19/09/2016

Ringu - Action, Reaction

Thoughts On: Ring (1998)

After watching a cursed video, Asakawa and her ex-husband have 1 week to live, 1 week to figure out the mystery of the tape and alleviate their curse.


With Rings (the third in the American series) coming out soon, I decided to rewatch the Japanese classic. The interesting aspects of this movie, to me, are to do with the mystery elements - and the subsequent implication of how this movie was written or envisioned. Plots are largely consistent of reactive and active characters or moments. It's moments of decision and comprehension that then make up the plots of movies. In Ringu we see Asakawa as a mostly reactionary. Events happen around her, things like relatives dying, her son coming across the tape, her ex-husband wanting to pursue the history of the videotape. She then reacts to such situations by following the trail of the mystery or emoting her fears, doubts such and so on. This makes her reactionary because the film is essentially devicive, meaning the plot is self-preservative as it moves the narrative toward a clearly pre-decided end without the instilled idea of self-determinism given to the protagonist. This idea of reactionary and action-driven characters draws up a dichotomy of perceived power. By having a character be action-driven, someone like Dau-su in old boy or Andy in Shawshank Redemption...

  

... you are essentially creating a narrative about freedom, about revelation and perseverance. This means we see Dau-su or Andy grow and develop in their prisons before breaking out - Dau-su then looking for answers, Andy happiness. But, action-driven, decisive characters and reactionary ones are confusing terms. No character is completely reactionary, nor is one completely self determining. And in this we see the dichotomy of perceived power. The audience, by having a character be action-driven or reactionary, will see them as weaker or stronger. The best two examples of this would probably be in...

  

... The Matrix and Rocky. Yes, Neo is fed the pill, taught, essentially walked along the path to realise he's the one. Yes, Rocky is given a chance, the platform, motivation and training. But, both of these characters kick ass in the end, the rise from their humble beginnings to respective heroes. They start reactionary, but transcend the diminutive implications of such an idea. In seeing this, we can understand the idea of determined and self-determining characters to be a writer's device, a means of setting up an arc.

However, when you keep a character reactionary throughout your film, there's a conjured question of: why? Why do we need this specific person to take us through the plot if they add nothing to it? With horror films this reactionary imperative is key to making a character two things. The first is a shell for the audience. When a character isn't very distinct, but broadly brushed, largely archetypal, we are allowed to see ourselves in them. The why? concerning the character is then answered by the idea of working an audience. It's a bit like reading your star sign. Anyone can find something in their reading, but believe it personally talks about them when they're just ambiguous or banal aphorisms that make us feel good. Star signs, like certain flat characters are their to facilitate emotional reaction, to entertain. The second reason for somewhat flat characters is an idea of weakness. When a character simply reacts, they are made to seem weak, and when we align ourselves with them, we take on and understand their helplessness. We see this in...

  

... but that is used to set up Kevin's arc. In horror films, there is a sustained weakness, helplessness, or reactionary(ness(??)) because we need to feel pressurised by the threat of horror - the whole reason why we see a horror film.

But, and this is where we come back to Ringu, there is trope here, an almost symbiotic relationship between horror and mystery. We see horror genre crossovers also with action, thrillers and very rarely comedy. But, with Ringu, I'm left questioning if the right melding of genres has occurred. In fact, I think this with an awful lot of horror films. The reactions of Asakawa to the discoveries she makes don't seem to make sense. She may be a reporter, but why would she decide to track down the history of the tape? Yes, she's searching for answers, but the means by which she comes across them are questionable. Especially when you consider the end. Spoilers for anyone who hasn't seen the film. But, to save herself, Asakawa must perpetuate the curse by showing a copied tape to her ex-husband. This leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth as she seems kind of evil in the end - maybe just selfish - but what should have been a question to the audience supported and expressed through the preceding narrative. Essentially: is it wrong to save your own skin? When is it right? And so, to embellish this scene, make it more poignant, it would have made a lot more sense to turn this into a drama - to have it be confined and entirely centred on the ex-husband/wife and son relationship. Combining this with an implimence that Asakawa knew the rules of the game (even subconsciously) instead of having her just stumble upon them in the end, would have strengthened her character greatly, would have complicated her, forced rewatches as we would want to understand her not as a reactionary character, but an action-driven one. And in replacing the mystery elements with simpler dramatic one, there would have been an awful lot more room for simple conversations. And this is something I wish to see one day in a good horror film: for the characters to actually question their situation, not just accept it. I mean, to actually see ghosts and curses and so on would lead to a much more complicated reaction than...




... yes, they are all bad examples, but you get my point: the simple reaction shot. Instead of ending a scene with Asakawa scared, putting down the phone or whatever, before jumping to the ex-husband or groups of girls explaining things, wouldn't it make more sense to have her talk things out, to have dramatic segments of questioning, consideration, doubt, worry... a whole load of other things we'd all do?

In saying this, I don't think it should be the rule of all horror films to be slow, confined and concentrated, just that with elements of this we'd have stronger characters, more poignant pivotal scenes and an interesting plot - one that'd have to be explained and pulled apart by characters--at least in part and to the best of their ability. The final note is then of action and reaction. Both are devices that allow us to imbue characters with certain reasoning, to have them communicate with the audience a little better. Both devices should be used in a way that supports a narrative. Sometimes a narrative needs to drive itself forward, sometimes it needs to be stopped, manipulated, questioned or even pushed in a completely different direction. Characters can be the singular wild card, the singular body capable of contorting the rules, in a cinematic realm. They are tools that allow for more complex, more nuanced and unexpected story telling - only if used correctly - the way in which your narrative needs.





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