top of page

How much is too much?: Films that delight in excess

Contains spoilers for the film 'Raw' (dir. Julia Ducournau) and 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' (dir. Wes Anderson.)

Sometimes, the quiet, understated beauty of a film is endearing. Films such as ‘Moonlight,’ ‘Vox Lux,’ ‘Tangerine,’ and ‘Frances Ha’ are undeniably great. They have contained plots, sets that seem true to life, and a bleak naturality to their tales that cement their places in our hearts. They are films that only transcend their time and place in spirit, in the emotions they instil in us, and in the way we see the world and the people around us. But this is a given. It is not difficult to appreciate the cinematic vision of films that are rooted in reality and the depth of everyday intimate moments. These are almost universally accepted as brilliant films by cinephiles and regular watchers alike. But sometimes, a great film is just 'too much.'

By 'too much,' I don't mean to refer to blockbusters that rely on huge budgets, car chases, unnecessary explosions, and CGI that doesn't serve any real purpose. By 'too much' I mean films with otiose elements, ridiculous plots, and overwhelming and unexpected grandeur. I mean films that retain a true emotional core beneath it all, but still delight in how excessive they are; the colours, characters, and the creativity of the films are thrown into the audience's faces without pretension. The 'too much' idea isn't limited by genre, but instead spreads like ink across the entirety of cinema itself, particularly recently.

The world right now is messy and complicated. Reality is mired in 'too much,' and not in the good way. As explained in the most recent seasons of 'The Good Place,' the modern world contains far too many twists and turns even for someone trying their hardest to be good. Every decision we make is steeped in conflicting desires to live normally and to avoid bad consequences. This level of moral conflict that we face every day makes the 'too much' of films a beautiful form of escapism that doesn't simultaneously serve as a waste of time. We're allowed to lose ourselves in something both nothing like and exactly the same as the world we live in.

Films like 'Raw' and 'Ingrid Goes West' are potential, simmering and watching from the edges of the imagination and waiting to leap into reality, only prevented from doing so by one small factor: they're simply 'too much.'

© 2016 Focus World

Julia Ducournau's 'Raw' is gluttonous, gross, bloody and graphic to the point where people even left during screenings. Simply put, 'Raw' is a film about Justine, a lifelong vegetarian, discovering a deep-seated craving for human flesh that pushes and pulls her through extremes of guilt, lust, satisfaction, and pain. The scenes of Justine eating a finger with abandon and pleasure and biting the lip off a boy she is making out with are examples of how the film plunges into excess. The vicious gore combined with the rush of pleasure visible in Justine during these acts creates a dizzying pull between disgust and enjoyment for the audience. Do we celebrate Justine for finding pleasure in these base urges, or do we condemn her for something so obviously wrong? In reality, no one would celebrate Justine. But we do, simply because of the underlying humanity in the relationship between Justine and her sister, Alexia. Their relationship is tainted by violence, conflict, horror, and hatred, climaxing in a pile of blood and hedonism and vengeance, before stopping in its tracks to give way to an unsettling love. Justine loves her sister, and their parents loved each other, despite all their sickness, and this cuts through the 'too much' without taking from it. We see the pitfalls and troubles of their relationship, different, of course from regular sibling relationships in context, but similar in that these pitfalls happen without a loss of love between them. We don't live in a world with genetic cannibalism-related disorders, but we do live in a world where sisters love each other, and people fall in love despite the problems they face. This is a film of 'too much,' where the plot of the film is absurd and grotesque and so wildly different from anything we would truly see, but still retains the true reason we watch films: the humanity of it. We can lose ourselves in a psychological horror film bursting with close-ups of torn human flesh and unapologetic imagery that overwhelms our senses in a meaningful, deliberate way. This cuts close to our world through the people it portrays, but strays far from it in the acts they commit.

In a less obvious way, films such as Wes Anderson's 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' and 'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou' are also 'too much' and meander purposefully through meticulous direction, colour schemes, and style in equally excessive bouts of spontaneity and quirkiness.

Credit: AlloCiné

Every element of these films possesses and embodies the idea of 'too much' in everything but the people. The characters, at the whim and mercy of wacky events and unforeseen knocks, are, at heart, melancholy in a way only humans can be. 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' perhaps my favourite film, is so for this reason. Beneath the grandeur of the hotel, the perfect symmetry of the shots, the brilliance of the colours, the indulgent personalities of Monsieur Gustave and the side cast of characters, is a heart-wrenching loneliness. It is disguised in a plot that weaves in and out of insanity and deliberate superficiality, but it is unmistaken. All the characters are cursed with intense neurasthenia caused by loneliness. In the introduction of the film, the Author points out that each hotel guest is alone and seems undisturbed by the fact. As we meet M. Gustave, we see the countless outward and detached relationships he has, and how seemingly unaffected he is by this. Zero has no one, no friends or family. The 'too much' of the film serves to both bury this and thrust it into the limelight, creating an overwhelming display that is bizarre and unrealistic as if to highlight both itself and the fact that the characters, in relation, have nothing. It is a world that we occupy, a world in which true, meaningful relationships are scarce and short-lasting, even if the world in which we do occupy does not have Willem Dafoe as a cat-killing, masterful skiing, knuckle-cracking henchman. 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' is disarmingly sad and vulnerable despite all its blustering, making it both wonderous and devastating. We see ourselves reflected at us, masking our loneliness in indulgence, richness, and delight in a cinematic approximation of reality that veers too close to fantasy to be real.

Many films, some clearly and other less so, like 'Climax' (dir. Gaspar Noe) and 'Hereditary' (dir. Ari Aster), exist in this realm of 'too much' cinema. They walk the line between reality and fantasy, saved from becoming overly hard-hitting by their extremism but still emotionally in touch enough to be great films. What matters is the way they portray people and the relationships between people, with all the variance we face beyond the cameras.

In reality, what endears us to all films is whether or not we care about the characters. They can be drenched in the subtleties of everyday life or outlandishness beyond our wildest imaginations, but without humanity to bring these characters to life, they all lie flat and uninspiring. We watch films because we want to see ourselves, whether it is in situations that are impossible or all too possible, and sometimes, this excess, this 'too much', can only make these characters more compelling: if I understand what these characters feel and experience in the worlds they live in, then my own experiences are not isolated within myself. And we feel a little less alone.

Edited by Andriani Scordellis, Film Editor , and Alexia McDonald, Head Digital Editor