Open Hand

(A contribution to The House Next Door’s Close-Up Blog-a-thon.)

Close-Ups of Hands in Fearless

There are dozens of close-ups of hands in Peter Weir’s Fearless, and mostly the extremities belong to Max Klein, the distant plane-crash survivor played by Jeff Bridges. What follows is not a comprehensive catalog but covers the majority of these shots. They are presented in the order in which they appear in the movie.

I’ve been curious about the hand shots for years, but even after collecting these screen captures I don’t have a firm grasp on their meaning. So I’m throwing them out there and welcoming comments, hypotheses, and arguments.

A few random notes:

  • The shots seem to fall into five categories: examination (primarily of the self); routine, habit, and ceremony (everything from pushing the button on a car radio to the lighting of a candle); comfort and contact; reaching; and strawberries.
  • The hands belong only to the plane-crash survivors, except for the pilots getting ready for takeoff on Max Klein’s journey home.
  • I’m struck that collectively the close-ups of hands tell the story of Fearless pretty well — except for the plot lines involving the attorney and Max’s family. In that way, these close-ups could arguably represent the shared experience of the plane crash, the intimacy that others cannot access.

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WONDERFUL post and a unique and interesting exploration of the Close-Up blogathon - probably the best I’ve read.

I have a soft spot for Fearless because I worked for Paula Weinstein and Mark Rosenberg when it was made (and when Mark passed away); it’s one of the great unsung movies of Weir’s impressive filmography.

I think that he uses the hands so much here to highlight the mostly mundane and ordinary things that we use our hands to do each day - but seen in the contexts you show, these things cease to be ordinary at all. The act of a pilot running a pre-flight safety check, for example, is no longer routine right after one has crash-landed in a plane. I think that Weir is showing the things that we take for granted, things that we have become too comfortable doing - even praying - and he’s showing the true import and connection that such things should really have.

Burbanked:

Sometimes I work too hard to see what’s right in front of me. Your interpretation is simple and makes sense, and reading it, a lot of things clicked into place. Thanks!

My connection to Fearless is intensely personal, but even removed from that it stands among Weir’s best for me.

I meant to ask: did you do your Fearless screengrabs from a DVD - and if so, was it letterboxed? The only version I’ve ever seen - and only in the $5.50 bin at Wal Mart - was fullscreen and I didn’t buy it. Now I’m not sure I’ll find one easily.

Burbanked:

The grabs came from the only DVD that’s been released, with a 4:3 aspect ratio.

According to IMDb, the theatrical aspect ratio was 1.85:1. I, too, was hesitant to buy the 4:3 version, but it’s all we have.

One can hope for a Criterion Collection edition ... .

This entry, of screen captures from Godard’s Nouvelle Vague, suggests it as an influence on Weir.

Thanks for posting in my comments section. WOW, I haven’t seen “Fearless” in years, but your post illuminates Weir’s hands motif. I’m not sure what influenced Godard’s “Nouvelle Vague” aside from countless literary texts, but his visual style seems to reference Bresson, though possibly Weir. Who knows, but the connection is interesting.

Great site, by the way.

- ML
aka Tout Va Bien

ML:

Godard’s movie came first, so I’d say that perhaps Weir was referencing him. The similarities are pretty startling; you can nearly match shots.

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