Here’s a Cool Shot | The Spectacular Now

Here’s a Cool Shot is something new I’d like to introduce to my blog, where I present you a, you guessed it, cool shot. It’s something I’d like to do fairly often so that I’m able to upload twice a week. These posts will have a short explanation (this one ended up waaay longer than I anticipated) about why I think that the shot’s cool, or they’ll just be the shot on its own if I believe that it’s self-explanatory. Please let me know what you think about it and if you’d like to see more of this. If you’d like to talk about a particular shot on this blog that you thought was special, you can always contact me via email (, just put the word IMPORTANT in capital letters in the subject. Also, when you’re interested in doing so, keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be as long as this article, a few words are enough.

So let me tell you why I like this particular shot of The Spectacular Now. To give you some context, I’ll have to tell you the story leading up to this moment in the film, which means I’ll have to delve into spoiler territory; you’ve been warned.

In The Spectacular Now, we meet Sutter, an alcoholic teenager whose dad left him at a fairly young age. After a night of drinking, Sutter ends up lying on someone’s front lawn, where he’s found by the enthusiastic and relatively optimistic Aimee. From that point on their relationship starts to blossom into something lovely to see, though Sutter’s not always the one to accept that.  He’s had some issues with loving someone and being loved by someone ever since his dad’s left him and his family. He’s always thought that no one truly loved him, hence Sutter’s inability to accept that Aimee is head over heels for him and hence his continuous drinking. His mom was always antagonized by him, thinking that she was the reason his dad’s gone now, while he glorified his dad as this awesome guy. He hasn’t seen his dad ever since the day he went away, so naturally, he wants to meet his hero once again. His mom’s resistant and doesn’t want to give away his address, so Sutter heads to his sister. She gives it to him. Together with Aimee, he drives to the place his dad lives. They knock on the door of a tiny apartment. No one answers. They knock again and now a figure opens the door. Slightly hungover and with messy hair, Sutter’s dad stands there in the door opening, looking confused at his son and Aimee. He doesn’t recognize him. With a broken heart, but still optimistically Sutter tells his dad that he’s his son. The dad doesn’t react particularly enthusiastic, but he invites them to have a drink with him. They catch up, but Tommy, the dad, quickly leaves without paying and a girl under his arm with whom he presumably is going to have sex. He tells them to meet him at his house in about an hour, which Aimee and Sutter do. They wait. And wait. But Tommy doesn’t come. Sutter drives his car to the bar where they previously met up, and there he is, drinking with his friends with no intention of heading home to see his son again. With the realization that his dad’s a jackass he drives away angrily and drunk. Aimee notices that he’s struggling and she tells him that she loves him. He rejects that and, just like everyone who loves him, he pushes them away. He tells her he’s bad for her and that she should leave him. Due to their arguing they nearly end up in a car crash. Sutter is able to move out of the way right on time and manages to stop the car on the berm.  Him feeling as if no one loves him was only enforced by the fact that his father was such an asshole to him. In that asshole, Sutter recognized himself. He thought that because his dad was a douche, he must be too. Sutter tells Aimee to exit the car. She does as he says, while tears are rolling down her cheeks and while she keeps on saying that she does love him. The moment she gets out, a bus passes by, hitting her on the shoulder. We cut to black. Here’s the scene in question, I’d recommend you to watch it; it’s brilliantly acted and paced.




Fade in. A new shot’s revealed, the one that I’ve chosen to discuss. Here you can see Aimee lying in a hospital bed with a broken arm. On the other side of the wall, there’s Sutter, waiting for a doctor who’ll tell him if Aimee’s going to be fine. Sutter being there shows us that he does, in fact, love her and it enforces the complexity of his character who thinks that he’s the biggest jerk in the world, just like his father, while in reality, he’s a caring, lovable guy who’s let alcohol take over his life, which he’s yet to realize.

the spectacular now

Now to briefly analyze this shot, let’s start things off with the obvious; the colors. Left in the frame, warm lighting fills the shot, while on the right side dark colors are dominant, with blue being the most prominent one. What a surprise, these colors symbolize their inner feelings. As if I haven’t talked enough about the meaning of warm and cold colors, I’m still going to explain what they mean. The orange lighting on Aimee’s side of the screen represents how she’s awoken next to her family members who’re right next to her, while on the other hand, the blue represents the loneliness of Sutter as he’s waiting there alone. The colors represent their respective characters as well. Both have a damaged past, but Aimee won’t let it take control of her and she’s always this optimistic person who loves the people around her, especially Sutter, which is shown in the warm colors. Sutter has let his feelings taken control of him, which leaves him sad and feeling alone, while he, in reality, isn’t. He’s got his mom who cares for him, his sister, his friend, Aimee, and even his ex-girlfriend, but he subconsciously pushes them away in different kinds of way, like antagonizing his mom and telling Aimee that she doesn’t love him, which makes him believe that he’s all on his own. That sadness and that illusion of loneliness are shown by having him sit there alone in a frame dominated by the color blue, but also by the use of shadow. In his side of the frame, shadows are very prominent, while on Aimee’s side, they’re fairly muted. These shadows symbolize his inner darkness and turmoil.

Spectacular.PNGSomething less obvious is the brilliant composition. First of all, the shot functions as a split screen, without actually dividing the frame in two in post, where we get to see two sides of the same story; Aimee’s side, where she’s lying in bed recovering while her mom’s talking to her and Sutter’s side, where he’s waiting full of anxiety on the results.
The shot also has a frame inside of a frame composition. It’s one of the main go-to’s of photography to make your shot visually more interesting. When done too often, it can make the film look rather safe like I found to be the case with The Big SickBut the frame inside of a frame composition isn’t the only thing James Ponsoldt did with this shot to make it original and creative. In this shot, James Ponsoldt was also able to direct our eyes where to look. Our eyes are automatically drawn towards the biggest thing on the screen, which is why our eyes are immediately looking towards Sutter’s side of the frame, as it takes up more space than Aimee’s side. We’re now already looking at the right side of the frame, just not precisely at the right object. That’s where perspective lines come into play. The lines generated by the wall with the wooden border and the chairs, guide your eyes to the first thing it encounters; Sutter sitting on one of the chairs, alone.the spectacular now 3

It’s such a well-crafted shot that has a lot to say and that carries a lot of emotion, which is why I’ve chosen this one to start this series off. Because of the thought that went into this shot, it immediately caught my eye and I personally find it to be one of the best shots out of the film. As a whole the film’s cinematography is fantastic, but it was this particular shot that stood out the most due to its colors and composition.

…and that’s all I have to say. It turned out to be longer than expected, but oh well. I’m anticipating that the other articles in this series will be shorter, but we’ll see. Did you like reading this, and is there something you’d like to see improved? Do you want to write about a shot that you really like? Please let me know in the comments down below or via my previously mentioned email. Thanks!

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