Disclaimer: All mentioned films belong to their owners, spoilers inbound!
In any movie with some emotional component (yes, even Michael Bay films), there’s always ‘the talk’ where there’s a major revelation, a major resolution. Basically the thing where they either say “This is the problem I am raising at the worst moment!” or “This is the explicit moral of the story I just learned.” Those are the moments that are foreshadowed, that form the emotional climax, the payoff and culmination of all that character development and conflict.
And THESE…are not those moments.
Today, we’ll be talking about little moments and details that somehow convey a great deal of meaning or character. Sure, different audiences perceive things differently, but in any performance, in any motion to make a world come alive, there are small things as well as great ones. Small words, small things, small people. I’ve got the moments that stood out to me, you’ve got yours, and today I’ll be sharing some of mine to better express how you can get a lot out of these moments.
Before you dive into any rabbit holes, lemme lay down some ground rules to start with.
First off, I’m not talking about ‘the significance of the setting.’ Yes, that’s a thing, and a particularly lavish and meticulous production can tell entire stories through wardrobe alone. But we’re not going into the significance of the blue drapes (spoiler alert: it means the drapes are blue).
Secondly, I’m not going subatomic and analysing every turn of the head, every flick of the wrist, or how the trembling of Robb’s hand represents his uncertainty. If I’d wanted to do that, I’d go study magic under The Ancient One and Bonappetite Custardbunch.
Instead, we’re going with little observable moments between characters that you can understand. They aren’t a major part of the plot except maybe as something to get it moving. They might not always tie into the main themes. They could simply be sentences, or less. Sometimes, they’re just a simple piece of the setting like a “World’s Best Dad” mug. They might not get a further mention after this, or they could return later on as a further payoff.
But one thing they share: They have a meaning to those watching it. But unlike a supporting cast, which is there to give meaning on purpose, these moments are seldom meant to be anything more than a neat little bit of characterisation or world building. But in the eyes of those watching them, they become something more. Whether it’s born from personal insight, taste, or experience, little moments say a great deal as the most organic conversation between a story and its audience. From the narrative architect moved by the tiniest details, to the person in tears because a moment mirrors his relationship with his brother, these are but two of a countless number of reasons things have meaning to us.
So while I tend to be diplomatic about subjective, personal opinions, this is the other side of the coin: This is when you embrace that personal enjoyment. Yes, even if you have views COMPLETELY contrary or unrelated to the storyteller’s intent.
On a practical level, you can try looking for them, of course. You could look for small moments, try and quantify “Essential” and “Non-Essential” moments, based on which elements are vital to the plot and its themes and which ones aren’t. But the best advice I can give you? Just be yourself. When the moment that speaks to you comes up, you’re going to notice it for sure.
And that’s about it. While I can give examples about what small moments look like (the aforementioned one-liners, set pieces, and such), I can’t dictate what they are. Different people have different views on what’s small and what’s meaningful.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that examples are useless. At best, it’ll help you spot and appreciate these moments. At worst, you get to listen to me pontificate about my favourite moments. So win-win for me!
Mr. Incredible Savings With Geico
Pictured above: Exactly as soul-crushing as cubicle hell.
Ahh, the Incredibles. A film so Fantastic Four that Stan Lee himself said it was more Fantastic Four than they ever got. And ironically, never came close to achieving. It’s a great Pixar film, an exciting adventure, and a great example of a dynamic cast that clashes but comes together like a real family. The moment that stood out for me, though? Mr. Incredible in an incredibly boring job.
I get that the whole point of this scene is that he HATES his job, or hates that the company abuses the letter of their rules and ignores the spirit. But aside from being a good set piece to demonstrate Bob’s midlife crisis and lead to his being laid off, there’s one detail that I adored:
He’s actually REALLY LEARNED about his work. Seriously, listen to him whisper the solution to Mrs. Hogenson. HE KNOWS HIS SHIT.
Yes, it’s spelled out for you so that you notice it: Mr. Incredible has been using his internal knowledge to help customers circumvent legal loopholes. But here’s what it means to me.
This is a man who LOVES the life of adventure and black and white. He loves high heroism, excitement, doing the right thing, and even the public’s adoration. And yes, he would HATE being stuck in a cubicle in the tedium of numbers, accounting, and legislation. And yet, what does he do in this job?
He sits down, and he LEARNS the living HECK out of it. This is not a man you would expect to do anything more than the bare minimum in a day job like this, but he knows company policy INSIDE AND OUT.
And to me, that means a lot of things (head-canon, sure, but still!). On the definite surface level, it’s a quiet rebellion of compassion against greed, a nice way to let the viewers know that the flame of justice has dimmed, but it hasn’t gone out.
But beneath the surface, I see a man who perhaps initially believed that he could do some good with this new line of work and tried to make it part of his life. Or even if that wasn’t the case, what was definitely there was a man who loved his friends and family, didn’t want to let them down, and was determined to make it stick. Even after multiple failures and relocations, Bob Parr still tried his best to give his family an ordinary life, no matter how suffocating he found it.
Incidentally, hats off to his friend, government-super liaison Rick Dicker. He, too, is a man fed up with the grind of bureaucracy, yet still tried to help an old pal out one last time.
The Bionic Raccoon and Space Mall Cop
I’m sure you all know and love Guardians of the Galaxy. I mean, what kind of idiot wouldn’t?
Now, this one might be a bit of a cheat since it ties in with a major moment. To which I say lighten up, man, we’re here to enjoy ourselves!
You all know Rocket’s drunken tirade of rage and sadness at his life? That was great, and I absolutely loved his uncertainty, the pauses, the breaking voice, and the sniffle. But this is a moment I came to love in hindsight. It’s a lingering shot that initially makes everyone go “Huh” and then, on repeat viewings, “Awww!”
Pictured above: We can rebuild him. We have the technology. Smarter. Crazier. Bitier.
It’s very simple. This is our first look at his body mods, a sign that he’s been through some serious shit. And in hindsight, we know it’s because of being unwillingly uplifted into the cranky bounty hunter we know and love.
I love this moment. It’s the right length to hold your attention and move on (unlike 2 minute advertisements), it presents a bit of mystery that doesn’t dominate the story, and it helps build the atmosphere. And it’s also a good buildup of the team dynamic: You can see the mix of surprise, confusion, disgust, and pity on Star Lord’s face.
All that in a few seconds with the right amount of screentime to get those emotions across.
But there’s also another lovable lug with a moment in the movie, and he is not Groot, he’s Centurion Dey of the Nova Corps. You know, the curly-haired goof that takes in Star Lord.
Now, the line I’m talking about is “It’s okay, man. It’s cool to have a codename.” After all, that just embodies everything about Dey: Sure, he’s a lawman, but at heart, he’s a good, goofy guy. And more than that, at that point of the movie, he’s the only being besides Peter’s mother to treat him with something akin to decency and affection, even if they’re on opposite sides of the law.
But arguably, everything about Dey screams ‘little moments that add up’: He thinks it’s cool to have a codename. He has a family. He’s a contrast to the strict Saal, and the Kiln wardens Rocket calls cruel and corrupt. And even after all that, he’s still got a firm moral compass, believing that nobody is 100% a dick.
And speaking of lovable goofs, that brings us to our last moment:
Bofur? More Like Bro-fur. Not Furry. That Came Out Wrong. Shut Up.
I actually enjoyed The Hobbit, and thought the dwarves were the best thing about it. They may have mostly been in the background (which, to be fair, was what they did in the book, too), but they really did their best to give them personalities through their outfits, quirks, and moments. Wished they’d continued that trend, but I’m not gonna cry about it. Moving on!
Bofur is the guy with that weird, furry anchor-hat and the awesome anchor moustache. He’s also one of the few to actually get lines of some significance. You can easily pick him out as the smartass of the dwarves. Thorin is the charismatic, abrasive boss. Dwalin is the big, grim fighter. Balin is the genteel veteran. Bofur? He’s the sarcastic guy that makes Bilbo faint, the one with a smile on his face and a joke on his lips.
I love him for these reasons, of course, but I love him more for the moment which digs beneath the surface. See, he’s the one that tries to convince Bilbo to stay instead of leaving the company behind. Now, that in itself is a noteworthy moment: Up until then, he was just joking around, but it shows that deep down, aside from believing in the mission, he really does count Bilbo among them.
And not just in a proud “duty to the group” way. Bofur realises “You’re homesick!” That is a level of compassion and sympathy you do NOT often associate with dwarves until you put them through a healthy chunk of character development, and Bofur offers it to Bilbo freely.
And that is where the moment gets better: Bilbo says something hurtful when Bofur tries to relate. The awkward silence, the crestfallen face, the regret on Bilbo’s part, the awkward apology. The single realisation that this is the life dwarves know.
And what does Bofur do? He admits Bilbo’s right; dwarves are nomads, they really don’t understand homesickness. And despite that, he wishes him good luck with getting home. He really does.
Pictured above: I really do.
Thorin grows, sure, and I love that. His character arc is one where he accepts Bilbo, and comes to grips with his aspirations and Bilbo’s simple life. It’s the BIG moment I mentioned at the start, the emotional centrepiece of the films.
But Bofur? Man. Bofur. Short, yet sweet and meaningful. Both the scene and the characters.
So there you have it. Some of my favourite little moments, the ones that say a lot with very little. Some of them might be just me reading too much into things, but hey. That’s one of the things this blog is about.
So why write about these moments? Well, as I mentioned earlier, it’s a celebration of finding a personal meaning in the smallest moments. But another reason I wanted to give these moments credit is that it’s easy to lose track of them in a tale. Amidst flashy action scenes, flowery emotional peaks, intrigues, conflicts, and a lot of other things that command our attention, it’s easy to lose ourselves in the auto-pilot of the familiar storytelling tropes we take for granted. So enjoy things on their own terms and for their own sake, sure. Nothing wrong with enjoying something popular for its own merits. But sometimes, it pays to just stop to smell the roses for our own sakes.
And who knows? Hopefully, it’ll help you out in the future. To watch and listen a little more closely, or to appreciate the things and tastes that make you who you are. Or, heck, to analyse things as obsessively as I do. What could possibly go wrong?
Pictured above: What could possibly go wrong.