An image system is a collection of images, which repeats throughout your story or script. Each new image acts as an echo of a previous instance, reinforcing the main concerns and themes of your story. These images chiefly function in two ways—they are part of the actual “physical” world of your story, but they are also reflections, or symbols of your story’s interior concerns—the inner landscape.
The film, Shutter Island, drives the story forward by utilising images of water, the sea, and wind, whipped up into a hurricane, which is closing in on the island housing a mental hospital. The hurricane is an important plot element that adds to the tension and ups the ante as U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) races to conclude his investigation of the disappearance of a mental patient, who he suspects is hiding on the island, before the storm hits.
Aggravating the frenetic search for the patient is Daniels’s own deteriorating mental condition, as images of his past life as a soldier, then as a husband and father, flash before him, adding to his overall instability and confusion. The image of the hurricane, therefore, is more than a major plot element. It is also a symbol of the inner landscape, a warning of the potentially tempestuous and uncontrollable behaviour that smoulders inside all of us.
In the film, The Piano, images of water, the sea, and mud are deeply embedded into every aspect of the story—they are a part of the setting, which sets the tone and mood of the tale. But these images, drawing on basic psychological analysis, also connote the sexual and emotional tension of the characters, becoming stronger each time we encounter them in the film. The piano itself perfectly captures the two-fold function of imagery. The instrument is as much a vehicle for the plot, as it is a substitute for Ada McGrath’s (Holly Hunter) lost voice and suppressed passion.
Managing images systems in your stories relies on two major factors: selecting images that pertain to your story world, while simultaneously evoking and supporting the themes and concerns that your story sets out to explore. Elemental images such as earth, fire, water, and air, have a long association with certain themes and subject matter in film and literature. Others, are looser and more mailable. Choosing the right class of imagery will not only help you plot your story effectively, but will enrich and deepen its thematic and connotative layers too.
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