Storytelling Objects: Props as Story Devices in Dead Again

I watched Dead Again for the umpteenth time. It's one of my favorite movies, but it's been a while since I'd seen it - and I've never listened to the writer's commentary on the film.

There were two aspects of the screenplay that he discussed which really interested me: the use of objects as storytelling devices
the modulation of tone in scenes

The plot of this story is complex. If you haven't seen it, you won't be able to follow my discussion... so go watch it already. It's great fun.

I think that the first subject is interesting, because as a writer, I find it easy to get too much in my head - and the real 3-D world of plastic, material objects can be overlooked. In Dead Again, objects are used as clues, as character development, to imply relationships between the present and the past, and to reveal plot points.

Minor objects include the gloves and furniture... The gloves. Grace has only one glove when Mike meets her. It's a clue - both about her, and it ends up being a clue about who is behind her attempted abduction. (Who could know she was missing a glove?)

Furniture - specifically chairs. Grace blocks her door at night with a chair. Mike collects furniture that could have been in Roman's home, and comments specifically on a chair (which she then uses to block her door.) When the adult Frankie comes into his home, he comments on one of the chairs, also subtly revealing his connection to that period. Couches - the first time Roman and Margaret have sex, they are wet on a couch, and the sex scene with Mike and Grace mirrors this.

The most important are the scissors, and the anklet.

The story revolves around a murder that was done with a pair or scissors. "Grace" (aka Amanda) dreams about them. We see several around Mike's house. In one scene, he uses them to cut up bacon while he's cooking.

They've been shown and we've built up fear around them - so the scene in which he tries clumsily to assure Grace that he's not dangerous works well. He storms around the house, pulling her along, picking up each pair of scissors and giving them to her, forcing them into her hand. This is also a nice way of showing that it was not he, but she, who held the scissors which were the murder weapon in the past.

When we finally take Grace/Amanda back to her house, we see that she's been obsessed with scissors for a while. Suddenly the three or four pair that Mike had don't look nearly so ominous as compared to the dozens of paintings and sculptures she has.

Then there are the actual scissors which were used in the murder. We see them in the memories, used to cur hair, sitting on a dresser... as well as in Grace's nightmares - where they threaten her, and finally in the scene of the actual murder. When the antiques collector pulls them out, and shows that he owns them now, we already know that it was he who used them to kill Margaret. The other scissors have all just been echoes of this pair, and none carry the threat that these do.

The anklet: This object has a myth attached to it. It becomes a symbol of their love, of their romance. When Frankie considers stealing it, it is a threat to the couple and not simply the theft of an object. When she wears it in to the party, and Gray Baker admires it - he is, unconsciously perhaps, not admiring her only, but admiring them as a couple. It connects Roman and Margaret for all time, two halves of one whole, so that they return to one another in their new life. When Frankie kills her, and takes the anklet, he pulls it - snapping the clasp, as though breaking the bond.

When Frankie's mother pulls it out to give it to Mike, it is as though she's been the guardian of the love for all these years. She was always the protector - of Frankie, but also of Roman... and despite his love for another woman, she preserved the symbol of his happiness. She returned it to Mike, and the return of the anklet precipitates the resolution, and thus ends the artificial separation between the lovers.

But before that can occur, of course, justice must be done and the murderer is done in by his own weapon - the original scissors are buried in his back.

Thus the two central symbols of the film are opposites - the scissors which divide, and the anklet which unites.