Blow Up

Blow-Up deals with the themes of transience and elusiveness. How do you develop such a theme in a movie? Well. You make a lot of things transient and elusive.

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I recently wrote about The Lobster and how it’s a conclusion based on philosophy rather than narrative. The movie brings us to the point of a character needing to make a choice. When it ends, we’re left wondering what the character chose to do. Which is a way for the film to ask us, the viewers, what we would do.

The Lobster is similar to Blow-Up in that neither have narratively fulfilling endings. Not in the way that something like…Schindler‘s List has. Or A Knight’s Tale. Or Lion King. Or even Titanic.

But Blow-Up differs from The Lobster in that it doesn’t bring us to the point of a final decision. It’s not like Thomas has to choose whether or not to turn the woman in for murder or let her go because she was an unwilling pawn. It’s not like he has to decide to run away because his life is in danger or stay his ground because that’s where his life is. Thomas doesn’t arrive at a crossroads at the end of the movie.

So when we don’t have an ending that resolves the plot, we need to look if it leaves us with a question. If the ending doesn’t leave us with a question, the next thing we can do is look at what happened and the thematic reasons it may have happened.

In this case, we have Thomas in the middle of looking for a dead body, trying to solve a murder mystery. Then a bunch of kids who are mimes show up and start a game of tennis. Two play, while the others cheer. And it’s probably the best miming I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Like, the two seem to have perfect timing with their “tennis rackets” as you can almost imagine the exact trajectory of the ball based on the force they use. So the one person hits it with a medium power. And the other person times it perfectly. To where it doesn’t feel rushed or late, but perfectly on time, as if a ball was right there. The crowd reacts appropriately. A shot “hits the fence” and the mimes there react, again, with immaculate timing.

Even the camera gets into the game. One of the players “hits” the ball over the fence. And the camera follows the arc of the imaginary ball. Watches it bounce and bounce, moving up and down to keep in frame a ball that isn’t actually there. Each hop gets shorter and shorter. Until the ball is just rolling through the grass. Then the camera slows its speed as the ball would be slowing. Keep in mind: there is no ball.

After Thomas throws the ball back, we keep a close up on him. We can now hear an actual tennis ball being struck back and forth.

Then we cut to a wide shot of him in the grass. Then he vanishes. And it’s just the grass. And the movie ends.

This is seemingly nonsense. But once we give it context it makes more sense.

An intro to transience

Transience is in full-swing with Thomas and his photoshoots. The poses are brief. The work itself flickers in and out of being work. Is it work? Is it play? How serious is Thomas as a photographer? In the middle of a shoot he just…walks out. Goes about his day. Has the models wait and wait. I mean, look at the gif below. Thomas goes from doing his job to suddenly necking with the model. Transience, man.

Blow

While watching these scenes, it can be difficult to grasp what the purpose is. Especially since they come early in the movie when we’re looking for a larger plot to latch onto. Is this setting up some drama? Are we establishing character…but just doing it over an extended period of time? What are we, as viewers, supposed to take away from this?

This is a serious question because movies train us to look for plot points. To recognize the story that’s unfolding. Yet, Blow-Up doesn’t really give us those narrative threads early on. Will the plot have anything to do with the photography? Will it have anything to do with any of the models? Then suddenly Thomas is talking to someone about buying this antique shop or at least property near the antique shop. What does that have to do with the story? What even is the story that’s being told?

Inklings

We finally get some threads to latch onto when it comes to the weird encounter in the park. Thomas photographing the woman and man leads to him being followed to a restaurant by someone else, his car being checked out. It leads to the woman showing up at his studio. To his studio being tossed. To him finding a dead body. We have a full blown murder mystery on our hands!

In a typical movie, one that is plot focused, we’d expect this story to have an escalating conflict. And we get the inklings of this. Cleanfolders. Someone breaks into Thomas’s studio and removes all the evidence of the murder, all the photographs he had blown-up. All of the film. Oh shit.

At this point, we should be heading towards some final confrontation. Some revelation of information. What happened. Why it happened. Thomas, as a character, would have to make a choice. And he does make the choice to pursue this. He tries to discover more and find more. Thomas, the good viewer surrogate that he is, wants to bring this plot to a final confrontation.

An intro to elusiveness

All of Thomas’s efforts are foiled. He discovers nothing. Where should he even begin? Who in the world actually cares? A man’s been murdered and…what? No one seems to notice or mind.

The movie ends without any resolution to the plot. Which could anger some viewers…as you’re left with nothing narratively satisfying. What happens next to Thomas? Is he in danger? Will this bother him for the rest of his life? Will he not care at all and just continue with things? How does this affect him? The answers Thomas sought are elusive, never to be found. And we are in a very similar spot to Thomas: without answers and without any seeming way to get them.

If Blow-Up was a movie focused on narrative, then these questions would matter. As is, when a movie ends like this, it’s either because it’s a bad decision or it’s not a narrative-focused movie. Instead, it’s a movie focused on thematics and/or philosophy.

Advanced transience and elusiveness

What is happening in that final scene with the park and tennis and mimes and what have you?

First, Thomas’s murder mystery is being interrupted by an imaginary game of tennis. Then, for a brief bit, he can “hear” what really isn’t there. No one is hitting a tennis ball. Following a cut to an aerial long shot, we see Thomas as a small figure in a large field of green. Then he fades away.

Interruption. Imaginary. Hearing what’s not really there. Reduction. Fade away.

Those things all fit with themes of transience and elusiveness.

The murder seems like the most important thing in the world to Thomas, yet this ethereal tennis game that’s not really happening can distract him from it. This dynamic of “interested” and “uninterested” plays out throughout Blow-Up. Look at the Yardbirds scene. Jeff Beck throws his broken guitar neck into the crowd and people go fucking crazy over it. They tear at each other to get this shattered guitar because it belonged to Jeff Beck of the Yardbirds. Thomas is the lucky winner of the dog pile. He manages to grab the neck and is chased out of the venue. As soon as Thomas is outside he loses interest in his prize, drops it on the ground, walks away. Then we see someone else pick it up, give it a look over, decide it’s junk, and toss it back to the ground.

Movie

That scene is impressive because it shows how this one item can be considered so valuable when given a specific context, but out of context it’s just considered trash. The value of the guitar neck was as transient as everything else in Blow-Up.

We’re all just dust in the wind

Thematic endings tend to reinforce minor moments we’ve witnessed throughout the movie, but bring them to a thematic climax. So while most of Blow-Up had transient and elusive things happening in Thomas’s life, the ending begs the question: what’s the ultimate point?

Well, what’s the final thing we see? We go from a close-up on Thomas’s face, to a long shot of him standing in the grass of this park. To Thomas vanishing.

The implication here would be that not only are the things in our lives transient and elusive, but that each person is ultimately transient and elusive. That they come and go as quickly and as simply as anything else. What we’ve witnessed is nothing more than a “blow-up” of a human being. We’ve zoomed in on their life for a little bit. All we’ll ever have is this “photograph” that gives us the context of a moment but nothing earlier and nothing beyond.

I guess it’s fitting if instead of wrapping this up in a satisfying way if instead I just


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blow up

1. verb To destroy something through an explosion. They plan to blow up that old apartment building and replace it with shops and luxury condos.
2. verb To explode something. Our poor dog is hiding under the bed because our neighbors celebrate the Fourth of July by blowing up tons of fireworks.
3. verb To inflate. Can you help me blow up these balloons for the birthday party?I need to blow up one of my bike tires—it's a little flat right now.
4. verb To increase in size. If you can't read the text at this size, I can blow it up a little bit more.For my mom's birthday, I blew up that picture of our entire family at my graduation and gave it to her as a gift.
5. verb To lose one's temper in a display of anger. I'm sorry that I blew up at you like that—work is so frustrating right now that I have no patience left when I get home.Don't blow up at me—I didn't make that mistake!
6. verb To become very popular, often suddenly. I used to think I was the only one who liked that band, but they're really popular at my school now—it's like they blew up overnight.
7. verb To make something seem more important, negative, or significant than it really is; to exaggerate something or focus unnecessary attention on something. In this usage, a noun or pronoun is often used between 'blow' and 'up.' I'm sure he didn't mean anything by that comment—don't blow it up too much.Of course she's mad at me for not calling her back—you can always count on my mom to blow something up!
8. verb To begin suddenly, as of a storm or other windy weather condition. The storm blew up so quickly that I didn't have a chance to move the patio furniture before it started pouring rain.
9. verb To fail or fall apart. My plans of being productive this weekend blew up when I got really sick on Friday night.
10. verb, slang To receive a lot of phone calls or text messages in a short period of time. Usually used in the continuous tense. A: 'Wow, you're really blowing up right now.' B: 'Ugh, it's just this stupid group text. The other people in it text each other every five seconds, which means I get notified each and every time!'The senator's phones were blowing up as his entire constituency began calling in to urge him to vote against the legislation.
11. noun An intense argument or disagreement. In this usage, the phrase is often written as one word. Our neighbors had a real blowup last night—we could hear them screaming at each other through the walls.

Outdoor Movie Blow Up Screen

12. noun A larger version of something, such as a photo. In this usage, the phrase is often written as one word. For her birthday, I gave my mom a poster-size blowup of that picture of our entire family from my graduation.
13. noun A failure or collapse. In this usage, the phrase is often written as one word. The blowup of the management team was another big setback for the fledgling company.

blowing up

Receiving a lot of phone calls or text messages in a short period of time. A: 'Wow, you're really blowing up right now.' B: 'Ugh, it's just this stupid group text. The other people in it text each other every five seconds, which means I get notified each and every time!'The senator's phones were blowing up as his entire constituency began calling in to urge him to vote against the legislation.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

blow someone or something up

1.Lit. to destroy someone or something by explosion. The terrorists blew the building up at midday.They blew up the bridge.
2.Fig. to exaggerate something [good or bad] about someone or something. I hope no one blows the story up.The media always blows up reports of celebrity behavior.The press blew the story up unnecessarily.

blow something up

1. to inflate something. He didn't have enough breath to blow the balloon up.They all blew up their own balloons.
2. to have a photograph enlarged. How big can you blow this picture up?I will blow up this snapshot and frame it.

blow up

1.Lit. [for something] to explode. The bomb might have blown up if the children had tried to move it.The firecracker blew up.
2.Fig. to burst into anger. I just knew you'd blow up.So she blew up. Why should that affect you so much?
3.Fig. an angry outburst; a fight. (Usually blowup.) After the third blowup, she left him.One blowup after another from you. Control your temper!
4.Fig. an enlarged version of a photograph, map, chart, etc. (Usually blowup.) Here's a blowup of the scene of the crime.Kelly sent a blowup of their wedding picture to all her relatives.
5.Fig. the ruination of something; the collapse of something. (Usually blowup.) The blowup in the financial world has ruined my chances for early retirement.After the blowup at the company, the top managers called one another to compare notes.
6.Fig. to fall apart or get ruined. The whole project blew up. It will have to be canceled.All my planning was blown up this afternoon.
7. [for a storm] to arrive accompanied by the blowing of the wind. A terrible storm blew up while we were in the movie theater.I was afraid that a rainstorm was blowing up.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

blow up

Blowup Gingerbread House

1. Explode or cause to explode. For example, The squadron was told to blow up the bridge, or Jim was afraid his experiment would blow up the lab. The term is sometimes amplified, as in blow up in one's face. [Late 1500s]
2. Lose one's temper, as in I'm sorry I blew up at you. Mark Twain used this metaphor for an actual explosion in one of his letters (1871): 'Redpath tells me to blow up. Here goes!' [Colloquial; second half of 1800s]
3. Inflate, fill with air, as in If you don't blow up those tires you're sure to have a flat. [Early 1400s]
4. Enlarge, especially a photograph, as in If we blow up this picture, you'll be able to make out the expressions on their faces. [c. 1930]
5. Exaggerate the importance of something or someone, as in Tom has a tendency to blow up his own role in the affair. This term applies the 'inflate' of def. 3 to importance. It was used in this sense in England from the early 1500s to the 1700s, but then became obsolete there although it remains current in America.
1966 movie blow up
6. Collapse, fail, as in Graduate-student marriages often blow up soon after the couple earn their degrees. [Slang; mid-1800s]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

blow up

v.
1. To destroy something or someone by explosion: The soldiers will blow the bridge up. The dynamite blew up the abandoned building.
2. To explode: I pressed the red button, and the bomb blew up.
3. To start suddenly and with force: A storm blew up as we were walking home.
4. To fill something with air or gas; inflate something: We need to blow up the tires of this old bicycle. The clown blew some balloons up for the kids to play with.
5. To increase the size or scale of an image of something, as for display or in order to view it more closely: We blew up the document to make a poster out of it. If we blow the photograph up we can see more detail.
6. To become very angry: My date blew up when I suggested we leave the party early.
7. To exaggerate something: Don't blow the story up into such a great disaster; it wasn't that bad. It may sound impressive, but I'm sure they're blowing up what really happened.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs. Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Airplane Movie Blow Up Pilot

blow up

1. in. to burst into anger. So she blew up. Why should that affect you so much?
2. n. an angry outburst; a fight. (Usually blowup.) After the third blowup, she left him.
3. n. an enlarged version of a photograph, map, chart, etc. (Usually blowup.) Kelly sent a blowup of their wedding picture to all her relatives.
4. n. the ruination of something; the collapse of something. (Usually blowup.) The blowup in the financial world has ruined my chances for early retirement.

blown (up)

mod. alcohol intoxicated. (see also blown away, blown (out).) You are blown as blazes, you twit!
McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions Copyright © 2006 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
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