22 October 2011

Alejandro Amenábar's "The Others"

The 2001 poster.
As of writing this, I can't believe this film was made ten years ago. Where did the time go? Ten years ago I graduated high school and became a college freshman. And yes, ten years ago I went to the movie theater and saw this film.

It's memorable enough that I very well knew the ending when I watched this again for my Horror genre class, and there were even some visual images that I thought I'd shelved that came back to me right when I sat through the opening credits.

It's a great ghost movie, very stylish, very good with pacing, very atmospheric, and very, very pretty to look at. 

If anything, the film reminds me of an old-fashioned play, and I mean this as a compliment. The movie has an antiquated feel to it anyway, given the time period (1945, Jersey-The Channel Islands) and the illustrious old manor house and lands in which the movie's set. But something about the structure and pacing reminds me of 19th century theater, as well as the visuals and even the character mannerisms and dialogue.

Visually, the film seems tinted with gray and sepia, and lit by gaslight (technically lit by candles and oil lamps) which helps with the antiqued look. The musical score enhances this (composed by Alejandro Amenábar, who also wrote and directed the film) with its hints of Romanticism and emotionalism...the strings are a wonderful effect, particularly the cello when it's played in the higher octaves. Very beautiful, and melodramatic (in a good way).

And now here's a mystery for all of you....I'm embarrassed that I haven't found the answer to this, considering I have a background in theater and play writing....

I've spent hours and hours looking up a very specific narrative device used in 19th century theater and melodramas regarding exposition. I have not found the term yet and it's driving me crazy because I feel that The Others employs this technique to a degree, which contributes to its classic feel.

Here goes--

In older theater of the time, the most common form of narrative exposition is provided by secondary characters, namely of the lower social classes, like servants or housekeepers or tutors. They nonchalantly have a conversation where they gossip about the major characters, and therefore very obviously inform the audience everything they need to know before the major characters show up on stage (an example of this device--see Act One of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler).

There is a magical little term for this type of narrative device and it eludes me! I've looked in all my theater books and I can't find it...arrgh!  

Anyway, in The Others, the three servants, led by Bertha Mills, often have scenes that function as little asides...they don't always serve as exposition or explanation, but they sometimes they're there just to reinforce that there's more to the story than meets the eye. 

You know, sections where they cut to servants from the main action just so we can hear things like "Mr. Tuttle, I've reached the end of my tether. Uncover the graves" or other phrases along the lines of biding time, or waiting for the moment to reveal the truth, or having patience, etc. etc. Or casual remarks about the state of the house and their Mistress's sanity/ability to uncover the truth, and how the children are doing. The use of this device really works for the film's style, and I appreciate it...especially since (SPOILER) the servants are actually from the 19th century. See how that works?

And probably most of all, you've got good old-fashioned Christianity/Catholicism in the mix. Yes, there are still Christians and Catholics in this world who practice and believe, but for the most part we've embraced secularism, or are at least trending that way. God and the Afterlife aren't so embedded in the daily lives of the populace as it has been in the past...so the dialogue regarding Limbo and Purgatory and Damnation in this sense helps with the authenticity of the film to its time period as well as contributing to the classic, old-fashioned style it displays so well.

I think this film holds up over time. As with all movies that center on a big "aha!" twist ending, once you learn the twist, it may lose its punch, but on the whole this movie can weather repeat viewings. There's great, emotional performances (I have a soft spot for Nicole Kidman's character when she breaks down to her husband about the war that "had nothing to do with us!"), great atmosphere and tension, and again, the film is visually stunning.  

Work Cited:

The Others. Dir. Alejandro Amenábar. Perf. Nicole Kidman. Miramax/Lionsgate Films, 2001. Streamed through Netflix 19 October 2011.


  1. It is like a play. Something by Conor McPherson. It has that kind of feel to it--yes I am a fan of McPherson, but he's second to McDonagh. Martin McDonagh is hands-down my favorite. Nice analysis.

  2. Great post. I loved this film. I was mesmerized the first time I watched it years ago and it still held me captive even though I knew the ending. I thought Kidman gave a stunning performance.

    P.S. I'm passing your question along to the director of the theater department at Newman University, where my husband teaches. I'll drop you a note when/if I find out something.

  3. I agree that Nicole Kidman did a great performance, and is absolutely perfect for this role, but I though the little girl did a tremendous job, too. She had quite a big chunk of this movie, and I thought she played the part exceptionally well. For me personally, based on her mannerisms and facial expressions, I even thought that maybe she was making stuff up, but then again I could never be sure. All in all, I think she did a great job and was my favorite character of the lot (not that I'm an expert on acting or screenwriting or anything).


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