One of the first graduate seminars we took together at UT was a Film Studies course. In addition to screening some of the best movies in film history, we learned new elements of storytelling that helped us become better scholars of literature.
Now that we are novelists, we enjoy watching movies to get fresh ideas for developing intriguing plots, compelling characters, and thought-provoking narratives.
Today, we recommend 8 Netflix releases that will inspire you to write a better novel. Check out the following descriptions and hunker down for hours of cinematic exploration!
Mulholland Drive: Is reality stranger than fiction?
David Lynch’s 2001 neo-noir exposes the dark underbelly of Hollywood by telling the story of two actresses who fall in love and betray each other. For these and other qualities, such as the weird acting style, nonlinear plot, and the way it toys with my emotions, Mulholland Drive is my all-time favorite movie.
As novelists, we can appreciate this film’s meta-cinematic quality and the questions it raises about memory, consciousness, and what lurks beneath the surface of everyday life. Even if our novels aren’t as as weird or self-referencing, can we somehow expose readers to different layers of reality?
The Little Prince and the creative mind
The Little Prince is Netflix’s animated adaptation of the brilliant French children’s book by the same name (well, but in French: Le Petit Prince). It catalogues the adventures of an aviator and a tiny little prince who leaves his home on a tiny little asteroid to venture into our
world. The book is about love and friendship and the untamed creativity special to childhood.
Novelists can benefit from watching this beauty of a film because it reminds us why our work is so important. We live in a world with little regard for creativity and The Little Price argues that a creative mind is not just a good thing, but an essential one.
Upstream Color and embracing narrative gaps
Upstream Color is another weird film that raises questions about memory, consciousness, and reality.
This film presents two protagonists, pictured to the right holding each other, who meet after having experienced a similar mysterious ordeal that they have no memory of. They spend the bulk of the film uncovering clues about the ordeal and help others who share their mysterious experiences learn the truth.
This film forces viewers to work extra hard to piece disjointed scenes and sparse dialogue into an story. The visual imagery and soundscapes, at least, give this film a little continuity and help us follow it more easily. Watching this film, novelists will think deeper about what makes narrative narrative. For novelists who are writing more experimental fiction, a film like Upstream Color helps us decide how to combine experimental and traditional storytelling elements.
The Big Short and the antihero
This film’s subject–the housing crisis of 2007-2008–tackles contemporary greed and corporate corruption. It’s a movie about men who profit off of the financial destruction of hundreds of thousands of Americans and it makes you feel alternately amused and disgusted. But what does this film full of difficult banking terminology have to offer novelists?
The anti-hero. The Big Short gives us a cast of despicable characters who are also our heroes. Steve Carrell’s character, Mark Baum, is particularly well-drawn. While he profits from the loss of others, he feels as disgusted by it all as the audience surely does. The Big Short teaches us to draw complex anti-heroes who do despicable things, but who make us sympathize with them anyway.
Night Train to Lisbon and dual narratives
This film is an adaptation of a novel by Pascal Mercier. It tells the story of a Swiss boarding school teacher who finds a book written by a Portuguese doctor and political revolutionary. The teacher is so enraptured by the words he reads, he leaves his classroom on a whim and takes a train to Lisbon, Portugal to find the author.
As viewers, we must divide our sympathies between the magnetic and passionate doctor and the teacher who feels he’s never truly lived. Novelists can definitely learn from Night Train how to manage dual narratives with grace and style.
The Princess Bride, satire, and sincerity
For those of you poor souls unfamiliar with this film, it’s the story of true love (or “twoo wuv”). A grandfather drops by to read his sick grandson a story and it’s that story that is our movie–a story of pirates and princesses, evil princes, sword fights, and giants.
What we learn from TPB (what can’t we learn?!) is that even satires should deal in honest, authentic emotions. Even though we may laugh at Princess Buttercup throwing herself down a hill after her beloved Farm Boy, the love between grandfather and grandson at the film/book’s end reminds us that love is always true and never a joke. Write truthfully and sincerely, novelists!
The Best Offer, a mystery film with literary qualities
This film tells the story of an art auctioneer who begins an estate appraisal and becomes intrigued by the estate’s eccentric owner, a young woman who remains hidden.
One scene after another reveals details about this young woman and has viewers reaching further and further into the plot, like any typical mystery. But with Geoffrey Rush’s superb acting and breathtaking shots of expensive paintings and scenery, novelists can appreciate the film’s artistic qualities and think more about how their novels can combine genre and literary elements.
Without spoiling the ending, I’ll say that you need to pay close attention to the plot and learn all you can about executing twists and surprises while planting clues along the way.
The Fall and audience
Not to be confused with the Netflix original series by the same name, the film The Fall (2003), starring Lee Pace, is a visually stunning work about a man who tells stories to a young hispanic girl as they recover in a hospital in the early twentieth century.
It’s a movie about the creative and healing powers of stories, but more importantly, it can teach novelists about how stories are shaped by their audiences. As writers, we should be aware of who we are writing for so that we know the best ways to communicate our stories to them, and The Fall reminds us of that.
We’d like to close by reminding everyone that Netflix rotates its offerings monthly. If some of these titles don’t appear in the available listings, you can rent them through Amazon Prime or YouTube for a nominal fee.
Happy viewing! And don’t forget to tell us in the comments what you think of these selections! Also, tell us what movies inspire your writing, ’cause we could always use more recommendations ourselves!