In cinema, there are many objects and symbols that contain profound meanings. For example, the house acts as its own character and plays a crucial role in some horror films like, The Amityville Horror (1979). One particular, powerful and profound symbol in cinema that I find to be fascinating is the automobile – think: The Fast and Furious franchise, but there’s much more to it than that.
If you really think about the deeper meaning of the automobile outside of cinema, it represents a device of freedom. Now, putting that meaning into place in the cinematic world, there are so many ways the automobile can function and there are many different meanings it can take on. One of my favorite films where the automobile is represented in interesting ways is Two-Lane Blacktop (1971).
In this film, the automobile shares a very important relationship to the road. Considering the time this film was made, the vehicle and the road serve as a space to explore an existential America. Dennis Wilson, Laurie Bird, and James Taylor play amazing roles as counter-culture hippies looking for their purpose in 1970’s America while driving their 1955 Chevy, drag racing fellow existentialists and hippies for cash.
Additionally, a common misconception about cars in movies is that it is usually gendered macho or masculine. In the case of the Fast and Furious movies or Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985), for example, this is true; however, it’s not always the case. The most fascinating part about cars as a symbol in film is how the car itself can transgress cultural and gendered norms and reimagine and even regender its meaning. In this case, I’m thinking about one of my all-time personal favorite car films, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965).
This film is all about badass girls and their badass cars. In this movie, the car takes on the role of a weapon and through a feminist perspective, a device for liberation.
So not only does story, style or content matter in film studies, it’s also important to look at symbols and objects that take on specific meanings in profound ways. In this case, the automobile is a universal, fluid and culturally specific device that can add a lot more substance to a film. Go figure.