Some people-usually rich ones-feel the need to have a “safe room” to survive some invaders and/or Armageddon. David Fincher’s new film- “Panic Room” strongly represents the idea, how terrified we are of becoming the victims we see on TV. The film with it scares has a lot in common with the fear and paranoia of Manson generation: You really can’t protect your family or your home. Besides this the clear Hitchcockian atmospherics of suspense is a part of the film as well.
“Panic Room” is the ultimate example of Hollywood’s obsession with high concepts, which are mostly cliche A divorced woman and her daughter move into a new house with a “panic room”, a secret room designed to keep out intruders. But when the intruders arrive, the woman and her daughter escape into the panic room and everyone ends up fighting for their life. The film represents the idea that from my point of view, was formed a long time ago, but got to its greatest point after September 11th 2000- the idea is that nobody can protect themselves and their families neither from terrorists, neither from burglars or murderers.
The film represents a divorced woman- Meg, the character is played by Jodie Foster, who along with her daughter moves into a new big house in Manhattan, New York and this is how their long night begins. Burglars came into the house and try to steal the hidden three million dollars. The film represents the situation how you can be captured in your home. As we all know our home is our castle- a place where we escape from the outer world, a place where we can hide. The house in the film is strongly represented, but not because it represents the idea of secure, but the idea of unsafely.
This house, built in 1879 in New York, Manhattan was occupied during the last years by a rich, old man, who installed the panic room and the elevator, for easily moving through the floors. After his death the house is for sale. From the very first moment that we see the house it amuses with its hugeness and its darkness. The windows covered with curtains, so that no light comes in, even daytime, the simple look, without a lot of furniture- all this gives us an idea of the previous occupier of the house, a man not wanted to be seen by the world, excited by the new technology, but still stuck in the past.
This is why the house has its own character, which we understand by the way it’s shown. Although the house is quite big, with its five floors, it strongly creates a depressive feeling and scariness of what’s hidden in it. It looks like a house of mystery and past. This is a house which hides secrets and mystery. This connotation of the house gives us straight away the feeling that something terrible is about to happen. The film also represents the idea of developing of the woman from a feminine creature to the hero of the film, as well as the horror situation gives Meg the opportunity to find herself.
Jodie Foster’s character evolves during the film- in the beginning of the film and woman scared from this world and trying to find herself, to somebody, who is not afraid to protect her family in any ways she can. From quite feminine, she’s got to lose it to become brave and safe her and Sarah’s lives. From the beginning of the film, you have somebody who absolutely doesn’t know who she is, and through the course of drama, learns that she does have all the answers to her questions and the way to live her life.
She is been married for a long time to somebody who is much richer, much older and much important. This situation and the emotional process of moving into a new hose, trying to have the life she gave up long time ago and the horror that she is through that night makes her find herself and a new way to live her life again. From her behaviour we get to know her and her feeling for her ex-husband- she keeps her emotion inside, because she wants to be strong. She keeps herself from crying in the bath and the sleepless nights are the clear proves for this.
But the film becomes more interesting and gets the palm-sweating tension with the situation that the house contains a special room, the panic room. This room is a high-tech shelter filled with monitors connected to surveillance cameras, a telephone line, different from the main line in the house, protected by thick steel walls and door, own ventilation system and supplies for a long period of time. This is a place where you can find shelter in times of need, a place where you feel safe in, but a place you’re frightened of as well.
Rooms like this are usually built for paranoid rich people who are scared to be murdered. The first appearance of the room in the film is some kind of scary, because it’s not something that you expect to see and the look of the room is even more scary and depressive because of the neon-kind lightening. As the mostly lightened place in the house it’s supposed to be welcoming, but it’s not because of the small space and its look. If we think of the house as a body, probably the “panic room” would be the mind- hiding its ability and power, the place where we observe and then decide what to do.
In this very room is hidden the “treasure” that the burglars are looking for. This is the place where the characters are hiding in, but are captured in as well. The representations in the film are made so that they’re quite believable and give the opportunity for self-representation. Although not a lot of the audience live in New York in a house like the one in the film, neither they have a panic room, the very idea of being unable to protect the ones you love is close to every person in the audience. So may be not the situation, but mainly the idea of the film has the self-representation material.
The “Panic Room” creates the connotative levels of meaning by representing the panic room and the house. As I’ve already mentioned the sets and the props of the house and the panic room are made to create a meaning. The audience connote the house as a castle, a place hiding secrets; it looks quite like the house in “Psycho” by Hitchcock. The audience connote the house not as a normal house, like the one they have, but a place which makes them alienate from the situation of the film. The panic room makes the audience alienate a well, as it’s something not familiar to the audience.
Every detail in the set is on its place, so that everything looks realistic- isn’t this the idea of every film- to be realistic and to involve the audience in it. As a part of the non-verbal structures of the film the positional communications are vital to create meaning. From the beginning of the film Meg and her daughter Sarah are in the room, while Junior (Jared Leto), Burnham (Forest Whitaker) and Raoul (Dwight Yoakum) are outside and try to get in, and Meg has to do everything she can not to let them.
The situation changes when Meg has to get out to get a medicine for Sarah, who is diabetic and is going to die if she doesn’t take the medicine. The positions change again when Meg is outside, Junior is dead, and Raoul, Burnham and Sarah are inside. All this positions change in the point of the film when the audience think that there is nothing to be done. Exactly these changing make the narrative lively and full of memorable moments like the one when Meg gets her mobile from the bedroom or throws the medicine inside the room and is left outside.
All this moments have even greater effect, because of the soundtrack, which makes the emotions stronger. The whole structure is well done- the editing is so slow, that it makes a second look like a minute. This creates the importance of the moment, by showing the emotions of the characters. The cinematography by Conrad W. Hall (“American Beauty”) and Darius Khondji (“Seven”) and Fincher’s technique of moving the camera through the floors, doors, wall sockets, key holes, etc. , the sense of anxiety, tension and suspense came eerily in the film.
From the very beginning of the film the light, the sound and the camera movements and framing are quite important. As I have already mentioned the light in the house and its echo creates the needed atmosphere for the film and the music gives our emotion the climax of the suspicion feelings. Another interesting point of view that we get as omnipotent viewers is how the camera moves into and through the walls and cables which is similar to another Fincher’s film- “Fight Club”. This makes us some kind more involved with the scene and what’s about to happen, because we know what’s exactly happening on the other side of the wall.
Though the darkness and the scariness of “Panic Room”, the film has a simple line narrative structure, which is actually uncommon for the director- David Fincher. The line structure of the film has no flashes back or forward, which makes the audience concentrate only on the story and how are the characters going to escape of the situation. But in a special way we’re shown a meta-narrative structure- we see not only Meg and her daughter’s story, but Junior, Burnham and Raoul’s as well. During the film we get to understand what happened earlier in the life of the characters, but only from their conversations.
The audience has the opportunity to see what’s going on inside the panic and outside it, which is vital to understand the narrative and the structure of the film, as well as compare what the characters are like, and to choose their hero in the film. The fact that Meg and Sarah are inside the room and they can see everything that’s going on outside, and that the burglars can not see the inside of the room is dreadful for them. This is the way that the director has chosen to alienate the “good” and the “bad” characters. But this situation changes when Meg’s daughter is captured inside with Raoul (Dwight Yoakum) and Burnham (Forest Whitaker).
Raoul is a stereotype of a villain, the perfect criminal with signs of pathological disturbance, without any regrets and is more likely to harm the girl even when she’s dying we can easily consider him as the brutal and violent character in the film. Meanwhile our opinion about Burnham changes, because of his reaction to the situation- helping Sarah. In the climax of the film when Meg is attacked by Raoul and has no chance to escape, Burnham comes back, risking his freedom, and saves her, which makes his character evolve during the film from villain to a helper or even side-kick.
The thing that changes our opinion about him is his motivation- of course, he wants the money, but he wants to get them without hurting anybody and risking somebody else’s life. In the end when the police capture him, we even get to care about him more that we care about Sarah, Meg or her ex-husband. Meg (Jodie Foster) is the hero of the film, which is not quite likely to a film from this kind of genre. Her character evolves during the film as well- in the beginning of the film and woman scared from this world and trying to find herself, to somebody, who is not afraid to protect its family in any ways she can.
From quite feminine, she’s got to lose it to become brave and safe her and Sarah’s lives. From the beginning of the film, you have somebody who absolutely doesn’t know who she is, and through the course of drama, learns that she does have all the answers to her questions and the way to live her life. She is been married for a long time to somebody who is much richer, much older and much important. This situation and the emotional process of moving into a new hose, trying to have the life she gave up long time ago and the horror that she is through that night makes her find herself and a new way to live her life again.
From her behaviour we get to know her and her feeling for her ex-husband- she keeps her emotion inside, because she wants to be strong. She keeps herself from crying in the bath and the sleepless nights are the clear proves for this. The position of the audience gives them the opportunity to see what’s going on inside the panic room as well as outside it in the house, and because of this create an opinion about the characters. As I’ve already mentioned about Burnham, it’s important how the opinion of the audience changes and they begin to like him and care for him, even more than they care for Meg and Sarah.
In the beginning of the film Meg is delineated by her clothes- she’s well dressed with clothes that look not like something special, but are probably expensive, as well as her glasses makes her looks clever and rich. She’s weak and depressed because of the divorce, this idea the audience get when Meg is in the bath and holds her emotions, she tries to be strong, because this is the greatest change of her life; before that change she used to hold on to her husband, now though she is the one that Sarah has to hold on to, she has to become the strongest in the family.
And during the film she becomes this, by saving the family and even her ex-husband. Jodie Foster’s character role is to be the hero of the film and show the public that the women are evolved and are the heroes nowadays. From my point of view the other most interesting character in the film is Burnham, mostly because of his evolving in the film. While Junior is like the stupid in the gang, he tries to be the smart one, but can never do it, and because of this dies and Raoul- the usual criminal with a lot of guns and no mercy for the weaker ones.
That somehow makes Raoul and Junior look like the next prop mise-en-scene. If we divide the film in two stories and pay more attention to the one of the burglars we can easily notice that Burnham is the smartest one and the one, who is the hero and is meant to stay alive in the end of the film. He has to fight with the other two from his crew to save himself and the woman and her family. This reminds me of the films where the situation is similar except the house and the panic room. In that films usually in the end the bad guy fall in love with the woman.
However in this film it’s won’t be appropriate, though he becomes in the end of the film the hero by saving Meg, he is afro-american and this won’t be suitable for the audience. Raoul is a stereotype of a villain, the perfect criminal with signs of pathological disturbance, without any regrets and is more likely to harm the girl even when she’s dying we can easily consider him as the brutal and violent character in the film. By his actions Raoul is the villain in the film, the perfect one, he doesn’t give up even in the end when there’s nothing to be done, but to give up, he tries to kill Meg, and luckily Burnham saves her.
I strongly think that the audience that will identify most with Meg (as she’s the hero) is the US audience and mostly the divorced women there (US is the country with the greatest amount of divorces in the world), who are probably scared to live alone with their children as there’s nobody to protect them. However just like every hero, in the end these women will probably identify with her, not only because she’s divorced, but because they’ll respect her strength. Panic Room” as a thriller has all the generic conventions within the text- it’s scary, it’s claustrophobic, and it’s palm-sweating, but something has changed- the hero is a feminine woman, the one like the housewives and she manages to break her shell and live her new live, but she’ not like the woman- fighters. However the film is not only a part of the thriller genre, but it’s a work of David Fincher, who during the years has developed his own unusual style to show things some kind different from the other directors. David Fincher is not a director who follows dotted lines.
As a result, a claustrophobic tension runs through the movie, with a feeling of barely restrained violence and palm-sweating tension. David Fincher, the director of “Panic Room” is famous for his dark thrillers, such as “Seven”, “The Game” and “Fight Club”, and we find bits of these previous works of his in “Panic Room”. With “Panic Room” he continues presenting the characters in the way only he can, it lacks the twists and turns that made his previous works stand apart. He can take an ordinary inanimate room or object and apply his shadowing technique to make it a moment the viewer won’t forget.
Another common feature that appears in his film is the use of lightening- he uses intense light around the main focal point of the particular scene and everything surrounding the focal point is dimly lit, and that’s why you can’t distinguish any details. This is common to all his films. He also puts a twist in it that would go against all odds of it being a reality. The moving of the camera, how it prowls up stairs, glides through the walls and moves through key locks and with the characters, and the odd angles keep the audience from seeing everything, building paranoia and increasing the tension is also common to his films.
However Fincher seems to forget about the complex story like in “Seven” and “Fight Club”, as “Panic Room” doesn’t make us think about where the story is going. So as a conclusion I can say that Fincher continued to work in his specific style and presented us another film with his brilliant touch. For the film to reach the position it’s at, helped a lot Jodie Foster- her role in the film is as important as David Fincher’s. Foster is known as the actress with the highest IQ in Hollywood. Starting her career when she was mere two it can be argued that she lost much of her childhood.
Her screen evolution followed by the whole world has some most memorable films as “Taxi Driver”, where she is a woman-girl, a Lolita of the time; “Silence of the Lambs” is probably one of the highest points of her career, and one of her last roles in “Contact” are so important to her role in “Panic Room”. When Meg manages to escape from the attempts of the burglars to get into the room, we probably expect it not from Meg, but from the clever woman (Foster) from Hollywood. She brings to the film the so needed touch of class and mind.
As an actress from Hollywood Jodie Foster is probably the only one that has never been in the tabloids and the one about whom there are no speculations. Besides her great career, she manages to rise up her offspring alone and stay grounded. Forest Whitaker is a well known actor from the films like “The Colour of the Money”, “Good Morning, Vietnam”, “Species”, “Blown Away” and “Phenomenon”. He is the one that we expect to see in strange roles; however he never gets the chance to play the proper hero of the film. Jared Leto is the quite blue-eyed boy, always handsome and dressed smart, but as beautiful he is, as evil his characters are.
He was in along with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton in Fincher’s “Fight Club”, and from that point he’s slowly changes the route of his career- from the handsome bad guy as a main character, he becomes the guy in the supporting role and even lower. As the film is received by the audience in a very unusual time for the whole world, meaning the tragedy happened in New York on September 11th 2000, people are scared for their lives and are afraid not only from the terrorist outside their country, but from the one inside it, I suppose that sooner or later the situation will look like the one during the Cold War with Russia.
So the film was promoted with the message “You can’t protect your family”. The companies responsible for the Promoting, as well as the creating are Columbia and Tristar, famous and rich. They choose a film cleverly and are only interested in its position in the box office and the money that it’s going to earn them, so their investing was well thought about. And as a Hollywood company, they have to follow some dotted lines, so even if the synopsis of “Panic Room” was different, they can not show something that the audience won’t accept.
And now, after September 11th 2000, which changed the way people think and almost everything in the film industry, so that the films are very well thought trough, so that there are no actions to upset the audience. As a member of the audience, influenced by my age, gender and background, I evaluate the text, not like the next Hollywood production, but more like the next David Fincher’s or Jodie Foster’s film.
As a person, who has seen every Finch’s film and thinks that his films are different- meaning dark and violent, I think that he changed his style a little bit, he kept the dark Hitchcockian atmospherics, but he lost the hard to understand synopsis, like the one in “Fight Club”, and it doesn’t contain the same violence. “Panic Room” is a film that represents the fear and paranoia of Manson generation: You really can’t protect your family or your home, as well as the idea of the evolving of the woman from feminine to man-like heroes. The both ideas are quite popular nowadays and express the true fear of the US nation.