Filmsare art. And just like any other form of art, they are always about something,and therefore demand interpretation and simply cannot exist without some formof interpretation of them (Danto, 1981). There are different forms ofinterpretations and contradictory ways of interpreting. Interpretations can be influencedby a number of dissimilar fields of thought or levels of knowledge, as well as differentreasons for interpreting, and it is possible for differing, conflictingreadings to both be correct.
Compared to other forms of art, the interpretationof cinema is also influenced by more aspects – such as the narrative, thecamera movement, the composition, the editing, the acting choices, music – which makes it especially difficult, as wellas different approaches to interpreting them. These will all be explored andelaborated upon in later paragraphs.The essay at hand will explore the different ways of reading and understandingfilms, different approaches to interpreting, and will look at how, similarly tointerpreting any other form of art, there are no definitive interpretations.This essay and the claims made in it will be supported and influenced by thewritings of aestheticians, art critics, film theorists, and art educators. Thisessay will also discuss the different layers of meanings that exist in films andwill bring examples from films such as Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth (2009) and The Lobster (2015), and Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962).ITheinterpretation of art can be said to be the least understood, most oftenconfused, and the broadest form of art criticism.
To freely include films inthis statement, it is first necessary to determine film’s role as one of theArts. Art as such is a remarkably difficult term to define, for it covers sucha wide range of human endeavour (Monaco, 1981). In the early days of cinema, itwas often claimed that film was not art, ‘for it does nothing but reproducereality mechanically’ (Arnheim, 1969). Film’s place among the Arts isquestioned by some even today, claiming it first and foremost entertainmentrather than art. The French actor Vincent Cassel, for example, has said in an interview(2018) that film was a business and entertainment, but very rarely an art form.However, Rudolph Arnheim, in his book Filmas Art (1969) argues that film follows the same age-old canons andprinciples as every other art, and therefore does coincide with the definitionof Art.
This claim is supported by Bela Balazs who, in his Theory of the Film (1952), has said that cinema does not reproduce but produce and through whichit becomes an independent, basically new art. Furthermore, Soviet-Russian filmdirector Vsevolod Pudovkin wrote in his book Film Theory and Film Acting (1958) that, ‘Between the natural eventand its appearance on the screen, there is a marked difference. It is exactlythis difference that makes the film an art.
‘ Furthermore, the ancientsrecognised seven activities as arts: History, Poetry, Comedy, Tragedy, Music,Dance, and Astronomy (Monaco, 1981). Each had its own rules and aims, but they allshared a common motivation: they were tools to describe the universe, as wellas our place within it. They were used to understand the mysteries of ourexistence. In each of these seven arts we could discover the roots ofcontemporary cultural and scientific categories. The development of recordingmedia centuries later was as significant historically as the invention of writingseven thousand years earlier (Monaco, 1981).
The recording arts provide adirect line of communication between the subject and the observer, and whilethey have their own codes and conventions, the language of recording media isboth more direct and less ambiguous than either written or pictorial language. Therecording arts comprise an entirely new mode of discourse, parallel to thosealready in existence. The ‘art’ of film, then, bridges the older arts ratherthan fitting into the pre-existing spectrum (Monaco, 1981).
Therefore,having shown that cinema can be considered one of the Arts, it becomes possibleto view the similarities between interpreting film and any other form of art,and to interpret films in the context of art. We cannot, however, expect theassertion of truth in cinema to be a simple operation. Like oratory art, itrequires many rhetorical instruments and communicational prerequisites (Ehrat,2005). Once people realised that films could do much more than provide simpleentertainment, a variety of theories and approaches were developed to helpanalyse film in order to understand how they created responses in viewers andjust what they might mean (Jacobs, ND).