I've had a few articles about reading (film) texts published. And it's raining outside all three of the windows in the room I'm working in.
What Is Scene?
It's true that we could open a dictionary and grab a definition that would probably serve us. In fact, that's where we'll start. But this definition is only the beginning of the considerations the opening sequence of "The Night Eats the World" allows for.
Google's definition (2) will serve as our starting point:
- "A sequence of continuous action in a play, movie, opera, or book."
We'll append the above with an amended form of one of definition 2's sub-points:
- setting [is] fixed [or] does not usually involve a change of characters-
What we're talking about is a frame of attention. That focus may be on a place or a character, but in a word there is a sense of continuity in a scene. And a scene seems to constitute a discrete unit within the larger text.
Opening Sequence Analysis
The opening sequence is not the opening scene, but contains the opening scene. In "The Night Eats the World" a lot is provided before the title sequence. The beginning of the title sequence is the end of our opening sequence. Determining the beginning of our opening scene is a bit more thought-provoking.
At just under a minute into the film, the "in association with" credits disappear. The studio-quality audio has transitioned into the muffled sound of a stereo through apartment walls accompanied by party chatter, and yet we remain in darkness for a moment. Soon Sam, the main character, ascends the stairs into light.
This revelation of the darkness as part of the world confirms we should mark the beginning of the opening scene at the moment when the audio has transitioned and the final production credit has disappeared. Marking this as the beginning of the opening scene provides insights.
Consider these key details:
- The darkness, more generally the incomplete quality of information, is innate to the scene, and likely extrapolatable to all scenes within the world.
- There is a pace and mode of action within the scene, more specifically Sam moves through this scene in a specific way. From this baseline, comparative readings of Sam's ways of moving and being in subsequent scenes provide relative information about Sam and the scenes.
So, we've established where the opening sequence ends and where both the opening sequence and scene begin. And we've seen how at less than 30 seconds in a trove of detail has been revealed which can shape our experience of subsequent scenes.
In addition to this world-building information, the basic questions of the scene (who, when, where) begin to be developed. The sunlight through the staircase window, which Sam ascends into, provides a general time of day, the music and clothes of Sam and the others at the party provide a general year. The stairs, apartment, and more broadly the building that contains them is the place. And, of course, there is the yet unnamed Sam and soon there is the unnamed Fanny, the woman with whom Sam shares history.
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But Is This a New Scene?
While our frame of focus remains on Sam, there seems to be some change within him. Sam's position and demeanor, on the couch with beverage in hand, conveys an emotional surrender within his agreement to wait. He is given over to the position of inert object, recall the comparative analysis of how he moves and exists.
The other point of the scene is setting. We know time has passed. Sam is a person who walks up stairs not appears on couches with beverage in-hand. So, we feel justified in assuming time has passed and Sam has done things. Though, it feels likely we would not be deprived of knowledge if he had done something significant.
The adequate response seems to be this is a new scene, as constituted by a shift in time and place and arguably by the subtle change in our focal character. That doesn't mean we have to agree it is a strong scene break.
As Katie Rife implies in her review of "The Night Eats the World" at AV Club, most people would find this film tedious if it didn't have scene breaks to convey time shifts. In fact, Rife counts such avoidance of tedium to the director, Dominique Roche’s, credit. I'm of a slightly different perspective.
If the film is an exploration of the mundane in the face of the apocalyptic, why not show scenes of tedious boredom?
According to Jason Zinoman's review of this film in The New York Times, the film, as it is is already "a tediously solemn feature debut [and] finds new ways to drain all the fun out of flesh-eating monsters." I'm of a slightly different perspective than this too.
Sam enters the room at the end of the hall. When he closes the door, the sound changes and the setting is the most altered yet. Sealed thresholds are a ripe trope in texts. It seems certain, based on the simple concept we've been using, this is not only a scene break, but possibly significant.
Then how should we read the door opening less than thirty-seconds later? And Sam re-entering the hallway immediately, only to turn around and re-enter the room?
We can either take a formalist approach and apply the term scene to each of these:
- Moments Sam's in the room
- Moments Sam's in the hallway
- Time following Sam's re-entry into the room up until the end of the opening sequence
Or we can consider the possibility the text is presenting the argument that Sam's initial entry into the room was an inauthentic scene break. It seems the threshold is crossed and sealed. But, as we learn, it isn't. In addition, when Sam moves back and forth through the threshold in that short time, something happens. Arguably it's only when Sam re-enters and locks the door that an authentic scene break occurs.
Consider that "the threshold is the paradoxical place which connects the very two spaces it separates: under precise rules and rituals, it allows the passage and almost calls for it. The function of the limes, on the contrary, is to assure the impermeability of the two." ( Mircea Eliade, "The Sacred and the Profane" Harcourt, 1987) So, if the limes, the seal, did not function, the room remained connected with the larger apartment. The significance of the limes as contrary to the threshold echoes through multiple scenarios of safety and vulnerability within the film.
Thinking About What We've Seen
Particularly if we agree there's cause to read the initial entry into the room at the end of the hall as an inauthentic scene break, there's reason to read the two earlier scene breaks to signal time shift as weak.
They are understandable. Filming requires resources. Cutting shots and using scene breaks is quick and a common approach to time shifts. Boring your viewers isn't a common approach. Though in this film about mundane life in a time of the dead, it would have been an interesting choice, from my perspective, to shape one continuous scene up until the significant and resonant locking of the door to the room at the end of the hall.
|Rotten Tomatoes||Metacritic||IMDb||Google Users|
54% (audience score)
3 / 5 (calculated from 6/10)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 EC Wells