The Gift

Storyline

The Gift is a 2015 American-Australian psychological thriller film written, produced, and directed by Joel Edgerton, making his directorial debut. The film stars Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall as a couple intimidated by a figure from their past played by Edgerton. It was released in the United States on August 7, 2015.

A married couple, Simon and Robyn Callum, relocate from Chicago to a Los Angeles suburb after Simon takes a new job. While out shopping, they run into Gordon "Gordo" Moseley, Simon's former high school classmate. Gordo begins dropping in unannounced, and delivering gifts including koi for their pond. He makes Simon uncomfortable, but Robyn sees no problem.

The Gift Trailer

 

The Gift – Themes & Elements

Themes
• Bullying
• Family
• Mental Health
• Power
• Vulnerability
• Point of view of others

Elements

• Sound
• Characters
• Point of view
• Motifs
• Multiple storylines
• Cause & Effect
• Lighting
• Colour
• Camera Technique

Questions to prompt thinking about the film text, ‘The Gift’

1. Why were shower scenes used throughout the narrative?

2. What elements made the audience aware this text was a psychological thriller?

3. Outline the multiple storylines employed through the narrative?

4. Why through out the text did the audience hear a, ‘chopper / helicopter’ sounds?

5. Use a minimum of 3 adjectives to describe the 3 main characters; Gordo, Simon and Robyn.

6. This film employs several motifs. List 4 and outline their relevance to the plot.

7. How does the Director create the jump-scares for the audience?

8. What colours were employed in this text and what meaning did they hold for the audience?

The Gift Film Notes

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Joel Edgerton - Interview Behind the scenes

The Gift - Behind the scenes

Apocalypse Now - Ride of the Valkyries

Apocalypse Now – Ride of the Valkyries

Watch the scene from Apocalypse Now and have a think about why Director Joel Edgerton referenced this in his film, ‘The Gift’.

In The Gift Gordo is presenting the gift (Apocalypse Now) to Simon and explaining the impact of the helicopter sound to him. The helicopter sound bite was then used as a motif through out the narrative. It is also part of the final gift presented to Simon in the narrative resolution.

 

The opening scene

Opening scene – Camera techniques & Genre

Director Joel Edgerton, employs camera techniques in the opening of, The Gift to engage the audience and embed the element of mystery into his narrative. Slow pans are seen by the audience to reveal the open planned setting and the large exposed windows. This camera movement, along with the low level sounds of piano and violin ensure the audience expect to experience a sense of uneasiness to follow. This technique is often employed to accentuate the genre, Psychological Thriller. The camera then turns its attention to the two central characters, Simon and Robyn. With this close, mid-shot the audience expect that these two characters will play an important part in the narrative. The opening scene closes with a lasting close up of Robin’s facial expression, which reveals to the audience that this character is not one hundred percent happy with her emotions. Again aligning itself with the confusion of what twists may lay ahead for the audience.

Motifs & Forshadowing

Think about the Motifs employed in The Gift that are used to foreshadow major events in the narrative.

Motif - Baby - Opening

Motif - Baby - Development

Motif - Baby - Resolution

Motif - Monkey

Motif - Monkey

Motif - Monkey

Motif - Dog Mr Bojangles

Motif - Dog Mr Bojangles

Motif - Fish

Motif - Dead Fish

The Gift - Resolution & Alternate Ending

Resolution explained

THE GIFT ALTERNATE ENDING

“The Sins of your past will become your present”

Director Joel Edgerton produced an alternate ending which can be seen as a Bonus Feature on the DVD.

By including the alternate ending Director Edgerton believed it would alter the Point of View of the narrative. It also reveals what actually happens and therefore not the leaving the audience with the question, ‘who’s baby is it?’

Some would argue that Gordo (Joel Edgerton) wanted to create a fictional event that did not occur, making Simon (Jason Bateman) understand what he did to him in their past.

 

Divided by glass - Metaphor

Opening Scene

Resolution Scene

Well written response: By Student

Discuss how the setting in the narrative may assist with how audiences read one text that you studied this year.

Through out the text, The Gift, setting is used to assist the audience’s interpretation of the film. The house that the characters, Simon and Robyn move into plays a large role in the setting of the narrative and its central themes. The design of the house is very open as it has a lot of glass windows that play a role in depicting relationships between characters moods and representation.

As the film is introduced to the audience the glass represents openness and transparency in a relationship, suggesting that Simon and Robyn are in an open and loving relationship. As the audience is introduced to the character, Gordo and the potential threat surrounding his presence, the house begins to be seen as a sign of vulnerability, as the openness of the house creates the fear that Gordo may be watching the couple. Hence creating a sense of unease in the audience and highlighting the vulnerability the characters feel.

By the resolution of the narrative the transparency of the house setting becomes ironic as it is revealed to the audience that Simon has been hiding the past from Robyn and the house now represents exposure. Additionally, the long halls and sharp corners of the infrastructure adds to the suspense of the scenes in which tension and fear is present.

SAC & EXAM questions answered

Well written example – By Student

The switching role of the Protagonist & Antagonist

The nature of Jason Batemen’s character Simon begins to shift at the dinner table scene. Bateman’s facial expressions become harsher, showing a judgemental nature. He is positioned under low-key lighting with a red glow, shadowing his face and suggesting there is more to Simon than what has so far been shown. His antagonist nature is truly introduced to the audience when the couple leave Gordo’s place. The long horn has an aggressive connotation, and the red light behind Simon is representative of a devilish nature. The audience’s sympathies tilt to and fro with Simon through the constant alterations of the elements used to portray him, leaving it unclear as to which he plays; antagonist or protagonist.

Well written example – By Student

Helicopter sound bite – Apocalypse Now, ‘Ride of the Valkyries’

The sound of the helicopter resounding throughout, ‘The Gift’ is played in the suspenseful and disturbing scenes. Interestingly, the helicopter sound bites are evident after Joel Edgerton’s character Gordo, makes a disconcerting reference to the harrowing scene in, ‘Apocalypse Now’, ‘Ride of the Valkyries’, demonstrating that he too will essentially “ruin” Simon’s life. Thus the audience recognises the sound of the helicopter as a symbol (motif) of sinister events that are about to unfold. The helicopter alone signifies the growing tensions between Gordo and the Cullums. The audience are presented with this sound bite three more times throughout the narrative. Therefore, the audience perceive this dominating sound-motif as frightening.

Well written response: By Student

How was sound used to engage an audience in one of the narratives you studying this year? - 4 marks

Within the film "The Gift", a psychological thriller directed by and starring Joel Edgerton, sound has been used to engage the audience within the opening scene. The music - which uses low level minor tones, violin, and piano - is naturally unsettling to the audience and is juxtaposed with the relatively cheerful acting of the characters within the scene. As well as the score, the directors use of white noise, and the lowered volume of the voices within the opening scene, both help to subtly engage the viewer and again hint at what is going to follow: a story of stalking, unsettling manipulation, and bullying.

Well written response: By Student

With reference to one narrative text that you studied this year, explain how one of the following elements assists the audience in engaging with the opening of the narrative - 6 marks
• Camera techniques
• Sound
• Editing
• Acting

In the opening of Joel Edgerton’s film text, ‘The Gift’ camera techniques are employed to assist in engaging the audience. The gradual zoom applied within the initial shots of the empty home allows for an eeriness to encompass the blank space. The use of this camera technique entices the audience with caution and suspense for what is to come, a common theme of a psychological thriller.

In the opening of Joel Edgerton’s psychological thriller film text, ‘The Gift’ sound is employed to assist in engaging the audience. The discussion between the realtor and the couple about the koi fish foreshadows to future events. As it is the first piece of dialogue within the film, the audience can become curious as to the significance of the conversation, enticing them to continue watching. The softness of the score amplifies the eeriness within the scene as it allows for foley and diegetic sounds to be heard alongside the music. This technique allows for more emotion to be conveyed, without it being perceived as overpowering. The audience can therefore feel curious and cautious for what is to come.

Well written response: By Student

With reference to one text you studied this year analyse how editing techniques contribute to how audience interpret and understand the narrative. In your response you must refer to:

• The structuring of time and its impact on the narrative progression.
- 6 marks

In the film text, ‘The Gift’ director Joel Edgerton employs parallel editing, flashbacks and flash-forwards to manipulate time and encourage the audience to make assumptions. The film was set out chronologically, however, in the resolution, Edgerton cuts between Gordo visiting Robyn in the hospital and Simon opening the ‘gifts’ which allows the audience to make the connection between the two events which are occurring simultaneously. It keeps the linear format and allows for the suspense associated with psychological thrillers to be evident. Furtherly, Edgerton provides an alternate ending containing flashbacks and flash-forwards to further the audience’s understanding of the antagonist. However, it was not included in the final narrative as it changes the point of view and provides answers for why characters acted a certain way and did what they did, losing the suspense/confusion Edgerton wanted to leave with the audience.

Well written example – By Student

Question: Select two production elements and discuss how they worked together to engage the audience in one of the film texts you studied. (6 marks)

In the film text, ‘The Gift’, camera angles and cuts worked with the element of sound to create suspense and tension in the audience. The film text features the heavy use of sound drop-outs and silence to alert the audience of key moments or induce fear. When combined with certain camera shots and cuts, this adds an extra dimension to the narrative to accurately demonstrate the themes of revenge and fear within this psychological thriller. For example, when Robyn is showering in one scene, the music gradually builds, combining dark piano with screeching strings as the camera zooms closer into her. As she turns and wipes condensation away from the glass, Gordo’s face appears in front of her. At this moment, the violin sound gives a terrifying attack of high-pitched notes and then instantly cuts away for the audience. The build and execution of both camera work and sound combines perfectly to strike fear into the audience and further engage them with the narrative. The use of these production elements again reinforce the themes of fear and revenge in the film, ‘The Gift’.

Well written response: By student

Camera techniques in the opening scene – 4 marks

Joel Edgerton's film 'the Gift' features camera techniques in the opening sequence that foreshadow the uneasiness and drama that will unfold throughout the narrative. The deliberate still long shots of the empty rooms of the house create the feeling of tension, giving the audience the sense that the occupants of the house will face challenges. The long shot used as Robyn and Simon are shown the house by the real estate agent pans to follow their movement conveying the timid nature of Robyn. This is intensified by the close ups of her character while the dialogue between Simon and the real estate agent continues.

Close ups of Robyn indicate to the audience that more is going on beneath the surface of this character. As the scene continues to unfold, Simon talks to Robyn with a glass sliding door between them. This mid shot of Robyn and her partner is intentionally positioned so the audience is on Robyn's side of the glass, therefore they are seeing the story from Robyn's point of view. The divide between the two characters foreshadows the tension in their relationship about to develop in the narrative.

Well written response: By Student

Compare how editing techniques contribute to how audiences may read and understand the narratives in both of the texts you studies this year. – 7 marks -

In American Beauty editing techniques employed in the opening development and resolution contribute to audiences understanding of the genre of mystery drama, whereas in The Gift editing is used to establish the genre of psychological thriller and reveal relationships between characters.

The opening scene of American Beauty ends with a cut to black conveying a sense of disruption to Burch’s dialogue and the audience is positioned to feel as though there was more to the conversation then what you saw, introducing the element of mystery. A fade is also indicated to symbolise a lapse in time. Dramatic tension is created throughout the flm through slow edits allowing more action to be captured and tension to be built.

In The Gift however, slow edits are incorporated to position the audience to feel uneasy as they want the scene to move faster. Long black fades are also incorporated between intense scenes which causes the audience to be unsure of the characters next decision, supporting the psychological thriller genre.

In the resolution of American Beauty a dissolve follows Lester being shot in the head as flash backs occur of Lester’s life, when times were happier, suggesting that he was once living the American dream. In the final scenes of The Gift parallel editing is employed to build suspense and highlight the tension between the characters. Through parallel edits the audience is able to view the events taking place of Gordo visiting the hospital and Simon viewing the video, simultaneously. This raises the tension as it causes the audience to become suspicious of Edgerton’s visiting Hall due to the ambiguous content on the video that Bateman is watching.

Editing techniques such as cuts, slow edits, dissolves and flash backs are employed through out American Beauty to contribute to the audiences understanding of the genre of mystery/drama and the understanding of time, comparatively in The Gift techniques such as fades, parallel editing and fast cuts reinforce the genre of psychological thriller.

Well written example – By Student

With reference to the two texts your studies this year identify how acting was employed to help the audiences understanding of the narrative. You may like to make refer to the following dot points in your answer:
• Reason for casting
• Development of character
• The relationships between characters
• The role of the character in the narrative

In Sam Mendes’ text ‘American Beauty’ the use of Kevin Spacey’s compelling portrayal of Lester Burnhan aided in the audience’s understanding of the narrative. As the character of Lester develops throughout the entirety of the film, Kevin Spacey’s use of contrasting his concaved back and scooped posture in the beginning of the film, with his upright body and shift in physicality through ‘working out’ heightens the audience’s awareness of his assertion of individuality and uncivilised impulse, and his sexual fervor for Angela. Moreover, as Kevin Spacey plays a fundamental role in the development of the plot in American Beauty, Spacey keeps the audience engaged and captivated through the use of his narration. Imbuing the character of Lester with a particular charisma and likeability, his satirical speech, and narration as a dead character alludes to theme of loneliness, and Spacey’s distinctive wry tone, heightens the audience’s awareness of how he is isolated from his family, the people around him and the world. In Joel Edgerton’s psychological thriller ‘The Gift,’ Jason Bateman’s convincing performance as Simon also enhances the audience’s understanding of the narrative. Despite the audiences having a familiarity with Jason Bateman and his acclaimed comedic work, his casting in this intense and dramatic psychological thriller, his compelling portrayal in this film is contrasted with previous work, establishing him as the ‘nice guy’ protagonist who the audience should follow. Through his soft-spoken and controlled presence in the opening of the film, there is then a flip between the protagonist and the antagonist as Simon becomes more hasty with Robyn, through increasing the volume of his voice and becoming violently aggressive with Gordo, establishing him as the real bully.

Well written example – By Student

Discuss how the structuring of time has been used to construct meaning in another text that you studied this year.

a) Define the story element ‘structuring of time’

Structuring of time refers to the order in which events occur in a film, and the way the passing and manipulation of time is organised.

b) Explain how structuring of time functions in one of the narrative texts that you studied this year.

The Gift is a chronological (linear) film. Parallel actions were used to show both Gordo and Simon’s simultaneous storylines towards the closure of the film. Whilst Gordo was in the hospital, and Simon was opening the ‘gifts’, the camera cut between the two scenes, to keep to the films linear format whilst including all action relevant to the plot. The film also uses ellipsis to fit the plot development into its limited time frame. For example, Simon and Robyn’s relationship with Gordo is developed in a series of significant snippets of scenes, such as the first meeting, the dinner scene, dropping by. Though these interactions may be shown minutes apart, it is evident days or weeks have passed between them.

Well written example – By Student

Discuss a specific example of editing from one of the texts that you studied this year (3 marks)

In the film text, ‘The Gift’ Director Joel Edgerton employs parallel editing during the final scenes as Jason Bateman is at home viewing the video Joel Ederton left for him, while his character Gordo is at hospital visiting Rebecca Hall. The use of parallel editing allows the audience to view the events which are taking place simultaneously causing them to become suspicious as to what Edgerton is doing at the hospital due to the disturbing and ambiguous content on the video that Bateman is watching.

Well written example – By Student

Describe how mise-en-scene was used effectively to engage the audience.

In The Gift, Edgerton uses mise-en-scene to emphasise themes of power, and vulnerability and to assist the audience in understanding the mood of the scene. In the closing sequence, when Simon returns to the house and begins to watch the video Gordo left for him, within in that home video itself, mise-en-scene is used. The lighting is quite dim, blue and dark which positions the audience to feel uneasy, the gritty quality of the handheld camera film helps to emphasise the feeling of discomfort and fear. Gordo’s costume with the monkey mask creates a sense of anonymity and unfamiliarity, which makes it more uncomfortable as he touches and caresses Robyn. Due to Gordo filming this all on a handheld camera, the abrupt camera angle shifts and movement, as well as cramming the frame, results in a claustrophobic and disoriented point of view, as we can seen in the clear discomfort on Bateman’s character, Simon. The overall set of the bed creates a feeling of comfort and warmth, however this is juxtaposed with the unwanted and creepy caressing of Gordo. The overall mise-en-scene in this scene creates a rather uncomfortable mood of uneasiness and fear, while reemphasising themes of power and vulnerability.

Well written response: By Student

Compare and contrast LIGHTING in two film texts:

Sam Mendes’ film text, American Beauty and Joel Edgerton’s narrative, The Gift both use lighting to contribute meaning and engage the audience. Joel Edgerton often employs low-key lighting to instil fear in the audience because the audience and characters are not aware of what could be lurking in the darkness. This is apparent when Rebecca Hall’s character, Robyn is walking down the barley lit hallway. The audience become nervous and this low-key lighting, enhancing shadows for the audience builds tension until finally there is a jump scare. Sam Mendes also uses low-key lighting but incorporates blue/grey filters to produce a dull and unhappy environment inside the Burnham family home. In contrast to this, Mendes uses natural, bright lighting when the family is seen outside together. This produces a seemingly happy family, displaying to the audience how they put on a façade to hide their dysfunction. Although Edgerton also employs filters and three-point lighting, he uses them in a different context. He does this to display dark characteristics of his characters. This can be seen when Jason Bateman’s character, Simon is leaving Gordo’s house. There is a red light surrounding Simon, this suggesting to the audience he has a devilish nature. Edgerton also employs spot light techniques to produce deep shadows on Bateman’s face, alluding to the fact that there is another side to him and representing the psychological thriller genre.