Thursday, September 8, 2011

Plants. . .They Aren’t Just For Gardens Anymore

Call it what you will. Foreshadowing, or planting information, is crucial to your plot line.

I recently watched two movies that used plants in effective ways. One was True Grit, the new Coen brothers offering with Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld.

I had seen the John Wayne version, in the theater when it first came out in 1969, (and cringed right along with everyone else over Glen Campbell’s performance. . .but I digress.) Shortly afterward I read the book, and was disappointed when I read the scene where young Mattie Ross fell into the pit and was bit on the hand by a snake. I was disappointed because the older version of the movie sugar-coated it. In the book, she lost her arm. In the movie, it was placed in a sling. Not so dramatic.

Because this scene now stood out like a snake-bitten thumb, I was very aware of it in the new movie, and wondered how it would be played out. With that thought fresh in my mind as I

watched the new movie, the little plant mentioned early on about snakes in winter jumped out at me like a disturbed viper. (I’m creeping myself out over these snake metaphors!) Mattie, Rooster Cogburn, and Texas Ranger La Boeuf are getting ready to camp for the night. It is mentioned that a rope surrounding the sleeping camper would keep snakes at bay. Then there’s the conversation about snakes not being active in winter. . .unless they’re disturbed. STRIKE! I knew what was coming, and I dreaded and felt thrilled all at the same time.

Had I not known what was coming, I may not have been so aware of it. An average viewer who had never seen the original version or read the book, would probably have remembered that scene when they talked of hibernating snakes after Mattie’s unfortunate spill into the pit. But knowing about it made it even richer for me, more dreadful, as I anticipated that scene.

I confess, I don’t remember if the camping scene and the talk about snakes is in the original as it has been a few years since I’ve seen it. After all, I was only three when it first came out! (Yeah. That’s hyperbole.) But if it wasn’t, how smart of the writers to include that tidbit for those of us in the know. Kind of their little nod to us, thanking us for giving Bridges/Damon/Steinfeld a chance to redeem that scene.

Or, maybe the adapters of this film had an editor who called them on the fact that snakes don’t bite in winter. Therefore, they needed to inform their audience of how such a horrific thing could happen.

The second movie that had a fun plant was Secretariat with Diane Lane playing the owner of the record-breaking triple crown winner. When Penney Tweedy is researching jockeys to ride the three-year-old hopeful, she learns about Ronnie, a take-no-prisoners kind of person who lives on the edge. Ronnie, it seems, rode a horse so hard once that its heart burst before reaching the finish line.

And there’s your plant. If you didn’t know the history behind Secretariat, you would fear what might come next when, in the third race of the triple trophy, the horse uncharacteristically breaks free and widens the gap between the rival horse and, in fact, all the other horses in the race. He gallops as if that is his sole purpose in life. Above eating and sleeping. Above grazing on sweet meadow grass. Above bonding with his rider. He widens the gap by more than thirty lengths. And the audience holds their breath because they remember that Ronnie once rode a horse so hard its heart burst.

Had it not been for that plant, the stakes would not have been so high and we would have experienced only the normal adrenaline rush when watching a horse race. And we would not have collectively let out the breath we were holding when Secretariat flew past that finish line, healthy as a. . .well. . .a horse.

What I learned from these two movies:

  • Plants can serve as a wink and a nod to those who know the storyline.
  • Plants can inform so that when the event happens, it will be believable.
  • Plants can up the tension and enhance the reader’s experience.

Remember to use them sparingly. In both of the movies, they were only there for the crucial scenes. Overuse of plants can only result in a messy garden. . .with a snake lurking beneath the foliage! (Yikes! I scared myself again!)


True Grit -

Secretariat -