Spirits in solitude: romanticism in the films of Sofia Coppola, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, and Wes Anderson
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Devereaux, Michelle Leigh
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This thesis examines the influence of Romanticism on a selection of seven films from four contemporary American filmmakers: Sofia Coppola, Wes Anderson, Charlie Kaufman, and Spike Jonze. The research questions are as follows: How do particular Romantic ideas, either canonical ones or those located on the more critical fringes of Romanticism, relate to the work of the filmmakers I consider? What Romantic features do these films regularly exhibit, both aesthetically and in terms of narrative? How do these features inform their overall point of view? Finally, how do such Romantic ideas and aesthetics relate to the current cultural milieu in which the films were created? There are many familiar and more obscure Romantic strains running through the films. These include a preoccupation with personal history and memory; an undercurrent of deeply felt emotion and reliance upon mood and tone to convey it; a foregrounding of the creative process and the imagination; and an ambivalent relationship to both the natural world and civilised society. In terms of aesthetics, the films in question depend on qualities of the beautiful, picturesque, and sublime to represent the complex emotional states of their characters and to elicit emotional responses in their audiences. Above all, these films represent a preoccupation with subjectivity and self-consciousness: specifically, the coming to personal self-consciousness that creates a rift between the individual subject and a greater sense of society. By utilising the work of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Romantic authors and philosophers such as Friedrich Schlegel, William Wordsworth, Henry David Thoreau, John Keats and others, combined with twentieth- and twenty-first century readings of these works via literary and cultural theorists and critics such as Harold Bloom, M.H. Abrams, Leo Marx and Anne Mellor, I emphasise the historical trajectory of general Romantic concepts. Taking established cinematic theories (“quirky” cinema, “smart” film, the “new sincerity”) as a point of entry, I explore the underlying stylistic and narrative connections between the films I discuss. I argue these films share a fundamentally Romantic form and vision specific to their own historical and cultural environment.