Epstein also makes a distinction between good and great movies. Great movies have a theme, while the "sheer popcorn entertainment" would not. If you want your movie to have "a lasting effect on people," then you want a theme (p. 53, my emphasis).
"What gives a picture a theme is that the major scenes in it touch in some way on the question the theme raises. It doesn't have to actually answer that questions" (p. 54). Epstein offers A Clockwork Orange as an example.Some of Epstein's examples of movie themes:
- Bladerunner: "What does it mean to be human?"
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: "Decency is enough to defeat corruption."
- Star Wars: "Faith can defeat empires."
- American History X: "Hatred kills." [This one is highly relevant to this research blog.]
Epstein writes that the theme should "underlie the story," and not "come to the surface" (p. 55). "Let the story take care of the theme. You don't need characters to talk about the theme" (p. 56). So, I guess, it should be built into the plot, not something that is beat over the head in dialogue. Is this the most effective way to persuade an audience? Does this approach work?