This first movie in our August experiment is a true story about a woman with three distinct personalities at a time when little was known about it. There’s Eve White, Eve Black, and Jane.
At first I thought this would be a great place to talk about Id, Ego, and Superego, but I decided that since the film begins with a man talking to the audience directly I’d talk about the Logical Appeal of Logos. An appeal to logos is an appeal to logic, to facts, and to the real. This film begins with a man basically summing up for us the life of Eve White. He talks about the doctors that treated her and we see he himself is an authority. This adds a sense of documentary to the film as well as a tone of verisimilitude.
By appealing to our sense of logic in this opening, it lays the ground work for us to buy into the narrative and believe everything we see. Instead of earning our willing suspension of disbelief, the film is demanding us to hand it over from the first frames of the film.
The good news is whether you believe this story to be true or fiction is irrelevant. It’s a decent film on its own with an Academy Award winning performance by an actress who played the titular role. It really is a joy to watch this actress at her craft switching from one personality to another.
The most obvious tool used is the opening and voice-over narration that continues to remind us this story is true lest we forget. The second element that helps us is when Eve Black appears, the more fun-loving personality (probably shocking for the 50s), the sound track changes to one of calm, beautiful music to a blatantly jazzy score because we all know Jazz is dangerous and only bad people listen to Jazz. There are other clues that let us know which personality we’re dealing with like Eve Black smokes, Eve white is more nurturing to her child, and Jane is the only one with an back bone.
So the next time someone comes on the screen or is in the first paragraphs of a novel telling you that what you’re about to read is a true story…know you’re being manipulated. There’s a Preface in The Life of Pi that most people skip over and it’s as much an integral part of the narrative as the three following sections. It makes all kinds of logical appeals and even goes so far as to thank some real people along with some fictional ones. It’s a trick, but when used well, a pretty darned good one.