Whenever I write a Cinematic Chiasmus article, I answer a lot of questions involving the what and how. I explain what a chiasmus is and exactly how the story structure demonstrates a chiasmus as the events fall into place perfectly. But what about the why? I rarely touch on why chiasmus is an asset to the film or why the filmmakers might choose to tell their story in such a symmetrical fashion.
Usually I’m exhausted at the end of writing one of these articles. It takes a lot of time and effort to put them together, so I generally just count my blessings when they’re done. I have several Cinematic Chiasmus articles in the works right now. Before I finish any of them, I’d like to take a moment to explain why it matters.
It Sets Great Films Apart
If you look at the list of films I’ve found to be examples of Cinematic Chiasmus, you’ll find very few that are not absolutely top-tier classics. Dreamscape isn’t exactly a household name, and Alien3 and Spider-Man 3 aren’t as good as the first two in their respective series. But those are outliers. Beauty and the Beast (1991), Braveheart, The Empire Strikes Back, How to Train Your Dragon, and many other great films follow an incredibly structured format. Their first halves mirror their second halves to an astonishing degree.
I think that this precision in the way their stories are told is part of what helps them stand out from so many other films. Most films don’t have a chiastic story structure. The ones that do are beautiful to behold. Of course, I haven’t analyzed every movie to see if it has one or not. But I did look closely at a random film once (What About Bob?), and I found it to be as far from a chiasmus as possible. Sure, there are a lot of setups and payoffs in that movie, but they don’t happen in a sequential order. Trying to analyze that film in this specific way produced a mess.
It’s not to say that a chiasmus is the best way to tell a story or the only way, but it’s special. It adds something that helps films go from being simply good to being classics.
It Makes the Events More Significant
I had actively avoided Spider-Man 3 for many years before I begrudgingly started watching it again to check if it could be an example of Cinematic Chiasmus. And I was astonished by the results. It turned out to be exactly like its two predecessors. Earlier, I had written it off as a compromised mess of a movie. It lacked the depth and great character moments of the earlier entries. And it was just full of cringe-inducing moments.
Now that I see that all of its scenes, good and bad, add up to a chiasmus, I have to admit I like it more. It’s still not a great film, but as I suffer through some of the scenes, I understand why they’re in there.
If this is what it does to an imperfect film, consider how this linkage affects flawless films. Connecting early scenes to later ones in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Aliens, for example, adds another layer of depth to them. It enhances the emotions at the climax, serves as both satisfying foreshadowing and callback at the same time, and it draws our attention to the middle of the film where the turning point is found. In a chiasmus, the middle is the most important part, not the beginning or end. The story’s central focus is at the only point where it makes an immediately back-to-back comparison.
Try looking at my Cinematic Chiasmus articles and going right to the turning point of the chiasmus. It’s incredibly important every time. In Aliens, it’s when the story switches from a rescue mission to one of bare survival. In Spider-Man 2, it’s when Peter Parker gives up on being Spider-Man. In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, it’s when we see a big contrast between youthful energy and old wisdom.
It Adds a Layer of Complexity
Great art doesn’t usually reveal all of its secrets on our first encounter with it. There are layers of understanding that peel away as time goes by. They reward viewers for paying close attention to the details. That is how I feel about each of the films I’ve found to be examples of Cinematic Chiasmus. They’re already fun, exciting, or otherwise excellent viewing experiences without delving any deeper into them. But getting past the surface level only deepens my enjoyment of them.
I love seeing how the Back to the Future Trilogy is a perfect chiasmus. Same with the Dark Knight Trilogy and Alien Trilogy. That adds such an astonishing degree of complexity to those film series.
I feel like there is a touch of the divine in this way of storytelling. We see the end from the beginning. When Marty and Jennifer get blown back by Doc Brown’s train time machine at the end of Back to the Future Part III, it reminds us that Marty was blown back by Doc’s huge amp at the start of the first film. And then the rest of the pieces are free to fall into place in our minds.
That is the same way God sees things. He sees the end from the beginning. Before He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He saw the Garden of Gethsemane and the Valley of Megiddo. He knows all things. I think that’s why there are so many examples of chiasmus in the scriptures. He’s trying to tell us that that is how He sees us.
Stories that follow a chiastic structure are deeply satisfying because they speak to the divine spirit in each of us.
Back to the Start
Returning to my original point, as any good chiasmus must do, I hope I’ve been able to explain why Cinematic Chiasmus is important and valuable. It’s not just a fluke or some happy accident. Quite likely it is a Godly trait instilled in us to seek out. Perhaps that is why I always get a good feeling or prompting about a movie before I go and investigate its story structure. I’ve never been disappointed, even if it took me a while to discover the chiasmus, like in the case of Spider-Man.
I hope you’ll keep enjoying these types of articles in the future. Because I have quite a few I can’t wait to write.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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If you’d like to support the Deja Reviewer, please consider donating a few dollars to keep this site going strong. I’ll even send you an original joke if you do! Try it, and prepare to enjoy a good chuckle.