We Need to Talk About Small Deaths

The short film I chose to watch was Small Deaths, since I enjoy Lynne Ramsay’s work. This story does not adhere to Aristotelian plot structure, instead presenting three spliced but thematically linked vignettes.

The ‘conflicts’ throughout these separated scenes are mostly internal- we are watching formative moments in a girl’s life, all of which have to do with masculine cruelty or negligence. It all feels detached and melancholic, with many stilted wide shots (The pair looking down at the cow, or the girl alone in the stairwell) that evoke the sense of dreamlike recollection. I think the budget constraints lend themselves to an intentionality and economy of filmmaking, where the tinny voices and cheap film elevate this remembered atmosphere.

The world of the film does a great job in emphasizing that these traumatic instances are chronologically and tonally distant from each other- the soft, golden light of the pastures is quickly undercut with the grunge of the apartment. Ramsay is also talented in her use of specific images; The gore of the cow, the harsh close-ups on laughing faces, or even the simple blocking of the haircut at the back of the frame are all communicative of what the titular ‘small deaths’ represent.

Narratively, this most resembles an episodic structure. Each story is not reliant nor continual of another, but features similar themes, an enclosed resolution, and the same character. It especially works for this short because it can encapsulate sweeping ideas on a decades-long scale with only a few simple scenes.

Fargo and Tragedy

The motion of Fargo’s plot is spurred with Jerry’s scheme to have his wife kidnapped; We first learn of his plan in the diner, where Jerry’s timid reluctance characterizes him as someone forced into the criminal world, contrasted with the abrasive snarls and barbs of the hired muscle.

But as details congeal through the next act, we see Jerry’s greed and disregard for others- he has an adequate life, and is provided opportunities to better it, but consistently defers to the path of cowardice or deceit. His posturing as a family man and frequent disparagement from peers inspires some pity in the viewer, though; He is also subject to influence, and possesses little agency in his own scheme, and consequentially little understanding of its severity. As Aristotle explains concerning tragic character action,

“The deed of horror may be done, but done in ignorance.”

This is especially true for the eventual demise of Jerry’s wife, and for the volatility of the hitmen.

This all lends to the calcified impression of impending tragedy. Jerry’s transformation feels like a thawing of his true nature, previously veiled by social restraint.

Marge is a perfect opposite to Jerry- virtuous and fearless, even in the face of death. Her affable demeanor might suggest an officer without conviction, but her gentle nature never restricts her from strength or justice, whether it be in a social boundary (Firmly rejecting Mike’s advances) or climactic standoff (Rushing to confront Gaear without backup).

Fargo most closely resembles Aristotle’s second classification of tragedy, which he describes as possessing

“A double thread of plot, and also an opposite catastrophe for the good and for the bad.”

This is true of the film’s conclusion, where Jerry attempts to flee the scene, an apt synecdoche of his character shown as he clings to the window and flails against the officers; Inversely, Marge receives a quiet, tender epilogue with her husband. The just, diametric arcs of these characters fit within the framework of tragedy. Fargo adheres to Aristotle’s Tragic structure by eliciting fear and pity, and by detailing the ruin and rise of these two characters.

Gunner’s Intro

Hello DTC 354! My name is Gunner- I’m a junior, DTC major, and creative writing minor. I vastly prefer fiction to non-fiction, but I’m not usually picky about mediums of storytelling. I tend to love anything fantasy, horror, or comedy.

I think what most captures me about stories varies with each medium, but is consistently stylistic innovation and emotional catharsis. Seeing artists approach a story with architectural precision is always satisfying for me, especially when the story beats are rigidly calibrated to break my heart by the end.

Some formative pieces of media have been Ursula Leguin’s ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’ (Really cool, shockingly romantic, atmospheric sci-fi deconstruction of gender. Ideally this book would be discussed in the same breath as Dune), The Royal Tenenbaums (Warm, hilarious, informed my love of symmetry and Owen Wilson in cowboy hats), and Bloodborne (An authentic recreation of London). Some miscellaneous recent favorites are Memories of Murder, Celeste, and anything Hayao Miyazaki has ever touched. And Aftersun, if you feel like crying a lot. I’ll round this out with SAGA and Chainsaw Man, both serialized graphic novels that juggle dozens of charming, homicidal, deeply scarred characters.

I write short fiction occasionally, but largely stick to consuming and thinking about stories all day. I’ve loved reading everybody’s introductions and am very excited for this class and discussing stories with all of you!