Monday, October 20, 2014

Currently Watching: Let's Talk About Ceiling Fans

This is a spoiler warning for the movie Blood Simple and part of Twin Peaks. You've been warned.

I have a theory about ceiling fans and how a lot of directors—with Blood Simple by the Coen Brothers and Twin Peaks by David Lynch being prime examples—use ceiling fans to represent something abhorrent, evil, ominous, or threatening. Still with me? Cool, let's do this.

I've been on a Coen Brothers binge recently, instigated in a large way by fellow intern Ivan. I'd already seen some of their films; I loved Fargo and Barton Fink. Then I watched Miller's Crossing, O Brother Where Art Thou? and Blood Simple in quick succession. I was not disappointed by any film. But what stuck out to me—because I'm a crazy person and shouldn't be allowed in public—is about a 25 minute portion of Blood Simple that features a lot of ceiling fans. In a movie about unbridled evil and murder and adultery that features one of the most hair-raising final showdowns I've ever seen, I saw the ceiling fans. You go, me. Go. Right out of the room. 

Let me show you what I'm raving about:

So a lot happens in this scene, and it's a great scene all around—the color is good, the pacing makes the viewer anxious as hell. Nothing about this makes the viewer think something awful isn't about to happen. But, uh, did you notice tracking shot where the character is moving forward and you see a ceiling fan in the top right of the screen? And did you notice how it wasn't moving? Great. Now watch this scene:

For a slight amount of background, the man who dies has payed the man in the cowboy hat to kill the couple seen at the end of the previous scene. I promise you that in no other time during that entire confrontation do you see that ceiling fan above them except for at its conclusion, when there is a dead body under it. I also promise you I'm going to make a point with this just after you watch this final scene:

Did you notice how that ceiling fan is directly shown to the camera, and that it's moving faster? Okay. I'm going to deconstruct what I think the ceiling fans are doing in these scenes:

In the first scene, the reason that ceiling fan isn't moving is because nothing happens: the couple that the killer has been contracted to kill do not die at the end of that scene. Instead, he doctors photographs to make it look like he killed them (which, of course, you don't end up learning until a bit later). However, the ceiling fan is still this ominous presence hanging above the action—it's setting up what's to come: the gun the killer took ends up being the most important prop in the entire movie; this contract going the way it does is really the essential drama. Then the next scene happens. 

In the second scene, we never see the ceiling fan until that wide shot—because we aren't supposed to expect that confrontation to end as it does. What we're expecting is the killer to get paid and the contracter to feel really bad about it. Instead, the killer decides to kill the man who contracted him and take the money instead of killing the couple. Why? Dunno. That killer is basically Iago. But the moment that the contracter is dead, we're shown the wide shot of the room and we see that he's been sitting under a moving ceiling fan the entire time—and if we'd seen that before, it just might have happened that it could have been a tip to the contracter's end. And then, as the murder is being realized by the viewer, the Coens decide to move the camera above the fan and use the blades to cut to the next scene. We're in the thick of it; everything is starting to happen. 

In the third scene, the male half of the couple (MHotC) finds the body of the contracter and, thinking that the female half of the couple (FHotC) is responsible for it because he finds her gun there, tries to clean it up. But I don't even care about that because do you see the ceiling fan?! Did you notice it's moving faster?! Everything is picking up, the stakes are being raised and pressure is going to start coming down on every character in the movie—and the ceiling fan is moving faster. Through that entire scene, the ceiling fan has a weird sort of presence: you can see its shadow on the corpse, it's shown a bunch of times, and then the Coen Brothers say "HEY LOOK AT THIS" and tilt the camera upwards so we can see the ceiling fan moving in all its glory. Holy. Damn. 

This isn't even to mention Twin Peaks: throughout that entire show, every time the supernatural presence/killer BOB shows up, there is a shot to the ceiling fan above the stairs leading to Laura Palmer's room. From Fire Walk With Me: 

I promise you that image of the ceiling fan is one of the most prevalent symbols throughout Twin Peaks, and it's always connected to something newly evil being discovered about BOB. So this brings me to the question: What the hell is up with ceiling fans? I've been spouting this theory to a lot of people and they've brought me more examples that apparently exist in The Mummy (someone being held up to a ceiling fan as a threat), Hannibal (a murderous character consistently shown to sleep under a ceiling fan), The Exorcist (there's a ceiling fan somewhere, I've been assured), Evil Dead II (notice when Ash is having a break with reality and the room starts dancing), and an episode of Grey's Anatomy (according to this article). Furthermore, I've been told by a few people about weird anxieties they have about ceiling fans, or weird fascinations. There was even a prevalent myth that if you were in a closed room with a fan on, you would suffocate because the fan was "using up the air" or something. Are human beings just scared of ceiling fans? I'm willing to bet that in a lot of media they sort of act as this ouroboros symbol of the constant and circular nature of evil, but no one seems to care all that much according to Google searches. Or maybe I'm just crazy.

So I ask you, dear reader: do you have a ceiling fan in your or any place you frequent? If so, be careful.