Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Denis Villeneuve prefers images that feel like "a punch in the face"

Since breaking into Hollywood, writer/director Denis Villeneuve has been on an absolute tear. His most recent films, which include the excellent Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival, are beguiling, beautiful reminders that show mainstream cinema still has room for genre work blending both thoughtfulness and action.


YouTube channel Storytellers has created an overview of Villeneuve’s style, using his (and a few of Jake Gyllenhall’s) own words to describe the way he approaches cinematic storytelling—and help explain why, exactly, most of his movies work so well. The video starts with Villeneuve discussing the importance he sees in images that “can have a strong emotional impact on the audience, but create a kind of disorientation from an intellectual point of view.” He cites the influence of movies like Mulholland Drive and 2001: A Space Odyssey for instilling a love of “images that are like [a] punch in the face” but leave the audience having to unpack their meaning after the shock has faded.

This same preoccupation surfaces in other aspects of his creative process, which Villeneuve points out usually focuses on an intimate point of view, guided by a single character, no matter how broad the film’s scale and themes may be. The clip also references the mysteries that guide his movies both psychologically and practically, typically leading his characters to tortured emotional states that almost annihilate their sense of self.

The rest of the commentary revolves around similar points, always circling back to the way Villeneuve uses striking, often violent imagery to provoke deeper questions. The entire video is worth a watch not only to hear more from Villeneuve, but also to see clips from across his career used as examples of what he’s saying. Even if you don’t care much about how he makes the movies, it’s hard to argue that they don’t all look really, really good.

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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Reid's a writer and editor who has appeared at GQ, Playboy, and Paste. He also co-created and writes for videogame sites Bullet Points Monthly and Digital Love Child.