A Filmmaker's Guide to: Bathos and Anti-Climax
Film Studies (Pt.20)
In this chapter of ‘the filmmaker’s guide’ we’re actually going to be learning about literature and film together. I understand that many of you are sitting in university during difficult times and finding it increasingly hard to study and I understand that many of you who are not at university or not planning on it are possibly stuck of what to do, need a break or even need to catch up on learning film before you get to the next level. This guide will be brief but will also contain: new vocabulary, concepts and theories, films to watch and we will be exploring something taboo until now in the ‘filmmaker’s guide’ - academia (abyss opens). Each article will explore a different concept of film, philosophy, literature or bibliography/filmography etc. in order to give you something new to learn each time we see each other. You can use some of the words amongst family and friends to sound clever or you can get back to me (email in bio) and tell me how you’re doing. So, strap in and prepare for the filmmaker’s guide to film studies because it is going to be one wild ride.
What is it?
Bathos is basically a fancy word for an anti-climax and is not to be confused with pathos.
The anti-climaxes described to be done with bathos are ones that begin with the sublime and grand and end up in ridiculousness via anti-climax. This is done to either make fun of its own storyline or to make fun of audience expectations mainly, but can be for other reasons as well.
Anti-climax and bathos normally appear in comedic pieces but can appear in other, more serious pieces as well (however more difficult to recognise they will be).
In literature, we can find good examples of bathos in Shakespearean Comedy, in modern Rom-Com novels and more. As it is more of a term applied to language rather than tropes, we're going to investigate how it has been used through film and cinema to give us an insight into making anti-climaxes that are both entertaining and have meaning to the audience.
What about in film?
Anti-climax in film again, is normally more serious than the literary comedic ones. Though in comedies, we can see bathos produced, we see the more serious reduction of action more often and are able to recognise it as having some deeper meaning. Films of this nature include the ending to "No Country for Old Men" which challenges the audience directly and makes us all look like idiots for wanting this massively bloodied ending and then what we got was far different. Playing on common movie tropes and subverting them is one way to create bathos directly from the audience.
Another example is the 2012 film "Red Lights" in which the supernatural is being debunked. The ending of the film and the big reveal are both superior moments in the action sequences when Buckley gets beaten the shit out of in a bathroom but, after this twist, the film needs to reach a climactic point. Instead, we get another reveal and this almost handing over of the villain to the protagonist. It again, is an example of using the audience's expectations to create this bathos.
The more famous of the examples of bathos is possibly "War of the Worlds" in which the machines give an ending far different to audience expectations. The ending is also relatively confusing and does not actually provide the correct amount of closure to the story.
So, when you watch a film searching for the first signs of bathos then you possibly want to watch comedies and look for dialogue first because it will be the easiest one to do. Then, move on to more serious movies in which the filmmaker tries to make light of our expectations because of tropes and then throws it back in our face by giving us something anti-climatic and somewhat confusing if I'm being perfectly honest here.
If you want to watch a film full of anti-climaxes or even with one anti-climax then I would recommend exploring the comedy genre and especially the films of Jim Carrey and Robin Williams. They are very good at creating bathos from language.
- Austen, J (1992). Northanger Abbey. UK: Wordsworth Classics.
- Heller, J (2011). Catch-22. UK: Vintage.
- Shakespeare, W. (1995). Measure for Measure. 2nd ed. UK: Oxford World's Classics.