Choreography: "Cry Me a River"

Justin Timberlake’s classic 2002 kiss-off “Cry Me A River” cemented his solo career by telling the tale of a tortured man reeling through heartbreak. Fifteen years later, choreographer Andrew Winghart created a stunning tribute in a Los Angeles warehouse, featuring a heart-broken narrator engulfed by a ‘river’ of 36 dancers.

The choreography in Winghart’s tribute, much like his choreography for the Oscars performance of the Moana song “How Far I’ll Go”, uses large scale formations and the fluidity of fabric to create an evocative and emotional atmosphere.

For the first 30 seconds, Winghart’s narrator is alone in a grand warehouse—his loneliness and powerlessness emphasized by the large empty space around him. After this initial contemplation, the dancers engulf him, the river running past him. At times, they ripple and echo his movements with stylistic syncopations, acting like the irregularities of memory. At other times, the narrator thrashes and combats the river as he is consumed by the anger and desperation of his grief. Eventually, the narrator grows strong and comfortable in his confidence, buoyed by the support of the river.

A plan view of the performance as understood in five second increments

A plan view of the performance as understood in five second increments

Through breaking the piece into five-second increments, we can better understand the major and minor changes in sequence. The narrator has a limited path of movement, whereas the other dancers’ paths are constantly evolving and changing. Winghart refers to some of these “significant direction changes” of the dancers as one of “the most visually effective” aspects of his work. It is particularly powerful because the choreography is driven by and captured through a cinematic medium, rather than a live performance. While some of the spatial changes between sequences seem relatively minor, the use of video as medium helps to reveal their intricacies.

In these instances, the crowd of dancers execute simple choreographed moves at regular intervals, resulting in a mesmerizing fluidity that amplifies their effect. This is evident when the dancers are lined behind the narrator at 0:45, with each movement cascading down the river. As Winghart explains, “any change in direction multiplied by twelve rows creates an overwhelming and elegant effect.”

The dresses—originally designed for liturgical dancing—employ the fluidity of the fabric to soften the otherwise sharp and linear choreographed movements. While the narrator’s tight clothing stresses the constraints of his sorrow, the other dancers move freely in flowing dresses. “I have always been drawn to how long skirts echo the movement of dance,” Winghart notes, adding that “a lot of the movement in the piece was designed to emphasize the organic movement and weight of the dresses to add a kind of feminine strength.” At 1:30 the dancers jump in unison, and the behavior of the dresses creates the visual impact. Though the jump itself is quite static, the dresses’ reactions become an unpredictable and unique element that gracefully serves the piece.

A plan view of dress behaviors mapped at 1:30

Additionally, syncopations and rhythmic irregularities highlight movement by using simple motions “to create a nice effect without unnecessary distraction.” The buoyant step-touch during the pyramid’s forward movement at 2:40 becomes complex through the unevenness of the rhythm tied to the downbeat. Following in an almost liturgical approach, Winghart notes that the pyramid sequencing is derivative of “the step-touch of gospel singers.” These syncopations gain further power as they move through the 36 dresses—the river of dancers rolling and flowing behind a narrator who confidently floats atop.

More drawings inspired by the piece can be found below. Andrew Winghart is an LA based choreographer known for his unique and high energy compositions and intricately crafted staging patterns. Gabriela O’Connor is an architectural designer based in Boston. Her work continuously navigates between the architectural and ephemeral.

Music Video: Oxford Comma by Vampire Weekend

It's 2017 and we have come a long way from the boom of music videos on MTV to the not so new Digital Era. Nowadays, it is all about Online Streaming, Facebook Live and Online Music Services. We even have “Lyric Videos” for popular songs, which makes you wonder if artists are even trying anymore. Fortunately, there are some artists that still do. 

Vampire Weekend was one of the first Indie Bands that appeared in 2006. Their simple approach to music and easy going style made them popular among crowds, but it was the details of their music and image as a band that made them complex and interesting. 

Specifically, their cultural impact and the people they have collaborated with for music videos have been one of their strongest assets. Richard Ayoade is a Director that has worked on music videos for many iconic bands, such as the Arctic Monkeys, Last Shadow Puppets, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Kasabian and Vampire Weekend. He has also extended his work to the cult-classic film, Submarine (2010).

"Oxford Comma" by Vampire Weekend was released in 2008 as the third single for their debut album. The music video, which was directed by Richard Ayoade, consists of one long take, a characteristic Ayoade uses in many of his pieces. In this particular music video, we see two stories developing; the band is performing the song in the forefront and the narrative is in the background. This concept is very different from how most music videos put the song in the background with the story as the focus.

The narrative escalates in the form of Chapters. In Chapter One, we see the band arriving in a car, getting out and performing. While most of the video focuses on the performance of singer, Ezra Koenig, we are able to see the other band members interact throughout the video. An example of this is the end of Chapter Two when the band comes together to perform part of the song. 

Oxford Comma (2008)

As the video continues, the story keeps developing. In the background, we see different scenarios; a group of other guitarists and a shooting sequence, until the end, when the band meets again and leaves together in the same car they arrived in, followed by a group of fans.

It is important to notice some specific points in the video. Integration, for instance, happens at different points of the video, where both stories collide and create a unique moment; these moments are the “mini-cores” of the story, making it impossible to deny either one.

In the following diagram, the complete route of the Music Video is shown and the Chapters are shown as an abstract way to understand what is really going on through the entire sequence. Space plays an important role in the development of each scene and the one continuous shot throughout the video.

The Neon Demon : Fashion, Beauty and the Space of Absolute Danger

In The Production of Space, Henri Lefebvre refers to fashion only in a few instances. For Lefebvre, fashion is inseparable from “abstract space”: the dominant space of contemporary capitalism, within which there is a tendency of absolute commodification. In Nicolas Winding Refnʼs The Neon Demon, the space of fashion is a subsystem within a wider abstract space. Revolving around beauty, this space is discovered by Jesse (Elle Fanning), a teenage girl who arrives in Los Angeles and embarks on a modeling career, only to fall prey to a monstrous trio of Ruby (Jena Malone), Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee) – a necrofilic makeup artist and two cannibal models. Jesse’s brief but rapid success relies on her natural and surgically untouched beauty: as fashion designer Roberto Sarno (Alessandro Nivola) explains, “true beauty is the highest currency”; it is not “everything – it’s the only thing”.

More to the point, true beauty is not a matter of waistline, cup size or the shape of one’s nose. What is highly valuable is that illusive, je ne sais quoi quality. When Sarno describes Jesse, he speaks of a diamond and glass, that is, materials which reflect light and whose borders are sometimes difficult, or even impossible, to determine. For Ruby, Jesse has “that thing,” something more precious than any physical trait: her pale and clean reflection, thin looks or real blonde hair. For the followers of Jacques Lacan, that thing is something we recognize in certain subjectivities, but which is more than the subjectivity itself – it is the special glow we cannot simply define or locate in a person we find extremely attractive. The term used by the Lacanians is “object-cause of desire”: the object which is not the thing we desire but the thing which activates and sustains our desire: the thing which, due to its illusiveness, makes certain objects desirable. The object-cause of desire is dialectical: although we might recognize it in certain persons or even identify with it, nobody really possesses it; and just because of its illusive and impossible character, the object-cause of desire is so potent, driving us to extreme limits in our attempts to appropriate it. And in the interior, beauty as the object-cause of desire has a profound effect: according to Sarah, you “walk into a room, and it’s like in the middle of winter – you’re the sun.”


  The interiors of fashion industry are quite simple and empty. Those who want to be part of Sarnoʼs show, must first be verified through a casting, with their body being subjected to condemning or, even worse, indifferent looks. The casting is held in a slightly industrial space, with a simple structure, bright lights and a reflective floor, with the body being exhibited as a fragile form, with scarce makeup and in tight underwear. In such an ambient, you either have or you don’t have that thing; there is no confusion and everything is, of course, replaceable. Sarah’s presentation does not interrupt Sarno while toying with a handkerchief, provoking only a head shake. Later, Sarah will refer to herself as a “ghost,” implying that she was once alive, that she also had the thing with which Jesse enchants Sarno. Obsolescence is one of the driving mechanisms of western fashion and it targets, as the example of Sarah shows, not only clothes but also the body itself. Jennifer Craik has written of obsolescence as one of the driving mechanisms of Western fashion: as the example of Sarah shows, this mechanism targets not only clothes but also the body itself.

For the body, the casting is just one in a line of spaces which are to be overcome. Jesse begins her ascent in an agency, where one of her rivals does not even pass the waiting room, for her beauty is only “good,” as is the one of the other 20 or 30 girls of that or any other day. A step further is the studio, where a three-dimensional whiteness seems almost limitless, exposing the nudity as totally available and unprotected. After the casting, comes the show: for Lefebvre, abstract space is a neutral, endless plane, within which one can time and again (re)place different objects; at the same time, abstract space is highly fragmentary and, as such, hierarchical. The space of fashion frames the subjectivity through a number of separated ambients, where only a few can jump over a step or two. Gigi, for example, does not go through castings and is even allowed to pick the things she is to wear. In the space of fashion, to be isolated is a matter of outmost privilege, but also basic pragmatism, for this is a way of avoiding the interiors which are haunted by condemning looks.

            In the film, the fragmentary nature of space works in other ways too. The very moment a body enters an interior is shot from the perspective of the interior itself. The separateness of a space (often a windowless interior, one might add) is emphasized, for the immediate link with the outside public sphere is either omitted (the party Jesse and Ruby attend at the begging of the movie) or serves as a mere background (the funeral home Ruby works in, part time). In the latter case, we see the subject turning into a silhouette, merged with the darkness of the interior. The darkness swallows up the body: in the scene when Jesse enters a luxurious villa and is met by Ruby, we see the interior for the first time through a frontal perspective of a hallway, with a dark wooden floor and green walls which frame Ruby’s movement towards the gaze. The light is weak, coming from rooms on the each side of the corridor, and makes the space scarcely visible. Seen from the same position, but 90 degrees to the left, is Jesse who, as a silhouette, hesitates to enter the villa. The space she encounters is even darker and all that remains of her after the door is shut are atomized reflections of a golden blouse. In the villa, Jesse’s movement through ambients of low saturated colors and antique furniture is shot in a manner which makes the surroundings barely perceivable, otherwise treating them only as an abstract source of diffuse light. What makes the villa suspicious, even sinister, is it’s contradictory appearance. For the most part, the space is quite simple: walls serve as the background for stylish furniture and decoration, with a strong contrast between the calmness of the former and the flashiness of the latter; at the same time, darkness makes the very contact between the background and infill quite ambiguous, suggesting that there is more to this space than meets the eye, that something is lying in wait in the shadow-coated corners; that, even when Ruby is absent, Jesse is not alone.

            The manner in which The Neon Demon treats the relation between the subject and space is not always present in Winding Refnʼs movies. In Drive, we encounter a nameless stuntman and a getaway driver (Ryan Gosling). The Driver develops a relationship with Irene (Carey Mulligan), the wife of a convict, and her young son Benicio (Kaden Leos), taking on a role of a surrogate husband and father. We see the three interacting for the first time in an elevator of a residential building: with gilded battens and wooden panels, the elevator is warm and comfortable, as is Irene’s apartment, dominated by earthy and orange colors and with an ambient which is vernacular, ordinary and not at all burdening. In contrast with the cruel interiors of the fashion industry or the threatening appearance of the villa, Drive nourishes the subjectivity through space. Even if indirect, the light in these scenes makes the female body, her contours and eyes, gain a special and warm glow: the interiors of Drive are spaces which make it is easy to fall in love.

Also, it is worth noticing that both The Neon Demon and Drive are located in Los Angeles. Unlike the fragmentary and almost hermetic space of the former, where the public sphere is of little importance, if present at all, the latter portrays the city as highly connected and fluid. Nick Jones has shown recently that Hollywood action movies center on a protagonist’s ability to maneuver through space – in accordance with this tradition, the Driver operates and survives thanks to a highly advanced perception of the city’s logics. In the best tradition of Hollywood action movies, the Driver maneuvers through space, operating and surviving thanks to a highly advanced perception of its logics. And as a seducer, the Driver utilizes the same set of skills, cruising with Irene and Benicio the concrete banks of Los Angeles river, with A Real Hero (College & Electric Youth, 2011) playing in the background. Winding Refn might be referring to the scenes of the Terminator’s famous 1991 sequel, which is not only an action movie but capitalizes, emotionally, just on the relationship between a boy and surrogate father – a machine-protector. So, there is something quite calming in the movie: Winding Refn has described the basic idea of Drive as about a man who “drives around (…) listening to pop music.”

Quite different is Only God Forgives: the main character, Julian (Gosling), is a Bangkok drug dealer. The death of his brother, a rapist-murderer, is orchestrated by Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), a mystical police officer who acts as an unstoppable destructive force. The interiors of Only God Forgives are highly fragmentary, and not only due to their windowless, natural light-deficient ambients. In more than one occasion we don’t even see Chang entering a space – when the police pays Julian a visit in his boxing club, we see him leaving a gym with a glass entrance standing in the back of the frame. A few seconds later, Julian turns and surprisingly notices Chang inside the gym; afterwards, when he tries to follow Chang, Julian suddenly and inexplicably loses him – Chang is somewhere else, he is lost to us, here and now. Only God Forgives can be described as an ultraviolent neon nightmare, with Chang, the main perpetrator of brutal acts, appearing out of nowhere, turning a particular space into a reality in and of itself. At the same time, Chang’s ability to appear inside an interior, that is, the thing that makes a space fragmentary do to the absence of a moment a body enters it through a door, is the same thing that makes it, to use Lefebvre’s words, “homogenous". For Chang, nothing is unreachable; his unbridled ability to move through space is referred to when he elegantly swings a sword on shore of a small lake, moving in parallel with Bangkok’s panorama. Chang is haunting the city, leaving behind a long trail of mutilated bodies.

In Only God Forgives, the threat is concentrated in Chang; in The Neon Demon, the threat is also omnipresent, but with two major differences. The threat is diffuse, ranging from the photographer Jack MacArthur (Desmond Harrington), with whom Jesse, as Ruby warns her, should not be alone; the owner of a rundown motel, Hank (Keanu Reeves), who stalks underage girls; to the Ruby-Gigi-Sarah trio. Also, unlike Julian, who is genuinely afraid of Chang, Jesse sometimes acts as if the threat is non-existent. The motel room she uses is one of the fragmentary-homogenous spaces of the film: on the side of the entrance, where one would expect a window towards the access gallery, there is only a door and a long mirror, which allows Jesse to look at her reflection while Hank is violently trying to enter the room in the middle of the night. When he gives up and breaks into the neighboring room, Jesse does not flee immediately, listening in fascination the screams coming from the other side of the wall. Jesse is a hysteric – she is trying to be not a subject, as a complex, venerable and inherently contradictory being, but a perfect, eternal and always-provoking object-cause of desire. As a girl, Jesse spent the nights looking at the moon, wondering if it sees her. The space of fashion confirms what Jesse always sensed, namely, that although she has no talent and is unable to sing, dance or write, she is beautiful; she is one, perfect thing, she is the object-cause of desire. After she flees the motel room and arrives at the villa, Jesse rejects Ruby’s sexual advances. Ignoring what the space is suggesting, with its darkness, the leopard trophy in one of the rooms and the figure with cross-out eyes which Ruby leaves drawn on a mirror, Jesse wanders around the villa, wearing other people’s clothes and applying makeup. And just before she goes down to the empty pool in the villa’s courtyard (the same one in which she will die hunted by Ruby-Gigi-Sarah), Jesse enters a peculiar room, different than any other interior of the house. With its golden walls and sheets, yellow curtains and golden mirror frames, the room contains an elegant dress which Jesse holds up, observing her own reflection. In the mirror, Jesse is surrounded by a space which radiates – the interior supports her in the illusion: Jesse is the sun.

There is more to The Neon Demon than the space of fashion. The villa in which Ruby stays is not her own: she is housekeeping and “watering the plants,” and the door Jesse enters is suspiciously small and more suitable for servants than guests. Also, it seems that Jesse, Gigi and Sarah, as models, don’t actually possess anything of their own. Jesse signs a contract with an agency and closes Sarnoʼs show, but we don’t see her actually getting paid. Gigi and Sarah are dressed to impress, but we don’t see them buying clothes. In the movie, residential space, that crucial American class distinction, is reduced to the level of disgusting motel rooms and other people’s homes: the houses of those who are affluent enough to be away from such a luxurious place. The villa is implying a world beyond fashion. The space of fashion, and the residential spaces which occupy its flanks, are a subsystem of a wider, abstract space, in which some other, more affluent bodies dwell and operate. Just as such, the space of the movie is the destination and environment of girls who arrive from “small towns” – those forgotten parts of the US, whose inhabitants make, as Hillary Clinton observed so discriminately, “the basket of deplorables.”

Lefebvre wrote that abstract space facilitates production, distribution and consumption. In The Neon Demon, spaces produce beauty (for all the glorification of her natural looks, Jesse is rarely without a significant layer of makeup), distribute it (a body can stutter through a series of spaces or go straight to the finish line), but most of all these spaces consume beauty. This is the omnipresent, homogenizing element; from the studio to the motel room, Jesse, a small-town girl from Georgia, is constantly under the threat of being consumed, and this is something which, eventually and factually, happens. The space of The Neon Demon is the space of absolute danger. For the subject, every interior is potentially the place where she will be swallowed up by darkness, symbolically (by being turned into a ghost, a lamentable shadow of how she was once treated) or literally (through extreme violence).

The paradox lies, of course, in the fact that the thing which the predators around her will hunt to her death is the same thing which Jesse thinks of as making her all-powerful and eternal. Slavoj Žižek writes that a subject’s equation with the ideal object – the object-cause of desire – relies on the mortification of all of the traits which do not fit into this image (Jesse describes herself as beautiful, and nothing else). For a subject to be equated with the ideal object – the object-cause of desire – she must mortify all of her traits which do not fit into this image (Jesse describes herself as beautiful, and nothing else). But those who recognize her as ideal also want to mortify her, even if this means eliminating her physically. The message of The Neon Demon is a simple one: beware of the spaces in which you are seen as the ideal object – these are the spaces in which people will mortify you, in an attempt to take just the thing you have recognized as the inseparable part of yourself.

Aleksandar Kušić is an Architect and Assistant Professor at Belgrade's Academy of Fine Arts and Multimedia (ALUM). If you would like to submit an article that looks at Architecture and Film, please email us at

Mutations & Megastructure: Japanese Metabolism in Akira (1988)

With its unflinching violence and vividly rendered animations, Katsuhiro Otomo’s cyberpunk anime, Akira (1988), is an iconic cult classic. Decades after its release, this film has inspired musicians like Michael Jackson and Kanye West as well as other major Sci-Fi franchises like The Matrix (1999). While Akira continues to be praised for its richly detailed visuals and intense dystopian narrative, we shouldn’t forget the Japanese historical (and architectural) context from which so much of the film’s design comes from.

In the early 1960’s, a new architectural movement was forged within post-war Japan. Faced with the wide-scale destruction of numerous cities, a small group of architects (Kenzo Tange, Fumihiko Maki, Kiyonori Kikutake, Kisho Kurokawa, Arata Isozaki just to name a few) began to maximize and re-design the urban landscape into one of growing, modular megastructures inspired by the smallest processes of life.

A quote from their original manifesto, Metabolism: The Proposals for New Urbanism, sums up their concepts up quite nicely: “We regard human society as a vital process - a continuous development from atom to nebula. The reason why we use such a biological word, metabolism, is that we believe design and technology should be a denotation of human society. We are not going to accept metabolism as a natural process, but try to encourage active metabolic development of our society through our proposals.”  

So what does a film made in 1988 have to do with an architectural movement from twenty years prior? Let’s start at the film’s opening sequence:

Kenzo Tange – Plan for Tokyo Bay, City of Ten Million (1960)

Akira’s plot is long and complex, but the film’s primary themes focus on life, death, war, and transformation. The setting -- Neo-Tokyo following WWIII -- bears a striking resemblance to Tange’s City of Ten Million. Although his proposal was supposed to serve Japan’s growing population and the resulting surge in the use of automobiles, Tange’s post-nuclear utopian model is now wrought with social unrest in Akira – protestors, biker gangs, a failing school system, and top-secret military experiments wreak havoc on the streets.

Kenzo Tange – Renewal of Tsukiji District (1963)

This is when we see the world of Akira and the beliefs of the Metabolists clash against each other. From the start of the Metabolist movement to the 1980’s, Japan underwent a period of rapid economic growth, fueled by their advances in technological innovation. Neo-Tokyo’s glittering, monolithic skyscrapers should embody this expansion, but Otomo showcases this city’s dark underbelly instead, one where the machine of living is reduced to gritty wasteland. During film’s creation, animators spent hours drawing sequences (like the one pictured above) down to the smallest individual building to heighten this sense of overwhelming, violently monstrous urban density. Neo-Tokyo becomes a place both beautiful and terrifying.

Tange’s Tsukiji District Renewal plan is a complex lattice of interconnected towers, linked together by various streets and bridges. These multi-level clusters were designed to adapt to the needs of the population. Neo-Tokyo, with its skybridges, networks of pipelines and highways, offices and apartments stacked on top of shopping malls and rooftop plazas, takes Tange’s initial plan and develops his uniform, modular design on a much larger scale. However, the city’s continuous growth – seen in scenes of construction throughout the film – don’t do very much to benefit its citizens. We see the Metabolist utopia mutate into a chaotic, unstable military state as the skyscrapers keep getting taller. 

Arata Isozaki – Future City, The Incubation Process (1962)

During the film’s first motorcycle chase, we’re taken away from the shiny, neon megastructures of Neo-Tokyo to what is left of Old Tokyo. This abandoned, derelict site is crucial to Akira’s storyline (our first real introduction to the military’s top secret operations), but it’s also an important reminder of Japan’s war-torn past.  

Arata Isozaki’s Future City is a place where, much like Old Tokyo, the past and future co-exist. Isozaki, having lived through the trauma of Japan during WWII, was influenced by the destruction he witnessed and decided to design a new city that would be built on top of its own ruins, a recurring cycle of life and death as the city grows and collapses.  

Neo-Tokyo is not so different from Isozaki’s vision. Its highways are still attached to the city’s previous location. Although Neo-Tokyo continues to expand, the ruins of Old Tokyo remain attached to it like a shadow, a futuristic city haunted by its past.

Arata Isozaki – Re-Ruined Hiroshima (1968)

We are brought back to the ruins and the death of cities in the film’s finale as Tetsuo destroys the military’s storage facility and ravages Neo-Tokyo. Both Tetsuo and Neo-Tokyo undergo a Metabolist life cycle of their own, growing too fast and unraveling into destruction.

Kisho Kurokawa - Toshiba-IHI Pavillion (1970)

Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan would be the Metabolists’ last large-scale exposition of their architectural creations.  Metabolist architects produced these monumental, futuristic pavilions by merging the construction of human cells with technological developments. Akira’s final scenes end up echoing these massive, organic structures in both shape and scope.

The Toshiba Pavilion’s simplified, spherical form doesn’t just resemble the storage structure that houses Akira’s remains as it is destroyed by Tetsuo’s psychic abilities. Tetsuo’s body begins to mutate into shapes like the Toshiba Pavilion, his powers grow increasingly unstable as his robotic arm swells into his body. He is pushed to the limit of humanity much like the Metabolists pushing their designs to the edge of architectural possibility.

After all this violent destruction, it’s fitting that Tetsuo’s mutated shape ultimately resembles a child – a symbol of the life and death cycles now tangled in one another.

In Akira, we see the boundaries between human and machine become blurred. Tetsuo’s body develops into a mutated megastructure of its own, taking the Metabolist growth process to absolute extremes. It’s no surprise that Tetsuo meets his end within an Olympic Stadium (Toyko was the host of the Summer Games in 1964) – the ultimate symbol of Japanese reconstruction now left in ruins:

Kenzo Tange – Yoyogi National Gymnasium (1964), used during the Olympics for smaller events. 

Akira is not only a sci-fi, dystopian masterpiece. This futuristic anime grapples with the complexities of Japan’s post-war reconstruction, from Tokyo’s rapid economic growth to the resulting social unrest. Otomo has talked about this tension as his main source of inspiration for the film in previous interviews when, in the 60’s, he watched homeless youth and political demonstrators litter the streets in search of change.

While it’s unclear if Otomo pulled all his architectural influences directly from Metabolist projects, the Metabolists themselves were also witnesses to Japan’s recovery and took part in the societal questions raised during this era of recovery. Their futuristic city designs examined the needs of the human body, the very processes of life needed for it to grow. Their designs focused primarily on organic megastructures, constructed to change with society.  

Akira presents a world where the Metabolist utopia has failed. Although set within a fictional future, the film examines Japan’s period of reconstruction. These megastructures of life -- from Tetsuo’s psychic abilities to the bright Neo-Tokyo skyscrapers – mutate into chaos. As the viewer, we are placed within the cycle of life and death, forced to witness a future that grows over its ruins and destroys itself all over again.

Sense of Space: The Shallows (2016)

The premise for The Shallows (2016) is fairly simple.

Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) visits the same secluded beach her mother surfed when she found out she was pregnant with her daughter, as a way of spending some alone time. Nancy catches a couple of waves, comes across a shark, and finally sits atop a rock waiting for help.

It’s the sort of movie you wished Hollywood would make more of, an unabashedly honest B-movie that doesn’t parade around like it’s something more than it really is. It’s certainly not without its flaws, but it does feature genuinely suspenseful moments thanks to some sharp filmmaking and features a game Blake Lively in what is surprisingly only her second starring role.

It’s also a vastly different picture than that of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) – one is an enjoyable movie that makes you never want to surf and the other is a film that makes you hesitant to drive up to the beach altogether.

The Shallows finds director Jaume Collet-Serra coming off another “one location” film, 2014’s Non-Stop, which found the filmmaker working entirely in an airplane. The films become unconventional companion pieces – going from the open sky to the bottom of the ocean.

The contained space of an airplane may seem more restricting, but somehow The Shallows, set in the vastness of the open ocean, is the more claustrophobic film. That’s essentially the point of the film. Nancy’s character is confined to this single space, with the rock under her becoming home base; anytime she tries to stray away, whether it’s to a nearby buoy or back to the shore, she springs back onto her little island as a result of the shark circling around her.

The greatest weakness, however, is Jaume Collet-Serra’s approach to the shark as a character. In Jaws, Steven Spielberg and editor Verna Fields were strategic about how much of the shark they would show on screen. In Editing and Special/Visual Effects, he states:

“Verna was always in favor of less to be more. And I was trying to squeeze in that one more–because it took me DAYS to get that one shot! So I’m going back to, I’m on a barge for two days trying to get the shark to look real, and the sad fact was that the shark would only look real in 36 frames and not 38 frames. And that 2 frame difference was the difference between something really scary, and something that looked like a great white floating turd.”

Jaws is, without a doubt, the smarter film. There is no real fear in The Shallows. There is only suspense that results from its carefully designed action sequences. That’s because Jaws isn’t a shark film. It’s much more because of the horror the film suggests – which is what makes the film work so well. The Shallows, however, plays with space in a number of interesting ways, from its frequent use of overhead shots that effectively offers audiences a sense of the surrounding space to the devastating fact that you can be so close to the shore yet so far away and so completely helpless.