Directed by Greta Gerwig
Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird can be examined through the lens of three art philosophies: emotion, narrative, and gender representation.
One theory of emotions relate to effects, a felt bodily state. In this theory, the viewer is not always consciously aware of the background knowledge that produces emotions they feel, but rather the body is able to respond the situation by making an unconscious judgment that creates emotion in the viewer. Gerwig is able to create this unconscious emotion in the viewer through the reuse and repurposing of images. Throughout Lady Bird’s development, Gerwig uses the same driving shots repetitively, with each new shot highlighting a change or growth in Lady Bird’s character, to create an unconscious bodily emotion connected with the character. The audience encounters Lady Bird having a number of emotional and critical moments in her life while in cars (driving home from her college visit, going to prom with Kyle, leaving home), creating an unconscious emotional connection between cars and Lady Bird’s developed. Although the audience isn’t cognitively aware of the relationship between growth and driving, the viewer’s body has an emotional reaction to moments and ideas of driving during the film’s climax.
Narrative is also a key concept in Lady Bird. In traditional Hollywood movies, the narrative structure is dominated by a problem/ resolution structure. Instead, Lady Bird breaks from the traditional Hollywood structure and follows a character-based narrative, where the story unfolds the dimensions of her character. Unlike traditional Hollywood films that have macro-narratives, Lady Bird is episodic and has many mini problems that draw on her overall character development. Throughout the film, Gerwig shows the audience many of little problems that Lady Bird must overcome (for example, Lady Bird wants to be friends with the rich kids despite her not being on the same social level as them) in order to grow into the young adult she becomes at the end of the film. Through these small episodes, the audience is able to see Lady Bird’s emotional and cognitive development, which creates empathy between the viewer and Lady Bird because they have witnessed her growth as a character.
The gendered nature of Lady Bird (with the film being dominated by women both on and off screen) captures a cultural movement in the film industry to increase representation in film. Women are dramatically underrepresented in film, both in terms of narrative and as creators. As a narrative, Lady Bird breaks down the gender barriers present in art and film by having the film emphasize female relationships and female agency in the 21st century. Film, which focuses predominately on the relationship between a mother and a daughter, provides the opportunity for women to take control of their lives and to not be the subject of male confinement. Lady Bird, a young woman, is highly independent and forges her own path undetermined by men, which is a very different representation of females than in typical Hollywood films. Additionally, this film breaks gender stereotypes in the art world by having a female director. Female directors, like any art career, are far less prominent than male directors, with only 5% of directors being female. Gerwig’s film, despite the stereotype of women not being able to create “genius” works of art, became a critical and financial success, disrupting the gendered barriers of art.
These three concepts are evident in the scene when Lady Bird leaves Sacramento for New York. Firstly, this scene creates emotions in the viewer because it plays on the unconscious knowledge the audience has gained about driving and cars since the beginning of the film. The viewer is struck with emotion when they see the mother driving away, alone, has not reconciled with her daughter. This moment traces back to the opening of the film where Lady Bird and Marion are driving together in the car, listening to The Grapes of Wrath, and crying, sharing a special moment together. Now, as a contrast, Marion is alone in the car, crying over her fractured relationship with her daughter. These contrasting images evoke a bodily reaction in the viewer, as they have the unconscious association between this scene and the scene from the opening of the film.
The narrative of the scene also connects to the macro-narrative of the theme: mother, daughter relationships. This scene depicts the conflict between Lady Bird and her mother, as their contrasting desires and unwavering personalities prevent a reconciliation. Lady Bird’s choice to shut the door on her mother and to not address the conflict any further with her shows her evolution as a character. Whereas at the beginning of the film she would start a fight with her mother over every little conflict, she now elects to let the conflict go and walk away.
Finally, the scene plays on gender roles by emphasizing the conflict and relationship between the two women (Lady Bird and Marion), while the man (Larry) plays more of the passive role. In this scene, the gender roles are switched from how they are typically portrayed in the film - where the conflict is between the male and the female or the women takes up the passive role. When Marion returns to gate in an attempt to reconcile with Lady Bird before she leaves, she is comforted by Larry after she fails to connect with her daughter. Gerwig is again switching the gender roles as normal the female character would be the one offering empathy and comfort to the distressed male figure.