Purple Prose + Writing

Sleeping with Symbolism

Last week, I watched Sleeping with the Enemyas research for one of my WIPs. In it, “ayoung woman fakes her own death in an attempt to escape her nightmarish marriage, but discovers it is impossible to elude her controlling husband”.

During one scene, the abusive husband hits Laura (Julia Roberts) and she falls to the floor. Laura pushes herself up to a sitting position, her long red hair spilling around her shoulders, legs bent to the side. At that moment, she reminds me of Ariel from The Little Mermaid. When Laura tries to stand, after her husband leaves, her legs are shaking so badly, she looks like Ariel after the sea witch turned her into a human, and Ariel takes her first steps into the new world. In Sleeping with the Enemy, this image is symbolic foreshadowing. What her husband doesn’t know is that Laura has been learning to swim, to overcome her fear of the water. She is a mermaid, so to speak. Soon after, she fakes her death in a drowning accident and escapes to a new life.

That evening, after Laura’s husband hits her, he gives her red roses and red lingerie. They are supposed to represent his “love”, but they really symbolize the physical and emotional abuse (blood, danger) she suffers at his hands.

After Laura escapes, she takes a Greyhound bus to a small town in Iowa. As it arrives, we see Laura looking out of the bus window and the reflection of the American flag waving in the breeze. The American flag symbolizes freedom and the home of the brave. A perfect symbol for Laura’s courage and her new life.

Movies are a great place to learn about symbolism, since the director, writers, set designers look for ways to insert it. Most of the time, we don’t notice it at a conscious level. It impacts us subconsciously. But when done well, it adds to the emotional satisfaction we get from watching the movie.

Do you watch for symbolism in movies and books? Do you pay attention to it in your stories?

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Sleeping with Symbolism + Writing