to get some character inspiration from James McAvoy's too-good-for-genre portrayal of Sad Charles. (Also, I didn't want to go home after a beautiful night out and there is nothing else to do at 10:30pm on a Sunday in my sleepy-ass town.)

WELL. This third time I knew the story well enough to sit back and enjoy the cinematic details. And what did I discover?

X-Men: Days of Future Past is an homage to War Games.

Do you want to play a game?

First, there is the basic premise. A war waged with machines devolves into a no-win nightmare, and the heroes must prevent this before it starts. I know, this also describes the plot of Terminator and probably countless other things.

I say it's an homage to War Games specifically because XM:DoFP is also a visual tic-tac-toe game. Next time you see it, look for the X's and O's.

The X obviously represents Professor X and the X-Men and all things good. At the start of the movie, when things are not going well at all, we primarily see the Xavier X inside an O. But this is just the tip of the iceberg; circles are used throughout the film to represent everything Professor X is up against.

It's subtle at first. Notice the spiral staircase in Trask's office (which incidentally calls back to the 1974 movie The Conversation). Then notice the circles in his lamps and artwork. Trask is depicted with a halo handing an artificial limb to a girl in a wheelchair.

As the tension builds, we'll see more circles everywhere from the Professor's own wheelchair to the Presidential Seal to hatches and hats and earrings. Every weapon, literal and figurative, features a circle. By the movie's climax, Professor X is literally buried under and circumscribed by O's.

Once you see it, you won't be able to un-see it.

So what's my point? It's not to ruin the movie for you. It's just this: As novelists it is our job to layer meaning into our stories without bogging them down. We carefully choose verbs that imply adverbs, convey character through voice, tone through description, and in every other way make every word do as many jobs as possible. Great filmmakers do the same, packing as much meaning into every frame as they can afford to. I suppose it is what all artists do, from poets to sculptors to musicians. Maybe this is what defines great art. I just know that as a writer, every time I study any other kind of art, I learn something that helps me be a better writer.