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Christine Barrera Section 4 A Typical Reunion It is a pleasant afternoon at the ship dock in New York City.

After leaving the ship he had been traveling on for a couple of years, Richie Tenenbaum carries his bags to the front of the docking station. He waits for Margot, his adopted sister, to escort him on the Green Line bus and bring him back to their parents house to see their father who claims to be dying. Richie has been riding the sea for a couple of years, and Margot has been living with her psychiatrist boyfriend and on this day they are meeting for the first time in a long time. Richie sits in a chair next to his bags wearing a tan suit, large sunglasses and a red, white and blue sweatband (which he never removes). The Green Line bus pulls up in front of the station and Margot steps off looking like a movie-star in her long fur coat. Margot and Richie are average citizens; they have already accomplished much in their careers as a playwrite and ex-pro tennis champion. The interaction begins when Margot steps off the bus, pauses for a long second while her chin length blonde hair blows in the wind, and makes eye contact with Richie which they maintain throughout her slow-motion walk towards him. Because of the movie director, time is slowed down and by the time she stops about five feet in front of Richie, it is an anticipated moment. The first thing Margot says is, “Stand up straight, let me get a look at you.” Richie is standing and has his arms crossed over his chest while he tries to stand taller and gives a small smile. Margot responds with, “What is so funny?” Richie continues to smile and simply shrugs. “Well, it’s nice to see you too,” Margot responds sarcastically, because even though Richie does not look entirely happy to see her, there is a mutual understanding that they are both happy to see each other. The short dialogue is followed by another long pause and silent interaction in which Margot’s slight smile turns serious. Now the camera, instead of showing only each character

while they are responding to each other shows the scene from farther back. Both Richie and Margot have their arms crossed over their chests, and at the same time they uncross their arms, and come toward each other for an embrace (Anderson, 2002). This interaction is a scene from the beginning of the movie The Royal Tenenbaums. It starts with all of the children gathering back at their childhood home after being disconnected from each other for a number of years. This is not an unfamiliar meeting for most people in American culture, as it consists of silences, odd, minimal and superficial dialogue and not much physical interaction. This dialogue can be explained outside of the cultural context through Jakobson’s Functions and Peirce’s index. Sometimes words are not necessary to have a complete conversation between people, as Richie and Margot show in their dialogue. Richie does not speak even one word yet the way he feels is completely coherent to Margot. Jakobson’s metalinguistic function is in Margot and Richie’s interaction. Most of what Margot says can be described as metalinguistic because she is talking about Richie’s phatic gestures. “Well it’s nice to see you too,” is an example of Margot’s use of the metalinguistic function. In this statement she uses the word “too” as if she is agreeing with Richie even though he did not say “it’s nice to see you” in the first place. She is speaking with sarcasm because he did not say he is glad to see her. Richie actually said nothing at all which could even be taken as the opposite of being glad to see someone. She is using the metalinguistic function also because she is noting through her language how Richie is not using language. She could also be responding to his phatic body language. If so, she would be responding to his body language with the metalinguistic function, as if his body language implied that he was glad to see her. She is familiar with his body language and with what he is saying through the way he holds his arms and with the slight smile he gives. If Margot and Richie were part of two different cultures, or if

they did not share the same language, these functions would not apply, but as they are able to communicate well, these functions serve as a way to break down their interaction to make it more coherent to a person of a foreign culture. Jakobson would also explain this conversation as having a representational function. The speech is not what creates the vivid conversation. The actual dialogue is very short, only a number of seconds, and it is only spoken by one person, Margot. It is the representational function of the interaction which is dependent on the context of the interaction and makes it a complete conversation. There is not much speech to refer to; in fact, if one did hear only Margot’s words, that person would not be certain as to the meaning of her statement, “what’s so funny?” Without being aware of the representation of the message in the context, one might guess she is annoyed or angry which is incorrect. Margot is happy; she is joking and laughing with her brother. The representational function can be seen through the context of the conversation. The phatic function is shown in the content of the conversation. The people involved in the conversation must make contact to each other in order to use the phatic function in conversation. Margot and Richie represent very well how phatic interaction can be achieved through a small amount of dialogue, as long as there is some sort of contact, as Jakobson’s diagram shows, and in this case it was necessary to be visual contact. For example, this same interaction could not be repeated over the telephone and use the phatic function, because it is unlikely Margot would be able to tell that she is making contact with Richie. The connection of their eyes is also a phatic function in the interaction, and this type of interaction is very limited in the ways that it can be used to establish contact.

The silences in this interaction are very important because they help the viewer understand how the characters are feeling during the conversation. In fact, the director uses the slow-motion technique in filming Margot’s walk to Richie to show how much importance is in this silent moment. The moment is filled with anticipation, and it is one of the quick moments that seems to take a long time, and through the physical slowing down for the audience, the silence is recognized as a moment of importance. The interaction between Margot and Richie Tenenbaum can become clearer through the examination of indices as described by Peirce. As Burks rephrases, “Peirce held that the function of an index is to refer to or call attention to some feature or object in the immediate environment of the interpretant” (Burks 1949, 97). Silence, in this context, is an index because it helps portray the emotion in the scene, like Margot’s slowmotion walk toward Richie. This index is important in the movie because it was most likely created by the director to make viewers relate it to a clichéd rendezvous scene between a man and a woman in classic movies. This is especially recognizable when they embrace. Even more, the director made the first thing Margot says to Richie, “Stand up straight, let me get a look at you.” This statement is slightly outdated, and it sounds like a typical motherly statement rather than the first thing a sister says to her brother. The embrace and Margot’s statement point to the special type of relationship that she and Richie have with each other. It also makes it obvious that they have been apart for a long period of time. Other indices are informative as to what type of people Richie and Margot are and what they have been doing. Richie wears a sweatband that indexes the fact that he was a tennis champion and that something about has affected him in a way that he will not take off his sweatband. Richie and Margot wear a full suit and a long fur coat, which indexes the importance and formality of their meeting. Richie’s suitcases and the ship and port in the background index where he has just come from. Richie’s silences during the

interaction index how he is feeling. They are endearing silences; he does not know what to say so he remains silent. The silence is endearing because he is smiling and joking and hugs Margot. The interaction of Margot and Richie Tenenbaum is easily understood, especially to those unfamiliar with their culture, through Peirce’s indices by examining the way certain words, actions or objects help the clarity of an interaction. When looking at an interaction as a whole, it may not be as clear what is significant in certain aspects of the interaction. On the surface, the scene with Richie and Margot Tenenbaum appears to be an average interaction between two relatives who have missed each other. They are nervous and excited to be together again. However, this typical movie scene is possibly directed to purposely look conventional. Because the actual conversation is short and words are few, there is a lot of dialogue underneath the conversation which can be easily overlooked. By examining this conversation with indices and with Jakobson’s functions, the interaction has much more context through which one finds the importance and significance of their meeting.

Works Cited Burks, Arthus, 1949. Icon, Index, Symbol, in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, June: 673-689. The Royal Tenenbaums. Dir. Wes Anderson. Perf. Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Ben Stiller, Bill Murray, Angelica Houston, and Gene Hackman. American Emperical Pictures, 2001. Link: Lecture on Jakobson by Professor Lemon