1 min read

Tension in the subtext

We don't always need to show the tension and conflict in every scene explicitly.

Conflict doesn't always need to be on the screen. It can run as an undercurrent in the subtext of scenes.

I was reminded of this while watching the film My Neighbour Totoro. The story flows with pastoral lightness and magic. Much of the tension comes from wonder and discovery.

Yet an underlying tension runs throughout: their mother is in the hospital.

This detail drives the story. The family moves to the new house to be closer to her, and the film's climax occurs because the two sisters hear the mother had a setback in her care.

Knowing these stakes adds weight to the other scenes. We hope Mei and her sister, Satsuki, discover Totoro, the dust mites, and the cat-bus because it releases the tension that weighs over them.

We don't always need to show the tension and conflict in every scene explicitly, but placing it in the subtext makes our stories more emotionally powerful.