Five Films to Watch if you Love Poetry

Siobhan Dale


At first glance, poetry and film seem like opposed mediums. Poetry is textual; film is visual.  Poetry suggests solitary study; film reaches out to a communal audience. However, many of the techniques of film closely align with those of poetry, so much so that anyone who loves poetry should take a closer look at film. Here are five films to try out if you are a poet seeking inspiration from other types of art.

1. Dogtooth


The film Dogtooth revolves around three siblings who are completely cut off from the world by their parents. In order to shelter the children, both parents design a system of language. For the children, a zombie means a yellow flower, and sea means a wooden armchair. The film follows the ways in which the children use their parents’ system to interact both with each other and with the world that is their home. While Dogtooth may be an unsettling film to sit through, the processes by which the family creates a new language to explain the world around them mirror the manner in which poetry invents new ways of expressing perceptions about our world.  The film offers up new ideas about how we interact with our world, and about the power of art to make new worlds–worlds that are potentially dystopian and bleak.. Every new way of looking at the world is also a means of changing the world.  It is a challenging film to sit through, but ultimately rewarding in the questions it raises about our own capabilities as storytellers.

2. I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House

i am the pretty thing

While not necessarily a film with a coherent story-line, I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House uses dream-like images and unique technical rhythms to make sense of its non-linear plot. At its core the story revolves around a woman who moves into a home as a nurse to an elderly author. Shortly after her arrival, the plot becomes convoluted with strange occurrences that seem to have a supernatural cause. The confusion felt by the viewer is largely overpowered by the hypnotic draw one feels to the film’s overall atmospheric take on the Gothic genre. The film creates emotional uncertainty in the viewer, just as we are often unsure how to respond emotionally to poems. Poetry, like the film, often tells narratives out of order or in terms of the abstract, relying more on form and language to express its meaning as opposed to the content written on the page. This particular film matches that poetic approach perfectly and in a sense becomes its own visual poem.

3. Stories We Tell

the stories

A documentary done by filmmaker Sarah Polley, Stories We Tell is a beautiful exploration of how we make sense of the fragmented truths we receive about out our own lives. The documentary follows Polley on her journey to uncover certain familial truths. The film uses the various perspectives of family members who were involved with narrating Polley’s family history to her when she was young, and eventually by piecing all these pieces together Polley derives a sense of truth, albeit a confused sense. Stories We Tell is a profound lesson about the ways in which we choose to both tell and hear stories. The film calls into question techniques found in poetry, such as fragmentation, and asks if we can ever unveil the latent content of a story if we are continually distracted by a fragmented perspective. If you’re looking for a film to challenge your notions of what literature can or should accomplish, Stories We Tell is one you should immediately find the time to view.

4. Anomalisa


One of the elements that makes poetry such a powerful medium is the idea that no one else can write from your perspective. Every aspect of a  poem is individualized due to poetry’s insistence on precise technique; no punctuation point or word is ever arbitrary. Thus, with every decision, even those that seem microscopic, a poet’s voice becomes more distinctive. Anomalisa is a film which follows a man trapped in a world in which he hears every person as possessing the same voice. Told through animation, Anomalisa remains a profoundly human film through its ideas on how we connect through voices as opposed to visuals. Anomalisa tells the story of a man determined to fall in love with other people’s stories and perspectives, and through that, the film embodies the idea that it is possible to connect strongly with a person merely through reading their work and hearing their unique voice.

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel

grand budapest

It seems essential to put a Wes Anderson film on this list due to the fact that his films are so focused on their form. Anderson films in meticulously designed shots with very restrained camera motions. The striking color contrasts of this film and the surreal imagery it uses makes the film’s action feel almost illusory. In part, the beauty of the film and the fluidity of its techniques undermine the tragedy of the narrative itself. Poetry often accomplishes the same result. The form of poetry and its deliberateness often distract the reader from its emotional content. However, the cumulative effect of poetry, as well as Anderson’s film, is to elicit an emotional response from viewers. Thus, though we may be distracted by the surface effects and unfamiliar form of a given poem or film, Anderson’s film demonstrates how form and content can combine to have a powerful impact on audiences.

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