A common goal for most modern directors is to engage the audience emotionally. It’s a seemingly simple task that is often left by the wayside, half finished and ineffective. Those directors that do achieve this task, tend to make better movies. Two such directors are Ang Lee and Quentin Tarantino. The ways that they manipulate their audience’s emotions are completely different yet they are both effective. Where Tarantino’s manipulation of tension is unmatched in the modern world, Lee’s grace and subtlety often leaves audience’s with a sense of awe and wonder.
The manipulation of an audience’s emotions is often a difficult task but Lee and Tarantino achieve it in their own unique ways. Suspense, defined by the Oxford dictionary, is a state or feeling of excited or anxious uncertainty about what may happen. Quentin Tarantino’s manipulation of suspense and tension in a scene is unmatched in today’s world. Like the former “Master of Suspense” himself, Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino leads the audience to a the point of near exhaustion, through the pent up pressure in his trademark lengthy scenes.
These scenes serve to focus every ounce of mental and emotional energy on the situation, instead of cutting away to an inter-related subplot elsewhere and releasing the pressure, as is conventional. In the film “Inglourious Basterds” (2009), Tarantino leaves the audience gasping for breath right from the opening scene. The scene, in which a German “Jew Hunter” is questioning a farmer about the Jews hiding on his farm, is built up over nearly twenty minutes of pure dialogue between the two, as the German manipulates the farmer into telling him where the fugitives are.
As the scene progresses, it grows increasingly obvious that the German is playing a horrible game with the farmer and the audience. As the farmer is slowly reduced to tears, the music escalates, the ticking of the clock grows louder and the camera circles the pair, making the audience feel trapped and vulnerable. It’s despair the audience feels as the Jews are finally gunned down through the floorboards amid the screams of frantic violins and only then does Tarantino release his choke hold on the audiences emotions, letting the pressure off slightly.
However, the masterful effect achieved here is that the audience is almost glad that the scene was resolved, however heinous it was. It lets the audience know that the ride is only starting and that they’d better buckle up. In the same movie Tarantino again demonstrates his ultimate control over the audience. The scene is another tense, pressure filled affair, as a group of undercover allied spies are trying to work their way out of a conversation with a Gestapo agent in a French bar. The manipulation of mis en scen is excellent as every element is used to full advantage.
The audience is made to squirm in discomfort as the bar gets quieter and quieter and the Gestapo agent asks more threatening questions. The ambient lighting of the set serves to make the audience feel calm and safe but as the situation progresses the lighting seems harsher and brighter as the scene grows more tense. The scene itself, which is about twenty minutes long, starts off relatively light hearted with a game of cards between a group of enlisted Germans who are celebrating a comrades new baby.
Strangely the camera stays with this group for longer than really necessary, to make the audience feel attached to the group especially the new born father. The reason why this was done becomes clear later as all his friends are slaughtered and he is left bargaining for his life, which adds yet another emotional sub-plot to the scene that the audience must deal with. In both these examples Tarantino manipulates sound to build the tension in the scene and escalate the suspense. Put simply, Tarantino “moulds” his audience throughout a scene, showing his absolute control over mis en scen, the editing process and the audience.
The way in which Ang Lee conducts a scene is completely unique in today’s world. Contrasting to Tarantino’s “moulding” of the audience, Lee concentrates on making the scene “beautiful” in both the emotional and physical sense. This in fact is Lee’s own version of “moulding”, except his does so in a much more subtle fashion to connect to the audience on a higher level. In his Academy Award winning film “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” (2001), every single movement has a gentle, graceful feel. This is exemplified in the first combat scene, where Yu and Jen are fighting over a stolen sword.
The quick, yet elegant style of movement makes the scene flow far better than a traditional fight passage where the viewer is wrenched through fast paced camera angles and shots coupled with gratuitous violence. In this scene, camera angles and shots are sparing and well used and the gentle way in which the characters manoeuvre, leave the audience feeling not an adrenaline rush but strangely calm and at ease. Similarly in “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) Lee strives to communicate beauty on multiple levels.
In the scene where Ennis is visiting Jacks parents, he goes to Jacks bedroom. In this powerful scene, there is no dialogue or interaction between other characters. The camera follows Ennis as he tenderly caresses the clothes in Jacks cupboard and sits wistfully by the window with tears in his eyes. This scene is significant because it demonstrates how even though there was no interactions or dialogue it still is deeply affecting and meaningful. Ang Lee seeks to reveal the beauty of all his scenes no matter how different and diverse that beauty is.
In conclusion, even though Ang Lee and Quentin Tarantino differ greatly in their techniques, they both achieve something that modern directors rarely accomplish. They connect with their audience and as a result control their emotions. From Tarantino’s masterful use of suspense, to Lee’s ballet-like grace and control over a scene, they both affect the audience in ways that compliment both the scene and their film. These two directors prove that if you control the audience’s emotions you control their outlook on the film and ultimately how successfully it is.