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Why Some Filmmakers Make Viewers Work To Figure Out What’s Going On

An in-depth look at Ex Machina explains the benefits of assuming your audience is smart enough to connect the dots on their own.

Why Some Filmmakers Make Viewers Work To Figure Out What’s Going On

WHAT: A new video explores the control of information in last year’s small-scale sci-fi hit, Ex Machina.

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WHO: Michael Tucker of film analysis site, Lessons From the Screenplay.

WHY WE CARE: Some films, such as 2013’s Upstream Color, can challenge audiences with abstract ideas to the point where they can only guess what actually happened. Experimental arthouse die-hards may rejoice, but others may be so off put by the viewing experience so as to not want to revisit it and figure out its narrative mysteries. The other extreme, however, is a movie that spoon feeds its viewers every plot point and possibly repeats these details to make sure nobody missed them. There is an overabundance of examples, so no need to single out just one. The control of information in a film, as Lessons From the Screenplay helpfully points out in a new video, defines how the viewer will engage with the film. In the case of Ex Machina, the film LFTS uses to demonstrate, writer/director Alex Garland uses perspective, a heightening pace of revelations, and deliberately vague dialogue to give the audience just enough to stay fully with the film at every turn. LFTS helpfully compares the screenplay to the final film at parts to show where large swaths of dialogue are trimmed away to let the audience wonder. It’s an illuminating video that confirms sometimes the less you know, the better.

About the author

Joe Berkowitz is a writer and staff editor at Fast Company. His next book, Away with Words, is available June 13th from Harper Perennial.

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