Realism vs. Formalism in Film


Realistic: Such films are less obvious because realists try to preserve the illusion that their film world is unmanipulated, an objective mirror of the actual world.

Formalistic: A certain form of movie that is stylistically flamboyant. The directors are concerned with expressing their unabashedly subjective experience of reality, not how others might see it.

I will attempt to contrast two of my favorite movies here.

Realism:  “Glen Gary Glen Ross (1992)” Kevin Spacey, Al Pacino,

This movie delves into the darkest parts of our minds and souls as a society. It explores the expressionism of debauchery but does not glorify nor dignify it. This is a story about several greedy men who struggle with right and wrong within themselves about their dealings with clients and their real estate contracts. These men work at a real estate brokerage who are required to close a minimum number of real estate sales transactions on a monthly basis. The one who closes the most transactions gets a brand new car. The office manager, John Williamson played by Kevin Spacey, has a list of leads that could help the men make some quick and easy money. These leads are guaranteed to provide a deal that will close with absolute certainty. If they only had the leads at their disposal they could make a lot of money, but the office manager only gives the leads to closers! The salesmen wonder why John keeps the leads under lock and key. One evening the Broker, Blake played by Alec Baldwin, makes a visit to the office from downtown. He gives a speech to the men. He tells them the ABC’s of the business, “Always Be Closing!” or you’re out! This ultimatum only further drives the intensity of their deceit and desperation.

Throughout the movie, the men struggle with their inner morals and even more so, ethics! We see the men becoming more and more desperate as the month grinds to a close and the deals are drying up like the dessert sands. They turn on each other by lying and cheating their way to the leads. Some of the men even try to befriend the office manager, a man they would all love to shoot in some back alley, but will do anything to get those leads. One night one of the men, Shelley Levene played by Jack Lemon, stages a break in and steals the leads. During the police investigation while engaged in conversation with the office manager, Shelley Levene mentions in passing that he hopes that they catch the person who stole the leads. Well, John was stunned by Shelley’s comments. John had never mentioned  that the leads were stolen! So, how could Shelley possibly know the leads were stolen!

Formalism:  “Falling Down (1993)” Michael Douglas, Barbara Hershey

I think this movie is an exaggeration of the realities about a divorced and desperate man who struggles to understand how society, that once depended on him for security, no longer needs him. This story, in a sense,  has some realism in it. A middle aged man, William Foster played by Michael Douglas, is either overqualified for the job or over educated,  and he thinks society has abandoned him. The events that unfolded during the movie were greatly exaggerated.

This story is about a divorced out of work defense worker who used to build weapons for the military. He has a daughter who he is going to go see to deliver a birthday present. We later discover that his wife, Elizabeth Trevino played by Barbara Hershey, has a restraint order against him. While sitting in traffic, he experiences an emotional break down that spirals out of control. Every human contact he comes into turns out to be an exaggeration of intense maniacal behavior beginning with the liquor store scene where he tries to roll back prices to the 1960’s because he does not have enough change for a phone call.

His next encounter is with young hoodlums in the park which he beats with a baseball bat. The hoodlums re-group later to find him on the street then attempt an unsucessfull drive-by shooting only killing many innocent victims on the street totally avoiding Bill Foster who never takes a hit. The hoodlums crash their car around the corner and lie there dying as Bill Foster walks up and retrieves their bag of guns then goes on a rampage across the city shooting and blowing up public and personal property. In another scene Bill Foster visits a nickel & dime store, where an anti-Semitic store owner verbally bashes gay patrons who subsequently takes Bill Foster hostage in his basement to only later to be shot by Bill Foster.

This movie indulges in exaggeration and extreme drama that helped move the story along while maintaining viewer interest. I personally found my self captivated by the story, although not realistic, this film has good entertainment value!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.