Mentor Text Wednesday: At The Movies

Mentor Text: Someone Will Come Along: Rogue One, Logan and Hope by Jessica Plummer

Writing Techniques:

  • Writing Literary Analysis
  • Essay Structure

Background: If, as Stephen King would say, you are a “Faithful Reader,” then you know I’m a bit of a geek. If you’re here for the first time… Hi, I’m Jay, and I really like pop culture with a genre bent. I will not go for long without mentioning sci-fi or superheroes.

These interests actually pay wonderful dividends in my classroom. At the very least, it has dropped wonderful mentor texts like this week’s into my Twitter feed.

Plummer’s piece is a great little piece that analyzes the core thematic elements of two recent blockbusters withing my wheelhouse, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Logan, the final installment in Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine film series.

logan-trailer-700x300

A still from Logan via BookRiot

I love the timing of this piece, right after I finally  got a chance to see Logan, and as I’m plotting some of the next things we’ll be working on in my classroom. Actually, it ties in quite well to some work I’m doing with The Great Gatsby in my Lit class, as I’m having them connect Gatsby to pieces of pop culture, focusing on themes.

See, this thematic focus is what Plummer’s piece does so well. She discusses the fact that both of these films have many similarities, most impactful of which is their message about hope.

How We Might Use This Text:

Writing Literary Analysis- One of my favorite things about using genre based material in my classroom is that enables us to talk about issues indirectly. The superhero stuff we look at isn’t overtly about diversity, but was we discuss it, we get to talk about that very topic. This piece has that same sort of stealth aspect to it – on the surface, we’re talking about two movies, but in my classroom, these are two texts. The moves Plummer makes comparing these two movies are ones we should consider emulating when we write about a pair of books.

Plummer focuses on the similarities between the two films, and their messages. She lays out a context for her argument, using summary and connections to our world. This context actually sort of serves as a counterpoint of sorts. Before she talks about hope, she establishes that the films begin in a place with limited hope, and that we’re watching them in a world where many in the audience may feel as if hope is on the ropes in real life. This is such a strong move, in my opinion, establishing a context, a tone for the reader before highlighting what she feels the movies are really about.

What’s especially lovely, I feel, in this piece of analysis is that she doesn’t spend the whole essay droning on about hope, laying out a number of formulaic, overplanned and organized arguments for why these films are about hope. So often, literary analysis reads like a checklist driven exercise, even if we pare the assignment down to only talking about a single literary element, such as theme. By establishing a contextual hopelessness, she is able to drive home the resonance of the theme succinctly, and effectively. I’d certainly enjoy reading more lit analysis pieces like this one in my classroom.

Essay Structure – I alluded to the way the structure is effective in achieving the purpose of analyzing the core thematic elements of these films. The establishment of the strong context that almost serves as a counter point is effective. It almost seems as if Plummer is going to spend her whole essay talking about the bleakness that permeates both films, but she highlights that both of these tragedies end hopefully, and that this is worthy of an audience noting.

Moving through the piece, I love the way that she starts, a general introduction that gives context for the analysis, as opposed to serving to introduce what the analysis is all about. This is much more effective than the standard thesis statement-centric intro we often get to read, where our writer tells us the common theme is hope. Plummer simply identifies that it is possible to connect these two films by a common theme. Intriguing.

Then, she moves ahead, establishing the context. I say that like it’s simply done. If you look here, it’s actually quite rich. The general similarities of the two pieces are laid out, focusing first on the connected genres, and then on the fact that these are “big budget action films” that have a much more resonant impact on an audience.

Each text is given a tighter focus in turn, focusing on how they can be seen to comment on current political situations. Important to note when she does this is that she identifies that these pieces were written before these political situations were so front and center for us. Yes, they are ostensibly about these things, but it wasn’t overtly planned. The fact that we are able to make the connection is good, showing efforts to make real world connections to the text.

And then, in turn, she focuses on how each film communicates her chosen theme of hope. This is done effectively, in my opinion, because she focuses simply upon the ends of the films, the most hopeful moments! She doesn’t do what many high school students do in this type of essay, and spend the entire essay sharing every single instance of hope, a paragraph at a time.As well, she takes a moment to offer a warning of sorts, highlighting that although this hope seems to rest on the shoulder of female characters, it’s not necessary to read the films as a genre’s attempt at a “feminist manifesto.” That resonates with the writer, but is not the core message.

Since I get to read a whole bunch of clunky, formulaic conclusions in my day job, I was really excited about the brevity of the conclusion. It drives home the message one last time, succinctly and effectively, with a nice little shout-out to the subject.This goes in my mentor text file for this strategy alone!

I love mentor texts that give me a way to encourage a fresh take on a common assignment. The summative nature of an essay comparing common themes in two texts, connecting it to the world as you compare makes it a great assignment for our writers. Plummer’s piece is something I’ll drop in front of my students the next time we’re starting this one, as an inspiration to write insightful analytical pieces with voice, character and thought.

What do you expect from students in a literary analysis? What are your go-to mentor texts to demonstrate what you want lit analysis to look like?

Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy

–Jay

 

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