First impressions count. And you don’t get a second chance at them. A character’s introduction to a story should want to pull us into their life, giving us enough but not too much; to leave us wanting more. Or, in at least one of these five cases, to warn us of what is to come.
Here are 5 (More) of the Best Character Introductions in Movie History…
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1. The Lisbon Sisters
The Virgin Suicides (2000)
Narrated by the adult voice of a group of young neighbourhood boys, Sophia Coppola’s debut film The Virgin Suicides is a masterclass of haunting family tragedy. Based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, also told from the boys’ perspective many years on, it recounts the events leading up to the deaths of the Lisbon sisters.
Set against the sun-drenched backdrop of Michigan in the 1970s, we meet the youngest daughter Cecilia in the opening scene, after her attempted suicide. After being stabilized in hospital, the doctor asks her “What are you doing here honey? You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets”.
Cecilia’s iconic deadpan response: “Obviously, doctor, you’ve never been a thirteen year old girl.”
Voiced by Giovanni Ribisi, our narrator introduces the five sisters as the boys watch them from across the suburban street. In order of age, the frame freezes briefly over each girl and her name appears in a bubble-writing style we associate with high school textbooks of the past. Cecilia, 13. Lux, 14. Bonnie, 15. Mary, 16. And Teresa, 17.
The teenage longing and obsession of the boys seeps out of Ribisi’s voice as we realise through this introduction how important these girls are to them. However, they don’t speak to the girls as they get out of the car and enter their home. We realise they don’t really know them, and sadly they never really will.
2. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson
Lady Bird (2017)
Christine aka “Lady Bird” (the unstoppable Saoirse Ronan) and her relationship with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) is the heart of Greta Gerwig’s breakout 2017 film. Therefore, it is fitting that our introduction to the title character is through an emotional blast between the two.
The opening shot of the film presents Lady Bird and Marion peacefully sleeping on the same bed of a modest hotel. This tranquility lasts mere seconds and is a stark contrast to what lies ahead.
After visiting prospective colleges they begin their car journey back to Sacramento, while listening to The Grapes of Wrath on cassette tape, a signifier of the early 2000s time period, which has left them equally in tears.
Then the quarrelling begins.
Beginning as passive aggressive comments, the conversation moves into a full-fledged fight about Lady Bird’s future. At one point Lady Bird insists on her mother not calling her Christine, part of her battle to develop her own identity. She does not seem to realise that this may hurt the person who named her. Filmed in a small moving car, their fight feels as claustrophobic to the viewer as Lady Bird’s small town does to her.
In what is potentially the most memorable shot of the film, Lady Bird ends the conversation by rolling out of the moving car. Marion’s shock mirror’s that of the viewers as we grasp with the complexity of this mother-daughter relationship.
Recommended for you: Lady Bird (2017/18) Review