‘20th Century Women’ and the Movement of Memory

By  · Published on March 30th, 2017

A montage of meaningful repetition.

Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women, on its surface, is the anecdotal story of Dorothea (Annette Bening) and her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), who are essentially raising each other in late-70s Southern California. From the first scenes we understand that what we’re seeing is a reflection, it’s a composite of memories from Dorothea, Jamie, and the hodgepodge of people in their lives, played by Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, and Elle Fanning. At its core, then, 20th Century Women is a movie of multiple subjectivities and it’s narrative moves like a memory, repeating, refracting, altering, even mythologizing. Mills’ Oscar-nominated screenplay does a deft job of navigating these at-times complementary, at-times conflicting perspectives, but it isn’t just in words that his film deals with the movement of memory, the visuals as well serve as echoes of one another, as proven by this eloquent montage edited by Alice Sanna.

In this brief video Sanna has collected reflexive images from the film and set them side-by-side for comparison. Notice how in many of these shots, the motion of the camera in one is opposed by the motion in the other; one zooms in, the other pulls back, one pans left, the other pans right. This is a subtle and graceful directorial technique that many might have missed, but fortunately for them there’s the sharp, erudite eye of Sanna to capture it.

20th Century Women is on Blu-Ray and DVD this week. Check out FSR’s original review right here.

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