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Form and Meaning: Mean Girls

Film form and the meaning of the film take a huge role on how they influence the audience. Particularly, in comedic films, the meaning that a scene or the movie as a whole portrays can either make the film a huge comedic hit or a miss. “The evolution of cinematic form—in particular as the Hollywood film industry has defined it—has followed from attempts at all levels of the cinematic process to make the cinema appear ‘more real.’ (1)” So, since film in general has evolved to appearing more real to the audience, comedy specifically relies on realism of situations to appeal to the audiences. If a scene in a comedy, or the comedy as a whole, portrays situations that may actually happen in real life, the movie tends to get more humorous reactions.

For example, the film Mean Girls portrays a group of high school girls who are considered to be the most popular girls in school, and portray the stereotype that many people have about high school girls. Many, if not all, of the viewers of this comedy have been to high school and have had to deal with the popular, snobby people. Therefore, this sense of realism tends to make it funnier for the viewer and they bring their own ideologies to the movie. This film also carries some symptomatic meaning, or the significance that a film portrays. This often comes from social ideologies that are present in today’s world. “Ideology is a relatively systematic body of ideas, attitudes, values, and perceptions, as well as, actual modes of thinking (usually unconscious) typical of a given class or group of people in a specific time and place. (2)” For example, the film Mean Girls was released in 2004. At this time, perceptions of high school girls have historically been considered “catty” and, in essence, mean. By playing off the social ideologies of our culture, they were able to create a successful comedic film. For instance, if people perceived teenage girls as kind and innocent, the comedic element may have been lost. However, although this film portrays teenage girls negatively, the film also carries implicit meaning and is open for interpretation. One interpretation of this film may be that girls are mean and they need something bad to happen to them in order to change their ways. Towards the end of the movie, it takes Regina George, the meanest girl, to get hit by a bus for the characters to change the way that they behaved. However, if you look deeper into the meaning of the film, there are more positive interpretations. One positive interpretation of the film is that there is possibility for change in the way that high school girls treat each other. If the cliques fade away and everybody is nice to each other, the environment for teenagers will be a more peaceful one and self-esteem may increase in young women.

One theme in this film is a self-versus-self theme.  Cady Herron, played by Lindsay Lohan, has to struggle to balance between what she considers her actual self and her persona that she is portraying to the plastics. Throughout the whole film, we see her transform from an innocent transfer student, to a “mean” popular girl, and then at the end she is a balance of the both. By witnessing the struggle of finding who she is, we see how it is difficult to conform to high school expectations. Another theme present in this film is self-versus-society. In this case, the society would be high school and the cliques that are present in them. After Cady becomes popular, she finally has the feeling of being well liked. However, after Regina gets hit by a bus many of her classmates assume that Cady pushed Regina in front of the bus. She has to struggle to go to school after that although her society is mad at her. She also ends up apologizing to her classmates publically, which shows her overcoming her struggle between herself and her society.

One vehicle that is predominant in this film are the shots when her classmates start acting like the animals Cady used to encounter in Africa.  These shots infer that high school teenagers have the same qualities as animals in the wild; uncontrollable and vicious. This helps to reinforce the ideas and attitudes about high school girls and how barbaric they can be. The idea behind this movie is to encourage teenagers to be more civilized towards one another. By showing those acting like animals and taking away their human qualities, it helps portray the message that teenagers need to behave more like humans.  However, although there is a serious message behind this movie, it uses comedic elements to convey the message. This all goes back to the idea of realism, which was previously explained as something that cinematic film is turning to for success.  While the film is intended to be entertaining and humorous, the sense of realism attempts to influence audience members, particularly young girls, to stop using petty rudeness with one another and their world will be much easier to live.

In conclusion, Mean Girls is a great example of how a comedic film can have a lot of success but also have a positive interpretation behind all of the laughs. The meaning behind comedic films does not always have to be solely comedy, but can have a serious message that audience members should interpret and reflect for themselves. By making fun of the plastics throughout the film, it insinuates that they are people audience’s should not act like. At the end of the film, they show all of the characters who used to be part of separate cliques all hanging out together and getting along. Although the movie portrays a particular message, the story leaves the audience’s perception open for interpretation. The audience member can either look at the movie simply as a movie making fun of teenage girls, or they can look at the movie as a positive message to young girls to behave more civilized towards one another.

Judith, P. (1976).  S/Z and Film Criticism. Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, no. 12/13. Retrieved from http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/jc12-13folder/mayne.sz.html.

Hess, J. (1978). Film and Ideology. Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary media, no. 17. Retrieved from http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC17folder/FilmAndIdeololgy.html.


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