Gif or Jif?
Some may claim it’s pronounced Jif but Graphics Interface Format files, or Gifs will always be Gifs with a hard ‘g’ to me! This week we were given the task to make our own gifs using the apocalyptic film we chose to watch. I watched Train to Busan, a zombie film that follows the journey of Seok-Woo and his daughter, Su-An, as they… you guessed it, take a train to Busan to visit his estranged wife and the mother of his child. Little do they know, a bio-chemical leak at one of his own facilities has created a zombie infection that has reached the train via a bitten woman jumping on at the last minute. The rest of the film follows the passengers of the train as they struggle to survive on a moving death trap full of hungry zombies while they search for a city where they can find sanctuary.
I absolutely loved this movie. I’m not a huge horror or thriller fan so the gorey parts of the film and the jump scares weren’t pleasant but the way they developed each character and made you care about them (or hate them) was wonderful. I became attached to the motley crew of survivors and I dreaded the moments that they would die because it’s a zombie movie and I knew where it was headed. There were conscious choices in music, shots and writing that endeared you to certain characters. For the two fathers, having a child, born or not, gave them a plot device that could show their vulnerability and different aspects of their personalities. Other characters like Young-guk, a baseball player riding the train with his team and crush, and In-gil, an old woman riding with his sister, had a similar effect with their emotional counterparts. By giving certain characters “weak spots” and emotional connections, you could see how they treated others and add emotionality to the moments where they have to face crisis involving their emotional counterparts. The writing, for me, really added to the effect of the movie and the movement of the narrative. The emotionality built up by this writing was furthered by a lot of close up shots on expressions. You can say a lot with just a shot of someone’s face!
One of the best characterizations within the film was of Sanghwa, the dad-to-be who had a gruff exterior but a soft side when it came to his pregnant wife. When you first saw him, he seemed almost rude with the way he addressed Seok-Woo’s daughter and joked bluntly with his wife. But as the film went on, you could see from the small actions he did like making sure his wife had somewhere to sit and paying attention to Su-An that he put others before himself. This is something he expresses himself and he criticizes Seok-Woo for only thinking about himself when he has a young daughter and others depending on him. SPOILERS AHEAD HERE: Unfortunately, Sanghwa dies in the struggle to get to a safe train car but the way he died was perfectly symbolic of his selfless strength so I wanted to gif that moment. Even as he transforms into a zombie and you see the human life leave his eyes, he continues to fight against it and stand in between the pack of zombies and his wife and fellow survivors until the last second. This moment was full of tears for me and I captured it in the gif below.
I ended up watching things in reverse order and ended with La Jetée. I had already heard a bit about what to expect with this film; there would be no real movement, only a sequence of photographs that furthered the story. This was an interesting approach and I was actually shocked when at one point, they did have what appeared to be normal motion or animation when the woman blinked her eyes. The choice to include more fluid animation there then appeared significant to me. When filmmakers are very selective about what they don’t include (i.e. moving video), the moments where they do include it (the blinking) then stand out and appear as a clear artistic choice. As a whole, I didn’t subjectively enjoy the movie that much because the narrative seemed to move slowly due to the same photos sitting on screen for a long period of time. I actually ended up turning the speed up to watch it in 2x speed which made it more palatable to me.
Objectively, I thought the movie was a nicely done example of an alternative way to tell a story. With just a small amount of pictures, it was easy to understand what was going on, although you needed the narration to help piece it together. If you watched the pictures alone without it, it would become a confusing mess simply because it uses abstract concepts and a dream world that travels through time. That’s not easy to show through pictures alone, especially at the time it was created. I would say it is not quite as effective as movies, but that is not the fault of the method but rather the actors. The expressions in the photos were not always easily readable or believable. Even when the man was supposed to be in pain while being experimented on, it didn’t seem agonizing. Would this be fixed simply by having it filmed rather than photographed? Possibly but it was really the people in it rather than the medium. In the end, I think that a story told through pictures is very possible and I can only wonder if it could be done even more successfully with today’s minds and technology.