Principles of Film Form

The principles of film form can be found without much trouble in nearly every film out there. So I’m going to use one of my personal favorites, Into the Wild, as an example. For those of you who’ve never seen the movie, it summarizes the true story of a young man named Christopher McCandless who decides to leave society, travel across the country, and rough it in the Alaskan winter. I’ll do my best not to spoil the movie, documentary, or book, so if you’d like to know more about it you can find a lot of information about it in it’s IMDb link - .

The first form I’m going to cover in the movie are the functions of certain aspects of the films. My two favorite instances of function in the movie involve the music and the people. Eddie Vedder and his band Pearl Jam did all of the music for Into the Wild with the exception of a few classics such as Roger Miller’s “King of the Road”. Now for anyone who’s ever listened to Pearl Jam, you know that they’ve never been hardcore rock. However in Into the Wild, their music is even softer than most listeners were used to. All of the music in the movie sounds folksy and peaceful. The songs are symbolic of nature and show the cleanness and purity of it as compared to cities and societies. The people Christopher, or Alex as he’s known by many, meet along the way also serve several functions in the movies. Most rub off on him since he’s still young and several represent the good in people which make it harder for him to leave society. These internal struggles really affect McCandless and lead to an ending that is honestly quite surprising in many ways.

Another form in the film are the instances of similarity and repetition. Probably the clearest example of this would be the expressions Christopher shows whenever he reenters nature. You can always count on seeing a few key traits when he does this. A smile, laughter, a sense of excitement, etc. All signs of happiness to be away from society and it’s corruption. Another example of similarity and repetition is Christopher’s ignorance, or refusal, to obey society’s laws and order. You can see this when he rafts down a rapid river without a permit, crosses the border into Mexico, and hops trains.

On the opposite edge of the spectrum is the difference and variation in the film. This form is much easier to explain because of the stark contrast in the film between society and nature. Whenever you see shots of larger cities and people, the shots are darker, uglier, and just not very appealing. The shots of nature and small towns however are brighter and livelier. The only exception to this is a bar scene in a small town where Christopher is talking with the locals and some co-workers. This shot’s purpose is actually another instance of difference and variation because it shows Chris that even small towns have a degree of corruption and darkness.

The final form I’m going to cover is of unity and disunity. It is perfectly possible that my own bias for the movie is the reason that I don’t see any disunity in the film. Which is still surprising because I’ve seen it in the double digits now. The unity in the movie however, is very strong. The relationships in the movie become clear quickly and their roles are self explanatory. Christopher’s relationships with Wayne Westerberg, Rainey, Tracy Tatro, and Ron Franz were all real, but also served larger purposes for the movie. They all furthered Christopher in his journey and made him a better person. Equally, he affected all of their lives.

Into the Wild is a wonderful film which has artfully included these film forms. Probably one of the reasons it’s still in IMDb’s top 250 movies at #161, right above “The King’s Speech”.


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