Subtleties, subtitles and SUPER 8

I wasn’t as slobberingly in love with SUPER 8 as some others, proclaiming it to be the second coming of classic Spielberg fantasy, but I did enjoy the movie quite a lot. That enjoyment was enhanced when I got the Blu-ray. Watching a movie with the subtitles sometimes reveals little details that you might miss the first time around, and that’s the case big time with SUPER 8. Take a closer look at the scene in which the kids first ride off into the night to film their movie, just before the big train crash that kicks off the plot. This is where our heroes Joe and Alice first meet, or at least first get to know each other. The romantic tension between the two is evident. What’s less evident is how there is more than one level of story at work here, and how the disc’s subtitles show how the scene takes into the characters’ heads, without us even realizing it.

After everyone gets out of the car, Charles states, “Guys this is going to be great,” and he immediately launches into director mode, talking about shooting in two directions. Here is a little clue that this scene we’re watching is about to go in two directions.

Next, Charles speaks to his lead actor, saying he wrote a new line, saying “It’s going to be awesome,” and then promising “It’s not going to be hard.” It’s right on that last beat that Joe first approaches Alice, to do her makeup. That significant, because it’s as if the line “It’s not going to be hard,” reflects Joe’s state of mind as he approaches her, telling himself not to be fearful.

Joe asks, “Do you mind?” in reference to the makeup. Before she answers, Charles, unseen from behind her says, “You know that part where you say…” and then she answers, “No.” Charles’s line could be read in context of her inner monologue, as she tells herself it’s OK to talk to Joe, despite their shared history, so no, she doesn’t mind.

As Alice pulls her hair back to better let Joe apply the makeup, Charles behind her says the old line is gone, replaced by one that is better. “I just need this one,” he says. Joe then finishes the makeup and says, “There. Thanks.” If we’re to take Charles’s words as doubling for Joe and Alice’s inner thoughts, then “this one” is Alice’s gesture of pulling her hair back, a small act, but one that brings them some comfort with each other.

Joe continues to apply the makeup, as Charles stresses to his actor that the new lines are “Honey, I love you,” and “I love you, too.” Charles repeats these several times in the background as Joe and Alice’s eyes meet. Once more, Charles is speaking what Joe and Alice are feeling – or, in this case, want to be feeling – at that moment. Matters of the heart are never so simple, though, especially given Joe and Alice’s history. Charles’s actor says, “You keep changing things and making it more difficult for me,” while Charles insists that all he has to say is, “I love you, too.” This dialogue goes on as Joe silently applies the makeup, further illustrating what he and Alice are thinking without them having to say it.

Charles next says, “It’s like four words,” but Alice breaks the tension with six instead, saying, “My dad works at the mill.” This addresses the billion-pound elephant in the room, addressing the parental issues keeping them apart. Joe’s face goes blank as he doesn’t know how to respond, while Charles fills us in on his emotional stress, by asking, “Can you say I love you?” Joe doesn’t say it though, even though he wants to, and instead asksAliceto close her eyes. This is something of a symbolic gesture, as if trying to blind themselves from how they’re starting to feel about each other.

Finally, Charles simultaneously concludes and segues into the next story beat by saying, “So this scene is very emotional.” He’s talking not just about what he and his buddies are about to film, but, in subtext, about what we’ve just seen.

There are a lot of little details like this throughout SUPER 8, making it rewatchable, along with all explosions and alien craziness, of course.

About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH.
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