Metaphors (especially in speculative films)

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I’m starting this thread off the back of watching Malignant. I can’t for the life of me see any spoilers here, so will carry on with no spoiler tags, because I don’t want to get into the habit of sticking them on “just in case” - but if anyone disagrees, let me know.

I was reading reviews and one of them said something along the lines of “interprets the [insert metaphor] metaphor literally”. I see that relatively often in reviews as a way of summarising what a film does. “Takes the x metaphor literally”. I find that less objectionable than some people might; after all, I’m the kind of person that loves puns.

The play on taking language literally makes sense to me; see The Silence of the Lambs, self storage and all. But I don’t see what criticism via metaphors has to add to the appreciation of the piece. If you accept that a monster in a horror film is a metaphor for someone’s ugly personality or that the snow in The Grey denotes the protagonist’s loneliness, does that really tell you anything? It’s not like x is literally anything like y.

That reminds me of my (bizarre to the bone) English teacher in Sixth Form who, when we were reading The Wife of Bath from The Canterbury Tales, suggested that “a candle burning” and melting denoted male impotence, power melting away and all, then proceeded to explain in detail how exactly. I mean, maybe it does to some, but is everything, to quote The Parasite, really “metaphorical”? And should it be?

Why does it seem like the sheer fact of taking a metaphor literally is worthy of attention? Does it really add any kind of layer of meaning or philosophical lens to events? I feel like any abstract science fiction/speculative idea that doesn’t neatly match a metaphor is just as interesting/valid. How is it any less of an event if someone turns out to be a ghost in the twist and that doesn’t immediately beg any sort of metaphor-heavy conclusion such as “we’ll all die/be ghosts one day” or “we’re all dead already because global warming”?

To me it’s a bit like the usual conversation about twists. Are twists in and of themselves worthy of attention, let alone praise, and are metaphors? Maybe a film has a headless woman shot just because the director had always dreamt of having a headless woman shot, a bit like the Facility guy from The Cabin in the Woods had his favourite monster.



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The problems of metaphor are the problems of non-literality, in general.

Yes, one can read in a metaphor rather easily just as one can see patterns in clouds very easily.

It's a sort of arcane knowledge. "The normies will not see this, but those with the sight, recognize any cylindrical object as a penis. Indeed, this is why it is so hard to fight the patriarchy. One picks up a pen and finds a phallus in one's palm."

And yet, it is also true that art is heavily coded and that writers are rather notorious for very "on the nose references" in films (Angel Heart gives us Robert Deniro as "Louis Cypher" -- get it?). And metaphors can and do add layers of meaning and complicate a surface reading of a text.

So, there are rules of thumb which should inform our reading.

1. We should have evidence that the alleged metaphor does violate the intention of the text (not the author's intent, but the author-function inherent in the text, the general voice which is speaking).

2. Strong evidence of an actual authorial intention can strengthen the case for a reading in a text. This is, however, neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for a reading. Rather, it is a supplement.

3. Other observers should see the same pattern in the text. If you are the only person who sees the candle as a metaphor, then what we have is almost certainly an idiosyncratic "reader response" to the text, and not an objective feature of the text.

4. What is the context of the creation and reception of the work? Is it operating in a tight genre where particular allusions are obvious? Is there some event which, if we know our history, clearly connects to the reading of the text?

We should not expect tight closures for these assessments. Literature is slippery and much of criticism is one person attempting to prove that they are cleverer than other readers and viewers. Thus, the more bizarre the reading one can ground the more points one can score. What is more pedestrian than come away with the reading of a text that anyone with eyes can see? Pffft!!! BORING. The true critic looks deep within and proves she is worthy of the title of critic as THOR must prove he is worthy of that hammer-thingee.



After the first paragraph, I thought the point of contention was going to be about saying, "metaphor literally."


Anyhow, to borrow a line from, I believe, Oscar Wilde, "Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power."


Which I think means, everything is a metaphor. Mostly about sex. Which is nice, because that means whenever I watch a movie, I'm watching intellectual porn. And then I get to engage in mental masturbation when I write about it online. And that seems like a good and pleasurable thing to me.

Unless I'm watching porn. You can see the geopolitical struggles of the world in that stuff.

Otherwise, I'd say read Corax's post. Be aware of the concept of the death of the author worldview at least as a background knowledge if you aren't already.

ETA: I will add, since the original post asked about the intrinsic value of a metaphor in a movie, I will say, I think generally the themes and worldviews expressed in a movie matters more for the overall quality. The metaphors used are usually a part and in service of those themes, in as much as say, dialogue is.

Since speculative sci-fi was mentioned, it's not uncommon for the overall plot to be a metaphor for the theme.

Sometimes a specific metaphor gets called out for being very effective or evocative. But like good dialogue, that's on a case by case level. The example coming to mind right now of one that was explicitly called out often was The Sunken Place on Get Out. But some of the effectiveness still requires good execution of the literal on screen, while tonally evoking a tone for what it was metaphorical for.

Intrinsically, metaphors, like dialogue can be heavy handed, clunky, or ill thought out (as can those themes).



Why does it seem like the sheer fact of taking a metaphor literally is worthy of attention? Does it really add any kind of layer of meaning or philosophical lens to events?
I think that, when done thoughtfully, a well-executed "metaphor taken literally" can elevate a film, especially if the viewer has personal experience with whatever is being explored with the metaphor.

For example, the film Ginger Snaps is ostensibly about one of a pair of sisters becoming a werewolf. And there is plenty of narrative tension and thrills and emotion to be had if you just take it at face value.

But if you consider the idea that a young woman becoming a monster is allegorical regarding the way the people can change in the transition between adolescence and adulthood--something the film makes very clear nods to, such as in the sequence with the school nurse--then if you are someone who has experienced growing up and having a friend or a sibling seem to change in those years, you might connect on the film at a deeper level.

I don't think that the act of making a metaphor literal is worthy of praise on its own. But I do think it's worth praising a film that is able to bring both a narrative and an allegorical arc to a satisfying conclusion. I would say that a lot of the movies I love the most operate on dual levels (whether that's the intention of the creators or something I bring to my personal reading of the film).



I think that, when done thoughtfully, a well-executed "metaphor taken literally" can elevate a film, especially if the viewer has personal experience with whatever is being explored with the metaphor.

For example, the film Ginger Snaps is ostensibly about one of a pair of sisters becoming a werewolf. And there is plenty of narrative tension and thrills and emotion to be had if you just take it at face value.

But if you consider the idea that a young woman becoming a monster is allegorical regarding the way the people can change in the transition between adolescence and adulthood--something the film makes very clear nods to, such as in the sequence with the school nurse--then if you are someone who has experienced growing up and having a friend or a sibling seem to change in those years, you might connect on the film at a deeper level.

I don't think that the act of making a metaphor literal is worthy of praise on its own. But I do think it's worth praising a film that is able to bring both a narrative and an allegorical arc to a satisfying conclusion. I would say that a lot of the movies I love the most operate on dual levels (whether that's the intention of the creators or something I bring to my personal reading of the film).
That does kind of answer my question. I think some narratives are more prone to metaphorical interpretation than others. I also do think one can read absolutely anything into any narrative; I suppose it just occasionally feels a bit forced/inauthentic.

Don’t know if you plan on seeing Malignant (I guess I would tentatively recommend it), but I think sometimes in horror the twist should just be a twist, no (profound) questions asked.

I remember how Sleepaway Camp felt quite shocking on first watch; that twist is rather stupid and well, to me has no deep metaphorical meaning whatsoever, and don’t get me started on the social outrage. I almost think that in itself is valuable too - just show/look at the monster in the end like Jaws and don’t try to find any Freudian motifs there. But maybe it’s natural to look beyond the literal.

I also feel like this approach implicitly suggests that a “straight-up” horror/speculative narrative is somehow less valuable/of interest if it doesn’t boast any immediate allegorical element. Colossal (2016) was like that, and I do see how it’s a strange film as it doesn’t “do” much anything with the sci-fi, but that’s exactly what I like about it.



After the first paragraph, I thought the point of contention was going to be about saying, "metaphor literally."
There’s also that (though that was exactly, word-to-word what the review said). Having worked with very young kids (@Takoma11 will be better placed to comment), I think in terms of language development, it can be helpful to help “visualise” metaphors (to remember the expression mainly). I remember kids being shown diagrams with someone falling over the stairs made of hearts for “head over heels in love”. So I suppose technically you can interpret it literally; I also remember the face of a colleague who wasn’t fluent in English when he was told “Shut up!” midway through a story he was telling. It was obviously an exclamation of disbelief, but he took it literally.

I don’t know, I’m not against metaphors and they are more or less ubiquitous, but it just felt a bit wooden to say to authoritatively that it’s got to be a metaphor, it can’t just be “feel good” sci-fi/horror. But yes, I agree with pretty much everything in Corax’s post.



The problems of metaphor are the problems of non-literality, in general.

Yes, one can read in a metaphor rather easily just as one can see patterns in clouds very easily.

It's a sort of arcane knowledge. "The normies will not see this, but those with the sight, recognize any cylindrical object as a penis. Indeed, this is why it is so hard to fight the patriarchy. One picks up a pen and finds a phallus in one's palm."

And yet, it is also true that art is heavily coded and that writers are rather notorious for very "on the nose references" in films (Angel Heart gives us Robert Deniro as "Louis Cypher" -- get it?). And metaphors can and do add layers of meaning and complicate a surface reading of a text.

So, there are rules of thumb which should inform our reading.

1. We should have evidence that the alleged metaphor does violate the intention of the text (not the author's intent, but the author-function inherent in the text, the general voice which is speaking).

2. Strong evidence of an actual authorial intention can strengthen the case for a reading in a text. This is, however, neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for a reading. Rather, it is a supplement.

3. Other observers should see the same pattern in the text. If you are the only person who sees the candle as a metaphor, then what we have is almost certainly an idiosyncratic "reader response" to the text, and not an objective feature of the text.

4. What is the context of the creation and reception of the work? Is it operating in a tight genre where particular allusions are obvious? Is there some event which, if we know our history, clearly connects to the reading of the text?

We should not expect tight closures for these assessments. Literature is slippery and much of criticism is one person attempting to prove that they are cleverer than other readers and viewers. Thus, the more bizarre the reading one can ground the more points one can score. What is more pedestrian than come away with the reading of a text that anyone with eyes can see? Pffft!!! BORING. The true critic looks deep within and proves she is worthy of the title of critic as THOR must prove he is worthy of that hammer-thingee.
Have given this some more thought. I guess I’m overanalysing things again, but why is “Louis Cypher” a metaphor? In my view, it’s a pun. Yes, I feel like the term “metaphor” is itself irritatingly vague. Is “Walter White” a metaphor because he’s the opposite of “white”/innocent, wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

Can “Louis Cypher” not just be a language game/pun? (Same as Cruella de Vil and Pussy Galore). Yes, that tells us explicitly all we need to know about the character, and in that, it’s surely the opposite of a metaphor?

Going back to the discussion @Takoma11 & I had (one ot the most memorable to me), this is what Eminem gets criticised for - that the puns don’t carry a deeper meaning, it’s just many words in one and so on. But I guess I’m exactly the type of consumer that likes that. Why does a pun or a monster have to signify anything at all? Maybe it’s just cool that someone grows a tail at night. The sci-fi is then about the practical challenges they face. That’s it.

Appreciate most people want “something deeper”. Guess I don’t get it and find the quest to find a theme/universal truth in a horror film pretentious and not at all conducive to enjoyment. Honestly, it’s like suggesting that Indiana Jones’ whip is a metaphor. For what? That he’s THE BOSS?

It’s just his trademark thing, like the fedora.

Of course I agree with your 1-4. (The Thor example is great). But is that lens even necessary in the first place? To me it’s almost a case of “everyone is secretly bisexual”. “All men cheat.” “All [speculative] films contain some metaphors.” I mean, why? Why? Says who?



That reminds me of my (bizarre to the bone) English teacher in Sixth Form who, when we were reading The Wife of Bath from The Canterbury Tales, suggested that “a candle burning” and melting denoted male impotence, power melting away and all, then proceeded to explain in detail how exactly. I mean, maybe it does to some, but is everything, to quote The Parasite, really “metaphorical”? And should it be?
She was probably a horrid spinster like most of the teachers at my all-girls prep school. Seeing a penis where no penis existed.

I mostly see things as they’re written. A candle burning to me is a candle burning. If it suggests male impotence so be it.
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She was probably a horrid spinster like most of the teachers at my all-girls prep school. Seeing a penis where no penis existed.

I mostly see things as they’re written. A candle burning to me is a candle burning. If it suggests male impotence so be it.
A wise woman you are. Was a horrid spinster indeed, though only in her thirties. But I remember finding that quite off putting. I’m fond of innuendo and teasing where there’s basis for that, but that was over the top. It was indeed an all-girls independent school.

I can understand such readings with Shakespeare, tiresome as that gets, but she’d do it to almost any classic.

Re: seeing things as they are written, this is exactly what I was getting at. Wish that was more widely accepted, if not the norm.



A wise woman you are. Was a horrid spinster indeed, though only in her thirties. But I remember finding that quite off putting. I’m fond of innuendo and teasing where there’s basis for that, but that was over the top. It was indeed an all-girls independent school.

I can understand such readings with Shakespeare, tiresome as that gets, but she’d do it to almost any classic.

Re: seeing things as they are written, this is exactly what I was getting at. Wish that was more widely accepted, if not the norm.
What annoyed & bored me in our English Lit classes (though I liked the works themselves) was parsing something to death. We did Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner for an entire term, which surely was unnecessary. Ditto Keats’s The Eve of St. Agnes. For one term we had an American teacher (poor thing, she could not control us) & we parsed Austen’s Northanger Abby with her until we had rung it dry.



What annoyed & bored me in our English Lit classes (though I liked the works themselves) was parsing something to death. We did Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner for an entire term, which surely was unnecessary. Ditto Keats’s The Eve of St. Agnes. For one term we had an American teacher (poor thing, she could not control us) & we parsed Austen’s Northanger Abby with her until we had rung it dry.
Did you and I attend the same school by any chance? The Ancient Mariner is unforgettable, and the parsing was, shall we say, excessive, but did it give me ample insight into popular culture. I think at some point I was the only person I knew apart from those in my English Lit set who knew where the albatross metaphor came from. Don’t think that’s a quid pro quo, though. Did take a whole term too, so you’re not alone.

I loved (and still love) T. S. Eliot, though, and was gratified when they actually let me use The Waste Land for coursework. So there are positives in that kind of education.

An American teacher… Why, that would have been fun.

I generally like parsing things and did at school too. But the bizarre sexual lens was exhausting. Also I would randomly interpret everything as a metaphor and it always worked wonders. Perhaps hence my exasperation above.



Appreciate most people want “something deeper”. Guess I don’t get it and find the quest to find a theme/universal truth in a horror film pretentious and not at all conducive to enjoyment.
I think that metaphor can be one of the ways that a viewer can connect with art.

Again, I will never know someone who turns into a vampire or werewolf. But I might very well know someone who changed in major ways when they fell into addiction. I think that a good story, well told is incredibly satisfying on its own. But I also think that it's the case that a story with a powerful narrative exploration of a metaphor can be really moving and impactful.

I think that most viewers should be wary of going too far in either direction. On one hand, trying to read deeper meaning into every little detail of a film can be a moment where you lose the forest for the trees.

But I also think that it's a mistake to resist any metaphorical or deeper meaning. Artists many times are intentionally layering meaning or metaphor into their work. To say that the words on the page are only to be taken at literal, face value is to deny the effort that went into creating a story that functions on more than one level.

And further, I think that it's perfectly valid for people to see meaning in a work of art, even if that was not the intention of the original creator. Fears and trauma loom really large in a lot of peoples' minds, and horror--with its monsters--can feel very much like it aligns with those emotions and experiences. The first time I watched Brain Damage, I mainly picked up on themes about addiction. But when I watched it at a time when a friend was going through a divorce with someone who had caused a lot of fear and trauma to her, I saw the film as also exploring an unhealthy relationship with someone who is manipulative and selfish.

I mean, the good news is that if you want to take stories literally . . . you can!



An American teacher… Why, that would have been fun.
Dang, I wrote a most amusing reply about this woman & it didn’t post. So annoying & I have neither the time or inclination to re-write the darn thing.

In sum, she probably thought a British prep school would be lovely, but what she actually got was Lord of the Flies.



Dang, I wrote a most amusing reply about this woman & it didn’t post. So annoying & I have neither the time or inclination to re-write the darn thing.

In sum, she probably thought a British prep school would be lovely, but what she actually got was Lord of the Flies.
Ouch, a shame. Another time then.

And yeah, I’m not surprised at all.



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Have given this some more thought. I guess I’m overanalysing things again, but why is “Louis Cypher” a metaphor? In my view, it’s a pun.
It's not a metaphor, but rather an example of a coded reference which is "on the nose" such as heavy handed allusions in literature. My point there is that most writers will pretty much be "on the nose" with these things. The intended meaning is pretty close to the surface in most cases, winking at the audience.

It's kind of like setting up an Easter Egg for little children. You can't set all the eggs in the middle of the yard or the kitchen table (too obvious, no fun), but neither can you hide an egg in a suitcase under a box in the attic, at least not if you want the kids to find them.

John McWhorter once wrote of his grandmother telling him as a child with regard to later-life romance that, "every old shoe finds and old sock" leaving it to him to work out the metaphor as he grew into adulthood--an Easter Egg he would appreciate as he grew into adulthood as he came to understand the joke.

Yes, I feel like the term “metaphor” is itself irritatingly vague. Is “Walter White” a metaphor because he’s the opposite of “white”/innocent, wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

Can “Louis Cypher” not just be a language game/pun? (Same as Cruella de Vil and Pussy Galore). Yes, that tells us explicitly all we need to know about the character, and in that, it’s surely the opposite of a metaphor?
Sorry about that. I was broadly speaking about non-literality an veiled references in general in that post.

Appreciate most people want “something deeper”. Guess I don’t get it and find the quest to find a theme/universal truth in a horror film pretentious and not at all conducive to enjoyment. Honestly, it’s like suggesting that Indiana Jones’ whip is a metaphor. For what? That he’s THE BOSS?

It’s just his trademark thing, like the fedora.
In the ways the matter most, I think you're right. Moreover, a good many of us are hunting phantoms when we try to go deeper. That stated, some works of art have greater depths. It's kin of like Type 1 and Type 2 error in statistics; you have to on the guard for the both of them and the more diligent you are in guarding against just one, the more opened up you are to the other error.

It's frustrating, because readings of texts vary in quality along with texts themselves. Sometimes it's hard to judge whether someone has brought up treasure from the depths or whether they're full of it, reading into the text what they want to get out of it.

But that is what the cut-and-thrust of critical discussion is for, separating wheat from chaff.



Appreciate most people want “something deeper”. Guess I don’t get it and find the quest to find a theme/universal truth in a horror film pretentious and not at all conducive to enjoyment. Honestly, it’s like suggesting that Indiana Jones’ whip is a metaphor. For what? That he’s THE BOSS?

It’s just his trademark thing, like the fedora.

Of course I agree with your 1-4. (The Thor example is great). But is that lens even necessary in the first place? To me it’s almost a case of “everyone is secretly bisexual”. “All men cheat.” “All [speculative] films contain some metaphors.” I mean, why? Why? Says who?
An observation I'm noticing, your examples look a lot like metaphors that are small parts of movies isolated from a larger context. I haven't read the Canterbury Tale in question, or don't remember it if I have, so I can't really weigh in on the validity of a reading where a melting candle represents impotency. But there's a question of, "to what end?" Like, if it does, why does that matter? Hence me mentioning themes and worldviews usually being more important.

I also referenced the death of the author, which I'll concede my understanding of it is relatively from offhand comments and conversational osmosis. But you'll often hear about the three ways art is interpreted (one of which I've completely forgotten), but one is what the author intended and another is what the viewer interprets. The death of the author isn't necessarily the same as "what the viewer interprets", but in my mind they are somewhat related. But I wanted to just frame it so that you're aware, one aspect of art (or what-have-you) is viewers will see something and abstractly see parallels with other things. Things that interest or concern them. That would be the viewer's interpretation. Even if the reading isn't what's intended*, it can still be out there and a valid way to read it. Some of these are couched in the phrasing of, "I don't think the author intended it, but x can be read as..." And that reading can be out there. It might be of interest of you and it might not be. There can be multiple readings, sometimes in conflict with each other for a movie. One reading that concerns people for genre films, "and the literal reading of the film? how does it fit in with other films of the genre in its execution."

(side note to clarify, I believe authorial intent and who the author is important. but there is validity to readings even if they aren't what the author intended.)

And this goes beyond just metaphors.

Now in terms of the value of these things, well, as Tak alluded to, if for example, someone likes vampire films, and they also find movies about addiction, then a vampire movie that's a metaphor for addiction, then that's satisfying them on two fronts. But there's also the third front of them mentally working out the parallels. And I think people like working out things on some level.

I will point out for your school year memories, I'm going to ask/guess a few things.
The overall metaphor/point/theme of the Canterbury Tale in question the teacher was trying to provide, was that interesting? Like, if there was a non-metaphorical, literal story about that, would you have found it interesting? I wouldn't be surprised if the answer was, "no." And then also for the detailed reading, it was kind of being handed down to you. You weren't working it out yourself. So, I do wonder how much being forced to learn critical reading is denies you the pleasure of doing so. Just speculating, because during those years, I really hated the whole symbolic reading/analysis as well. And that's a lot of what I do these days when I watch and enjoy movies. Granted, it's often for movies that seem to invite one to do so.

I gotta stop here for now. I can't remember how much more I wanted to say, but hopefully it's enough of a complete thought.

*: Originally wrote "interpreted" instead of "intended" for reasons unclear to me other than a brain fart. Noticed reading it while reading Tak's response. Edited for clarity.



Even if the reading isn't what's interpreted, it can still be out there and a valid way to read it. Some of these are couched in the phrasing of, "I don't think the author intended it, but x can be read as..." And that reading can be out there. It might be of interest of you and it might not be. There can be multiple readings, sometimes in conflict with each other for a movie.
Right. I actually think that this is one of the really cool things about art---that people from different perspectives and experiences can find something to connect to. Even when I don't agree with certain interpretations, it can be interesting to see how someone else saw it.



I think that metaphor can be one of the ways that a viewer can connect with art.

Again, I will never know someone who turns into a vampire or werewolf. But I might very well know someone who changed in major ways when they fell into addiction. I think that a good story, well told is incredibly satisfying on its own. But I also think that it's the case that a story with a powerful narrative exploration of a metaphor can be really moving and impactful.

I think that most viewers should be wary of going too far in either direction. On one hand, trying to read deeper meaning into every little detail of a film can be a moment where you lose the forest for the trees.

But I also think that it's a mistake to resist any metaphorical or deeper meaning. Artists many times are intentionally layering meaning or metaphor into their work. To say that the words on the page are only to be taken at literal, face value is to deny the effort that went into creating a story that functions on more than one level.

And further, I think that it's perfectly valid for people to see meaning in a work of art, even if that was not the intention of the original creator. Fears and trauma loom really large in a lot of peoples' minds, and horror--with its monsters--can feel very much like it aligns with those emotions and experiences. The first time I watched Brain Damage, I mainly picked up on themes about addiction. But when I watched it at a time when a friend was going through a divorce with someone who had caused a lot of fear and trauma to her, I saw the film as also exploring an unhealthy relationship with someone who is manipulative and selfish.

I mean, the good news is that if you want to take stories literally . . . you can!
Yes, that is fair enough. I think there’s more of a middle ground than is being acknowledged so far in the thread, though, at least broadly speaking. I think most films/books/stories go beyond the text and make general points about interpersonal relationships/“life”, but to me that’s a far cry from saying
WARNING: spoilers below
a parasite in the head makes literal the duality of mind
. That’s just so… unnecessary is what I think I mean! Here, I’ve finally given up & disclosed in full what pissed me off about the review. I didn’t want to be specific as I think the discussion is broader than this.

I am not that literal-minded: one of the things I enjoy most about language is the way one can hop in and out of seeing things from up close as a syntactic construction versus from a distance as something that simply conveys meaning in reference to physical objects. All that is fair enough.

Addiction/vampires are a good example.



An observation I'm noticing, your examples look a lot like metaphors that are small parts of movies isolated from a larger context. I haven't read the Canterbury Tale in question, or don't remember it if I have, so I can't really weigh in on the validity of a reading where a melting candle represents impotency. But there's a question of, "to what end?" Like, if it does, why does that matter? Hence me mentioning themes and worldviews usually being more important.

I also referenced the death of the author, which I'll concede my understanding of it is relatively from offhand comments and conversational osmosis. But you'll often hear about the three ways art is interpreted (one of which I've completely forgotten), but one is what the author intended and another is what the viewer interprets. The death of the author isn't necessarily the same as "what the viewer interprets", but in my mind they are somewhat related. But I wanted to just frame it so that you're aware, one aspect of art (or what-have-you) is viewers will see something and abstractly see parallels with other things. Things that interest or concern them. That would be the viewer's interpretation. Even if the reading isn't what's intended*, it can still be out there and a valid way to read it. Some of these are couched in the phrasing of, "I don't think the author intended it, but x can be read as..." And that reading can be out there. It might be of interest of you and it might not be. There can be multiple readings, sometimes in conflict with each other for a movie. One reading that concerns people for genre films, "and the literal reading of the film? how does it fit in with other films of the genre in its execution."

(side note to clarify, I believe authorial intent and who the author is important. but there is validity to readings even if they aren't what the author intended.)

And this goes beyond just metaphors.

Now in terms of the value of these things, well, as Tak alluded to, if for example, someone likes vampire films, and they also find movies about addiction, then a vampire movie that's a metaphor for addiction, then that's satisfying them on two fronts. But there's also the third front of them mentally working out the parallels. And I think people like working out things on some level.

I will point out for your school year memories, I'm going to ask/guess a few things.
The overall metaphor/point/theme of the Canterbury Tale in question the teacher was trying to provide, was that interesting? Like, if there was a non-metaphorical, literal story about that, would you have found it interesting? I wouldn't be surprised if the answer was, "no." And then also for the detailed reading, it was kind of being handed down to you. You weren't working it out yourself. So, I do wonder how much being forced to learn critical reading is denies you the pleasure of doing so. Just speculating, because during those years, I really hated the whole symbolic reading/analysis as well. And that's a lot of what I do these days when I watch and enjoy movies. Granted, it's often for movies that seem to invite one to do so.

I gotta stop here for now. I can't remember how much more I wanted to say, but hopefully it's enough of a complete thought.

*: Originally wrote "interpreted" instead of "intended" for reasons unclear to me other than a brain fart. Noticed reading it while reading Tak's response. Edited for clarity.
I am not an authority on the Death of the Author, but I did write a dissertation on it and have remained interested. And I don’t dislike that approach. But I guess to me that’s a very consciously postmodern thing to impose on a text/film.

Indeed, one of the nastiest things about education is the “forced” critical reading. That’s not exactly what I was getting at here, but I do believe it is part of the same problem.

Your critique of my example makes sense; I think what stood out to me was that said teacher pulled out a relatively random quote from mid-stanza and mid-line (I vaguely remember that in Shakespeare/Chaucer the lack of emphasis at the end of the line matters, said to undermine its seriousness, or something, which if true suggests it really was a random line) and proceeded to deconstruct its sexual motifs. To me, that was idiotic.

(Context, as ever, is key. She giggled when she mentioned it and made an obvious innuendo face. Yes, that is a thing.)

Re: broader, the innuendo discussion applied overwhelmingly to The Wife of Bath over and above other Tales. Again, you can find sexual themes in anything, and I think in some shape or form they really are there, but even if I agree that The Wife of Bath is a text that addresses sex, the candle bit is still a huge stretch to me.

If something is about ghosts or cats, should every line be read as yet another metaphor for ghost or cat?

I have shared the specific example that sparked this thread, but in a nutshell, allegorical interpretations are all fine and well, but there’s a not-so-thin line, crossing which makes the whole interpretative exercise a little absurd. Same has been said above.

When I read said review, my first thought (which still holds true in my mind almost a week later) was that there’s a unique sort of ridiculousness to interpreting
WARNING: spoilers below
a parasitical twin as a symbol for the duality of self
. I just write this and I see that it makes basic logical sense, sure. But that doesn’t make it any less, I don’t know, wooden and rudimentary? An eleven-year-old under enough exam pressure will come up with that. Does that kind of criticism really say anything?

Reminds me of school when most people are only just learning to put ideas in writing in ways that make sense. It seems equally ridiculous as analysis and as authorial intent to me. I would always argue, to paraphrase @Stirchley, that it makes more sense to assume that things are as they look: ie the
WARNING: spoilers below
parasitic twin is straight-up body horror
.

Appreciate I’m not making much sense, as ever. Even my own comments about stanzas/emphasis in Shakespeare can be read as the same sort of groundless reasoning, but at least there’s a consensus around Shakespeare and hundreds of years of study.



I think most films/books/stories go beyond the text and make general points about interpersonal relationships/“life”, but to me that’s a far cry from saying
WARNING: spoilers below
a parasite in the head makes literal the duality of mind
. That’s just so… unnecessary is what I think I mean! Here, I’ve finally given up & disclosed in full what pissed me off about the review. I didn’t want to be specific as I think the discussion is broader than this.
I guess it sort of comes down to the notion of "necessity."

When you say that a certain level of analysis is unnecessary, I assume you mean that you think it's unnecessary to the understanding of the story and you see this reading as a stretch.

But the question about any metaphorical/allegorical/subtextual reading shouldn't be if we find it necessary. It should be if we find the reviewer's reasoning and evidence sound enough to support such an interpretation.

I don't actually think that Brain Damage was meant to be about the dynamics of an abusive relationship. But I think that I could make a decent case for how it could be read that way. This isn't a necessary reading. And, as I've said, I don't even think it's the intent of the film. I could see someone rolling their eyes at this interpretation. But it adds value and meaning to my experience of watching the film.

That said, I think that sometimes in an attempt to appear intelligent in reviewing art or speaking about it, there can be a tendency to focus on "deep reading". I mean, who doesn't feel smart when they figure something out or see something that others haven't? When reviewers hit this same note over and over, it's probably best just to tune them out. Reviewing art shouldn't be seen as a "who's the most perceptive?" competition.