How Paddington expresses suffering through its use of naturalistic imagery

Written by Patrick Maslin, Edited by Issy Smith

Paddington (Paul King, 2014) follows the eponymous bear attempting to find a new home in England after his previous home in Darkest Peru is destroyed. Although many would argue Paddington is not technically a Christmas movie as it fails to directly discuss the holiday itself, it still evokes many iconic and thematic elements of Christmas, particularly though its use of snow and themes of family. This combined with the fact that it was released in the UK on 28th November, exceedingly close to Christmas to profit from the public’s love for Christmas films, creates substantial evidence that Paddington should be seen as a Christmas film. Paddington proceeds to use this iconography to portray the suffering of immigrants, which can be seen through King’s use of mise-en-scene. But more specific than mise-en-scene is its use of naturalistic imagery, specifically its representation of weather to portray this suffering. 

The first scene that presents this to the audience occurs five minutes into the film, when Paddington’s house is destroyed by an earthquake that also kills his Uncle Pastuzo. The key thing to note about its presentation here is the complete lack of foreshadowing of this moment. Often within the disaster movie genre, from which this scene borrows aspects, there is a build-up to the disaster. This is visible, for instance, in films such as Twister (Jan de Bont, 1996) and 2012 (Roland Emmerich, 2009). But by having this traumatic event occur as a surprise, King firstly creates more of an emotional impact, and more importantly, he forces a sense of powerlessness onto the audience. This creates a sense of tragedy as Christmas films are predominantly psychologically driven and therefore the narrative revolves around a character’s choices. Conversely, Paddington has no choice in this situation, allowing the audience to identify with his need to leave Darkest Peru. This allows King to create a situation where Paddington is not to blame for his plight, therefore subverting a commonly used rhetoric against immigrants that they have a choice as whether to stay or leave.

In comparison to this terrifying representation of a natural disaster, the second key naturalistic image King uses is the much gentler image of rain at 0:24:46. Rain has been used thousands of times as a visual presentation of emotional distress and, whilst it still serves that purpose within this scene, by contrasting it with the previous disastrous image we can see how King presents the struggles of immigrants within this alien country of England. Their struggles here are by no measure even comparable to the strife within the immigrants’ home country, which justifies Paddington’s departure. A key aspect of the rain’s presentation is the fact that it is predominantly auditory. The audience hears the rain, but for the majority of this scene they cannot see it which, when compared to the incredibly visceral, visual presentation of the natural disaster, makes the impact of the scene seem smaller whilst still presenting the experience as emotionally painful. This is bolstered through King’s use of cinematography, as he uses a wide shot to present Paddington as much smaller within the frame. This once again leads the audience to feel the sense of powerlessness through the use of scale, which makes the suffering of Paddington even more powerful due to identification with his lack of control.

The last naturalistic image leads back into the previously mentioned use of Christmas imagery, as in the final scene of the film it is possible to see Paddington playing with his new family in the snow. Snow is used particularly within Christmas films to portray wonderment and joy. King uses these connotations of snow to present Paddington at peace and affirm that he has finally found a home. The use of a white colour scheme presents Paddington as having finally overcome the struggles to adapt to this alien environment by showing that he is finally at peace.

Paddington uses pathetic fallacy to create an easily understandable image of the suffering immigrants go through to simply survive and it accomplishes this through a universal commonality of weather. King uses this to guide the audience to understand the suffering of often-alienated immigrants through something that every audience member has experienced.

Filmography

Paddington (Paul King, United Kingdom, 2014)

Twister (Jan de Bont, USA, 1996)

2012 (Roland Emmerich, USA, 2009)

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