One of the most famous visual metaphors in film is the eating scene in Tom Jones. Ostensibly about eating, this scene is really all about sex – the spontaneity, rebelliousness, naughtiness of the carnal act, the excitement of going after the wrong woman, a metaphor for sexually devouring a lover’s body.
In the film The Piano it is obvious that when Baines (Harvey Keitel) painstakingly dusts the instrument, he is not displaying his dedication to good housekeeping. His cleaning of the piano represents the woman he desires to touch, caress, and fondle.
To work well, visual metaphors need to be adroitly constructed. Seger makes the point that eating a Caesar’s salad wouldn’t work as well as chewing on flesh and bone, in Tom Jones. Nor would dusting the piano with a rag be as effective as a naked Baines cleaning the instrument with his shirt. Choosing the right setting and detail of the visual metaphor is crucial to its communicating the intended nuance and meaning.
Visual metaphors may come in any form: broken glass may represent a broken life; blood can symbolise life or death; a mirror might represent the theme of illusion and deception, or a shattered persona. Shakespeare often uses visual metaphors to shed light on a story’s hidden meaning – a tortured soul surrounded by rain, thunder, and lightning in King Lear; the murder of a king causing imbalance in nature – as in Macbeth, where horses are reported to have eaten each other. Whatever the metaphor, however, the net result is the same – conveying information over and above the denotative aspect of the scenes in which they occur.
Visual metaphors point to the inner meaning beneath the surface of a story. They help support the story in an economical way by providing denotation and connotation in one seamless package.
If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.