Rian Johnson’s Approach to Movies

Written by Robotical712

A common criticism of our analysis is that it reads too much into the dialog and visuals of The Last Jedi. However, a perusal of Rian’s commentary on other movies and his own shows he really does approach film from a very abstract level.

From a 2012 Wired interview about Looper:

The hit-man angle came first, but when did the father-son dynamic and the destiny-vs.-free-will stuff start creeping in?

That’s the real writing process for me—that’s what has to happen for something to seem like it’s worth not only spending a few years making, but asking people to sit in that dark theater for two hours watching. For lack of a better word, something really takes off when I find the theme of it. “Theme” just instantly sounds boring—we all have connotations from high school English class. Or it sounds reductive, like it’s the message you’re trying to jam down the audience’s throat. For me, it’s more about finding some big question I don’t know the answer to. What makes a project take off for me is when that attaches itself in this perfect symbiotic way to a concept, to a plot, to a character, to a world, and suddenly I say, here’s this vehicle to talk about this thing that’s really on my mind right now.

Time to be reductive, then: What was that question in Looper?

A few years ago I would have jumped at the chance to start talking about it and explaining, but hopefully it’s there in the movie and is better presented in the movie than I could present by saying it. Not because it’s something secret or incredibly deep or complicated, but divorced from its context in the movie, it’s the least interesting thing to plop on the table dry, without any sauce.

Recording of Rian interviewing Denis Villeneuve last year:

Watch from about 3:40 to 5:00. Note Rian’s excitement over something he found incredibly meta.

Perhaps the best indication is how Rian lays out his approach to planning in this 2010 interview regarding The Brother’s Bloom:

You talk about the narrative, but there’s also a really strong visual element in there and these kind of visual puns that you’re capturing on camera. Do you visualize that when you’re writing, or is that something that develops when you’re on set?

No, no, no. I storyboard everything, so after I’ve written the script I’ll go through, I’ll take a couple of months, and it really is like visualizing writing the movie. I mean, I can’t draw. At all. I’m a horrible artist but I’ll just make little chicken scratch drawings that are just enough information to remind me of what I’m thinking about shot-wise, and that’s a really important step for me.

Because I know there are really talented directors who can show up on set without any idea and then set up their shots and get everything. For me, it’s incredibly important to have a span of time where there’s not the pressure of 40 people standing around you, where you can just think out and very specifically visually plan out the film. So, that’s where shots like that end up coming together and coming from.

And the nice thing is this film allowed those very referential and theatrical visual touches to exist. Because it very much fit in thematically with the film, and it very much fit in to this idea that this whole thing is a very constructed story that Stephen is making and Bloom feels very trapped in. So, having every frame feel very deliberate, having every composition have almost hidden visual jokes in them, it’s fun, but also it wouldn’t feel right if it didn’t serve the bigger picture of what the movie was about.

And finally I leave you with this:

You’ve said that Looper isn’t really a time travel movie. What’s the central issue then? 

You have to have something bigger than time travel that’s worth asking an audience to sit in the dark for two hours. And the power of a parent’s love really was the thing that set everything off. I realized that this weird little sci-fi concept could amplify that theme and be a conduit for it. I worked backwards from the end and planned the entire movie from there.(edited)

That seems pretty close to the mark when it comes to our interpretation…

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