Modern movies primarily utilize visuals and audio effects to communicate the idea of a story shown to a viewer. The objective of the task for the director is to apply the most appropriate techniques to ensure that a viewer is fully aware of what happens on screen. Considering the beginning of film history, which involved no dialogs (silent movies), it is evident that nonverbal communication has a prominent place in film production.
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Thus, seeing an evolution of the approaches to storytelling can help gain insight into how nonverbal communication can enhance the meaning of a piece. The films that will be subjected to analysis of communication are 1999 Girl, Interrupted filmed by Mangold, and 2015 The Age of Adaline directed by Krieger. The two have 16 years between them, thus seeing the development of movie communication is possible. This paper aims to examine The Age of Adaline and Girl, Interrupted, and compare them concerning nonverbal behavior approaches.
Girl, Interrupted is a movie about Susanna who is forced to stay in a mental health institution for a period of time. There, she makes friends with other patients including a sociopathic and thus manipulative Lisa. The girl urges Susanna to run away from the establishment. In general, the story showcases essential issues concerning mental health through the depiction of patients from Claymoore. Due to the fact that most of the character’s diagnoses are questionable, the movie presents an idea of living standards and norms that were prevalent in 1960.
The relationship between sociopath Lisa and Susanna is the center of the story, as the film shows their runaway and adventures they have encountered. A suicide of a friend Daisy wakes Susanna up from the impact of Lisa, and she decides to return to an asylum. In the finale, Susanna confronts Liza and leaves the hospital realizing that her diagnosis did not require treatment; it was part of the girl’s personality.
The plot of The Age of Adaline is an epic love story with an element of fantasy in it. The main character of the film, Adaline has lived a simple life with her husband and a newborn daughter. However, a tragic car accident has changed Adaline’s biological state as she was never aged afterward. This presented many issues as people around the character, including her daughter, continued to grow old. The chase by FBI agents made Adaline run away and become cautious about how she lives her life. However, meeting a man and getting to know him better, along with other events, have urged Adaline to stop the escape life she led for ages.
Thus, the plot communicates essential choices one makes in regard to life and love. When compared, Girl, Interrupted, and The Age of Adaline have many differences regarding the ideas behind the movies; however, there are various similarities in how those are portrayed.
Nonverbal behavior is a complicated matter, which involves the transition of thoughts and ideas without a dialog. As Wood (2018) states, even silence can be considered a form of interpersonal communication as it can deliver powerful messages. While the author refers to the verbal aspect of communication, movies utilize it as well as the nonverbal methods to reflect the reality of people’s interactions.
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According to Hans and Hans (2015), reflecting on emotions and feelings is the primary objective of nonverbal communication. In daily lives, people use both verbal and nonverbal approaches to effectively display their ideas, while the art of film presents additional possibilities to the nonverbal aspect.
For instance, typically a person can reflect his or her state through facial expressions. In a movie, a viewer can witness those as well; however, the director can insert parts of one’s memories (providing a visual aid for understanding why the character feels a certain way). Additionally, the appearance of a character or the material things he or she is attached to can add emphasis regarding the importance of a particular aspect. Therefore, movie creators possess a more extensive variety of techniques that help display both interpersonal communication and the plot.
There is a variety of approaches to nonverbal interpersonal communication. Hans and Hans (2015), state that the most commonly utilized method is facial expressions, however, there are more. Body language, which can be referred to as kinesics, in general, can be indicative of how a character feels in a scene. Both touch and distance (known as haptics and proxemics) are commonly used in movie productions as parts of the nonverbal depiction. Anything that involves signals that are not spoken aloud can be considered a part of the interpersonal communication approach. The primary aspects examined in this paper will be kinesics, haptics, physical appearance, and artifacts.
Application of Nonverbal Communication in Film
The two movies utilize a variety of approaches that help uncover the idea behind the plot. Applying the concepts mentioned above in practice provides a better understanding of how the characters interact with each other. In The Age of Adaline, people’s appearance and body language are the primary factors. In Girl, Interrupted an artifact, the main character’s diary is the essential component. Although the two present different stories and utilize various approaches to plot communication, the movies are a great representation of the fact that nonverbal interpersonal communication is essential.
The Age of Adaline
Artifacts are utilized throughout the movie; primarily, a video and a photo are displayed as critically important for Adaline. The life story of the main character is described through video footage she examines while at work in the library. The scene uses an artifact as the video has a specific meaning to the woman. It can be argued that it is one of not many connections she has to her prior life. In a different scene, Adaline looks at the picture of herself with friends at a party.
The image is an old black and white photo that was taken many years ago. The actress who portrays the character displays a variety of emotions, showcasing the memories and sorrow for the moment, thus applying the concept of kinesthetics. The connection of the artifact and body language provides a viewer with an understanding of what emotions Adaline feels. Perhaps this is because the people with her in the picture have aged and she can no longer be a part of their lives; thus, an implication of physical appearance is present.
In the scene where the car accident occurs, the snow that a viewer can witness is essential for understanding that something out of the ordinary has happened. In the movie’s final scenes, a viewer sees the same weather as an indicator that something magical is in place. Thus, Adaline returns to the normal state in which she can become old with people she loves. Snow can be considered an artifact in this movie as it represents a significant change both at the beginning and at the end, therefore helping communicate an important idea.
The movie presents much of its plot through visual aids, which reflect the approach of kinesics by visualizing the characters’ body language. The close-up shot of the picture and Adaline’s face in the scene where she sees the photo of her help the narrative by showcasing the contrast between the happiness in the photo and emotions that the character has in the present time. In general, the movie utilizes kinesthetics in many scenes, which helps display the feelings of the characters. In the scene where Adaline is running away from FBI agents, her emotions are communicated through the actress’s body language.
It is evident that she is confused and worried as she does not understand the causes of the events. In the scene of Adaline’s meeting, Ellis utilized nonverbal communication as well. From the shot, it becomes evident that the two are interested in each other as they maintain eye contact and smile. Therefore, in The Age of Adaline kinesics provides significant help to the narration.
The scene in which the main male character Ellis first sees Adaline utilized nonverbal communication; it involves the man walking down the stairs and the woman sitting. The facial expressions that Ellis presents and his body language indicate his interest as he notices the woman. She, however, does not see him; thus, her body language communicates calmness. The nonverbal signs in the scene present a viewer with an understanding that Ellis wants to get to know Adaline.
Haptics is applied by the director in certain parts of the movie, which help understand Adaline’s feelings. Communication with the dog that she has is nonverbal, yet the affection for the pet is evident. This scene highlights the interaction between the two as Adaline pets the animal. Additionally, her body language suggests her friendly attitude; thus, helping a viewer understand the context of the relationship better. Together with the emotions and character’s appearance, the scene portrays a critical aspect of the main character’s life.
The Age of Adaline’s primary approach to providing a visual representation of the plot is the main character’s appearance, as Adaline’s looks do not change throughout the years. The contrast between her ever-young body and her daughter who has grey hair and wrinkles is evident. Although throughout the film Adaline changes the style of her clothes and hair to represent an era better, her facial expressions remain in place, indicating through kinesics that she has not changed mentally. Another aspect that shows the physical appearance of characters as part of communication is in the piece where Adaline meets Ellis’s father. She recognizes him although he has grown old since their last meeting.
Scenes that reflect nonverbal behaviors in Girl, Interrupted are varied and have several specific factors that enhance communication. Firstly, the diary that the main character Susanna has is an important factor that reflects her personality. She uses it to communicate her thoughts about other girls at Claymoore. When Lisa discovers the artifact and confronts Susanna, both verbal and nonverbal implications illustrate the importance of the diary to Susanna.
The physical appearance of the characters in Girl, Interrupted is essential to nonverbal communication. It is necessary to understand that the movie depicts the 1960s, where norms of behavior and looks differed. Thus, most girls were outfits that did not reveal much of their bodies and preferred mid-length hair.
Susanna, however, is shown with a short haircut, which distinguishes her from others. Considering the fact that she was put in Claymore for not knowing what to do with her life after school, the aspects of her appearance indicate the primary issue of her differing from the majority of people. Lisa, on the other hand, is portrayed as charming and feminine. She has long blond hair and prefers to wear revealing outfits. Both characters are different from other Claymoore patients, and from each other. In the scenes that followed their escape, Liza uses her appearance to attract men, which is another implication of her character. Thus, the physical attributes of the characters are an essential nonverbal factor in Girl, Interrupted.
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Kinesics is utilized in the movie as well as character’s body language in communication reveals their personality traits. Being identified as a sociopath, Liza is not afraid to behave boldly. In the scene where the main character meets her for the first time, she is brought to Claymore after a prior escape. Liza greets everyone around and yells while the nurse checks her. He body language and the manner in which she touches the medical personnel suggest that she controls the situation. As with the previous factor, Susanna is the opposite of Liza. Her body language implies that she is unsure and at times does not want to share her thoughts. She often sits in a closed posture indicating hostility towards others.
Additionally, in a scene where Liza confronts Daisy about the relationship with her father, kinesics plays an essential role in nonverbally displaying the attitudes of characters towards each other. Susanna tries to close her ears and cover herself with a coat to avoid hearing and seeing the confrontation. Lisa is relaxed as she sits on a chair and talks in a calm manner while maintaining eye contact. Daisy is distracted at first; however, her moves suggest that she wants to run away from the room. Thus, kinesics helps the director of the movie Girl, Interrupted to enhance an understanding of the emotions of the characters.
Not many examples of haptics are present in the movie, as the main characters prefer to keep their distance from other people. However, the absence of such is an essential implication of the relationships. In the scene where Liza is trading medications with Daisy and reveals the food the latter hides under her bed, Daisy does not stop her. Instead, she closes her mouth to ensure she does not scream thus attracting nurses to the ward. The part depicts an attitude towards Liza as it becomes evident that Daisy is afraid of her.
Overall, both The Age of Adaline and Girl, Interrupted apply nonverbal communication techniques throughout the films. Kinesics, haptics, physical appearance, and artifacts provide visual aids to viewers as they help enhance the meaning of particular scenes.
Thus, the importance of nonverbal communication as an addition to verbal approaches becomes evident. Both films utilize the physical appearance of the characters to distinguish them from others and emphasize the main idea of the story. Additionally, the two use artifacts to showcase particular attachments of people. Finally, body language and haptics illustrate the relationships between different characters and their attitudes towards each other.
Hans, A., & Hans, E. (2015). Kinesics, haptics, and proxemics: Aspects of non –verbal communication. Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 20(2), 47-52. Web.
Krieger, L. T. (Director). (2015). The Age of Adaline [Film].
Mangold, J. (Director). (1999). Girl, Interrupted [Film].
Wood, J. (2018). Communication in our lives (8th edition). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.