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Symbolism in The Grifters
The Novel and Film of The Grifters had many uses of symbolism, supporting the theme of sexual corruption, and the fall of the three main characters’ craft of the grift. In the novel, symbolism was tougher to pick out. However, the descriptions of the characters created symbolic visualizations of their personalities and human nature. The film had more obvious uses of symbolism through the choice of women’s clothes, the character’s actions, and their language.
In the film, symbolism was everywhere. In the beginning of the film, the pictures of the city were in black and white and dull shades, giving the city a gloomy look. The camera angles made the cars in the city appear tiny, and the buildings appear very large to symbolize how small everything was amongst the city. The interiors of the office buildings and the panic symbolized that there was no way out. The soundtrack of the film was symbolic to the tension of the film. The darkness of visual composition of the lighting in the film, symbolized the darkness of the human nature in the story.
Roy’s character as a conman is revealed early in the story when he was puking after the blow to his stomach due to an unsuccessful con job. In the novel, he told the cop that he was just sick; symbolizing that he was a manipulator, and was used to lying. In the beginning of the film, Roy answered to the cop with, “some bad shrimp…,” which was extremely ironic to me because it symbolized that something was a bit fishy about Roy’s character. In the film, Roy hid his money behind clown paintings, which symbolized the joke of his grift. The irony was that he took his grift so seriously.
In establishing Lilly’s character, the author of the novel used the line, “Roy danced around her in helpless rage,” which to me symbolizes her dominance. Moira was compared to a “kitty” early on in the novel, which symbolized her feistiness. The film showed the hotel elevator descending to symbolize Moira going to Hell. At the close of the story in both the novel and the film, Lily wore Moira’s red dress after killing her; symbolizing the blood of both their deaths. The women themselves were symbols of excitement empowered by their sexuality.
A minor character in the film and a more prominent character in the novel was Nurse Carol.
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The novel and the film of The Grifters used symbolism throughout, to support the theme of sexual corruption and the fall of grifting. Lighting, sound, and camera angles in the film were very effective; as well as the use of the colored dresses that the women wore. The novel made good use of characterization and visualization. Both the novel and the film used different points to symbolize the darkness and greed of the human nature of the story.
The Grifters, 1990, Directed by Stephen Frears, Miramax Films.
Thompson, Jim. The Grifters. New York: Vintage Books, 1985.