The Memory Of Love's Refrain: A Few More Thoughts On Genre And Stardust

One of the things I discussed briefly in my original review of Stardust was the way that Yvaine (Claire Danes), a fallen star in the form of a woman, would begin to glow with an inner starlight whenever she experienced genuine happiness or peace. I find myself turning back to this image even now, hours after leaving the theater, because I'm convinced it's one of the film's greatest triumphs and also because I think it speaks to the benefits of telling what's typically referred to as a "genre" story, meaning anything that departs from the more accepted world of dramas, thrillers, and procedurals in favor of stories whose murky edges butt against the realm of magic or science fiction or something similar.As Yvaine grows more in love with Tristan (Charlie Cox), she begins to glow more frequently whenever she's with him or looking at him, and the scene in which they finally confess their love builds on the preceding hour-plus of drama and rides on composer Ilan Eshkeri's orchestral power chords to create an emotionally resonant moment, the kind storytellers all shoot for, the kind that hits you sweetly in the gut. And it's when they kiss that her light burns a little brighter than it has before, in a beautiful mirror of the moment's emotional connection that's only possible within the confines of the genre in general and this story in particular. It's not that Yvaine's luminescence doesn't fit the mood, because it does, and more perfectly than anything else could. It's that such a blend of effects and fantasy is only possible in a story like this one, when the dynamics of the fictional universe dictate that Yvaine can and should light up like a pinball table whenever she gets happy. Using the effect in any other story would be considered a surreal and (to many) an off-putting touch, even though the image would likely still fit the emotion. This is the real reason why no one liked Moulin Rouge1: They could tolerate the fact that Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman burst into song, and even the fact that those songs were well-known pop hits, but they just couldn't stomach Baz Luhrmann's willingness to coat everything in the kind of candy-colored lights and erratic use of special effects that would most accurately reflect what the characters were feeling at a particular moment. Christian can sing all the Elton John he wants to his one true love, but people weren't buying the fact that they would occasionally glow and waltz out onto the clouds. Which is understandable, but also another reason that genre movies and TV shows, despite what might be a fairly limiting label, can get away with more than do standard dramas. What looks bizarre and off-putting in a mainstream story can really be amazing when it's put in a context that not only allows for something different to happen, but demands it.
1. But also one of the reasons I really liked it.