Most movies tell a story from the outside. The story plays out on the screen, and the shooting and editing show the action to an audience that is watching the action, but isn’t part of it.
Some movies, though, are told very much from the protagonist’s point of view, and the audience need to go inside the character’s head, to see the world of the story as the character sees it and feel what they feel.
That’s very much the case for some of this year’s contenders for the editing Oscar. “Silver Linings Playbook,” about a romance between two people struggling with mental illness, has to help the audience feel the mood swings of a man suffering from bipolar disorder. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is told from the point of view of a little girl who sees her home threatened by a storm and flood, by modernization, and her father’s illness.
“Flight” follows the story of a hero pilot wrestling with alchoholism. Even “Skyfall,” “Argo” and “The Impossible,” which feature more conventional structures, have subjective moments that take the audience inside the mind of their characters.
In David O. Russell’s ” Silver Linings Playbook,” Bradley Cooper stars as Pat Solatano, a bipolar man who returns to his parents’ home after months in a mental hospital following a violent outburst, and sets out to rebuild his life.
Says editor Jay Cassidy: “When he gets upset he’s going to get manic, and the editing should reflect the nature of what he’s going through. There was a lot of calibration to what his non-medicated behavior should be. We adjusted so you didn’t give up on the character. (The challenge was that) you couldn’t know how far to go, you had to see it as a whole to recognize the whole arc of the mood swings.”
One scene in which the editing helps reveal Pat’s psyche is when Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” not only triggers a memory of his violent episode but triggers a new one. “The editing is very aggressive, because we were trying to reflect the agitation of his state of mind,” Cassidy says.
For “Beasts of the Southern Wild” editors Affonso Goncalves and Crockett Doob, rhythm and pacing was central. The story is told through the point of view of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis), a young girl who lives with her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), in “the bathtub,” an impoverished stretch of Louisiana bayou.
“Through attention to the rhythm, you can feel Hushpuppy’s experience of different places,” Goncalves says. “When she is eating the crawfish with everyone, it’s one rhythm; when she’s by herself and looking for her dad it’s one rhythm. The way Hushpuppy experiences every place dictated how I was going to present her — will she be in more close-ups, or is she sharing a shot — so you tend to favor her by being closer to her, and get her point of view of everything that’s happening.”
For Doob, Hushpuppy’s quiet moments were key. “You didn’t need much to feel like you knew who she was, and you related to her, and you liked her,” he says. “You were ready to take this adventure with her.”
“Argo” editor William Goldenberg says the film underwent surgery to shift the narrative further into its protagonist’s state of mind. Ben Affleck directed and stars as real-life CIA operative Tony Mendez, who rescued six American diplomats during the Iranian revolution by posing as a director of a fake sci-fi film. “We were able to carefully choose additional moments with Tony to pepper throughout the movie, to give it a much stronger point of view,” Goldenberg says.
For example, in the first version of a scene where the diplomats are celebrating their rescue on a plane headed out of Iran, the camera didn’t cut to Tony until the end of the scene
“We revised,” Goldenberg says, “so that we played that moment through Ben’s eyes, gave the scene an additional strength, and clarified the point of view of the movie.”
Sam Mendes’ James Bond installment “Skyfall,” also explored its hero’s psyche, albeit with the requisite action scenes required from 007.
“When I read the script, I knew this would be a different Bond, much more cerebral,” says editor Stuart Baird. “It had much more to do with his character, and revealing him, so that was the obvious impetus of each cut.”
One such scene, when Bond (Daniel Craig) returns to London after being taken for dead and confronts M (Judi Dench), exemplifies Baird’s effort to tell “Skyfall” through the secret agent’s eyes. “I cut very carefully to drag out the looks, and the pacing.” Baird says. “When he says to her, ‘Ronson didn’t make it,’ she says ‘No.’ I hold that look. You can see what’s going on between them — the anger and resentment, as we learn that he’s a psychologically damaged person.”
Elena Ruiz and Bernat Vilaplana, who edited “The Impossible,” Juan Antonio Bayona’s drama about a family caught in the 2004 South Asian tsunami, had to strike a balance between objective and subjective moments.
“The film, with the exception of Maria’s (Naomi Watts) final nightmare scene, was very realistic and honest,” co-editor Elena Ruiz says. “Narratively and technically speaking, we were looking for naturalness in the actions and the psychological intensity of the protagonists.”
“The plot of the movie is actually very simple, but the richness is behind the emotions you feel from the characters,” Vilaplana says. “Emotion is a completely subjective concept, while the plot remains objective. It is difficult to control what degree of universality there is an emotion and that hinders decision-making in the editing room.”