While I majored in creative writing, I took a lot of literature classes. This isn’t just because the courses are similar and I love to read— it’s because I love to analyze things. From books to movies to television, I love dissecting characters and their stories. I love picking apart symbolism. I love digging into the how’s and why’s of the functionality and effectiveness (or lack thereof) of these things. As a raging nerd, this is par for the course.
So, believe me when I say, I get why people do this. It’s fulfilling, yet open-ended. So many answers can be true, as long as you can back it up. So many interpretations are valid, the evidence substantiating our points-of-view. But sometimes this gets taken too far.
So many weird analyses and pieces of discourse permeate fandom. Battle scenes are equated to intercourse, based solely on blurry background images and coincidental placement of phallic symbols (we get it— you’ve heard of Freud). This does not symbolism make. Just because you know the term mis-en-scene, doesn’t mean you understand how it works.
Pieces of dialogue are taken out of context, in order to imbue them with new meaning. Again, that’s not how analysis works. Dialogue only works in context. That’s a large part of where its meaning comes from. Unless it can be effectively used as an epigram, it is inherently dependent on its context for full and accurate meaning.
Which brings me to why these analyses are so messy and annoying: they’re skewed and not done organically. Proper analyses are born from a noticeable pattern in the overall work, whether that be in character development or symbolism. A good example is Dennis Reynolds from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Throughout the entirety of the show, he does whatever he can to sleep with women without ever spending a dime on them. In fact, he even explicitly states this at one point. Concurrently, he has a monthly dinner at one of Philadelphia’s most expensive restaurants with Mac. This, paired with the homoerotic subtext, says that he does this because he does not care for those women, but he does care for Mac.
Using context from the show as a whole, one is able to infer this. Whether or not it is fact, it is a logical conclusion to make based on ample evidence given. While there is likely some preexisting bias that goes into this, it’s not the same drastic leap as with the example I gave earlier regarding the battle scene. Why? Because it doesn’t overstep its bounds. Even though I ship Macdennis and will go to my grave insisting they’re in love, using this evidence as proof that Dennis cares for Mac more than the women he sleeps with does not necessarily mean they’re in love.
So, why does the Freudian claim about the aforementioned battle scene not work the same way? Because the larger context does not support it and this analysis was clearly formed purely as straw-grasping “proof” that this ship is real. It has no larger impact on either character. Dennis caring about Mac affects their relationship— images in a scene being reappropriated to symbolize sex does not.
Allow me to offer said context for this scene. It takes place in The Last Jedi and the relevant (or irrelevant, as the case may be) characters are Rey and Kylo Ren. A mysterious force connection has formed between the two opponents (as that is how their relationship is framed) while Rey is being trained by Luke. Rey is on the Light Side and Kylo is emphatically on the Dark Side. Through trickery (as admitted by the character), Kylo convinces Rey to come to his base. She is convinced she can redeem him as Luke did Darth Vader. Kylo wants to turn Rey. Immediately upon arrival, she is captured and Kylo reveals his manipulation. They go to the throne room of Supreme Leader Snoke. Snoke villain-speeches and Kylo kills him. Then, Rey and Kylo battle all of Snoke’s guards. During this scene, Rey winds up with Kylo’s lightsaber. Also, there are oval-shaped wall decorations in the background (it’s important I note this for my upcoming point). Once the two defeat all the guards, Rey wants to return to the Resistance and Kylo steps in as the new Supreme Leader. He tries to manipulate her into joining him, revealing her tragic parentage and telling her she’s nothing, “but not to [him].” Rey, of course, is having none of that and the two fight over Anakin’s lightsaber. Ultimately, Kylo is knocked out and Rey escapes.
Now that you have more context, I can better explain why the sex analysis doesn’t work. First of all, despite some dubious tension between the two earlier in the film, these two are never portrayed as having a relationship— sexual or not. Rather, they each wanted to bring the other to their side for reasons regarding the war. Secondly, the entire scene is framed by the two solidly remaining on opposing sides. This scene, if anything, can be used as a microcosm of the larger fight between the Resistance and the First Order, the Light Side and the Dark. In fact, given all of Star Wars, that is almost certainly how this scene was intended. But the main reason it doesn’t work? It cherry-picks small aspects of the scene in order to serve a biased goal. Namely: supporting the Reylo ship.
Three things were taken from this scene in order to justify this take: the preexisting Reylo ship, Kylo’s lightsaber, and the oval thing I mentioned in my brief recap. You see, the lightsaber is a phallic symbol— Kylo’s phallic symbol. Rey, as I said previously, uses his lightsaber during the fight. This, according to the analysis, means Rey wants Kylo’s penis. But that’s not all— at one point, the lightsaber is held up in front of one of those oval objects in the background. Because of this, now that oval thing represents Rey’s eggs. This is further proof that she wants that peen.
However, using the above context, this reading immediately falls apart because all that supports it is coincidence and accidental symbolism. Perhaps if Kylo’s lightsaber was uniquely phallic-shaped, I could entertain this interpretation or even try to pretend it has merit. But lightsabers have always been phallic-shaped because sabers and swords are phallic-shaped. And, before I’d even entertain the egg portion of this travesty, the Rey/Kylo relationship would have to be built on sexual and/or romantic tension, rather than the ongoing Light Side/Dark Side battle.
But the point of this isn’t to “drag” a take I don’t agree with, but to take two examples of analyses I’ve seen online to illustrate the very point they triggered. Analysis only works when it is formed organically and is based off of a character’s behavioral patterns or recurring symbolism. Cherry-picking in order to justify a conclusion you’ve already made doesn’t prove anything. The evidence creates the conclusion, not vice versa.
So, next time you want to analyze something, ask yourself: how relevant is this analysis? Does it have a larger impact on the story or implication regarding the characters? Does it help explain character behavior or something about the world the story takes place in? Does this analysis hold up under scrutiny or is it cobbled together in order to support a belief you already hold? And, perhaps even more to the point, not everything needs to be analyzed. Some things just are. And that’s okay too. You don’t have to force meaning on something because you like that something. Like that generic pop song you like simply because you do, sometimes things just exist. So cool your nerd jets.