In anticipation of the Oscars, I watched the nominated foreign film Theeb, and found myself instantly captivated by the history, setting, exoticism, the emotion, relationships to others and the natural world, the plight and fight for survival. I also appreciated the effective use of thematic details.
Two Story Concepts for Theeb
In 1916, Theeb lives with his Bedouin tribe in a remote part of the Ottoman Empire. When his older brother has to escort a British officer across the desert, Theeb tags along for the adventure (“Tags along” does not line up with the primary theme and depth of this movie)
In the Ottoman province of Hijaz during World War I, a young Bedouin boy experiences a greatly hastened coming-of-age as he embarks on a perilous desert journey to guide a British officer to his secret destination
The Effective Use of Thematic Details
The film begins with Theeb at a grave site in a desert, curiously gazing at a triangle carved into a slab of rock.
This scene establishes Theeb’s character emotional development. That he is young and curious sets up the dramatic question and foreshadows the Crisis or Dark Night to come: will his youth and curiosity serve him well or trip him?
The film’s primary theme is death: the coming death of the Ottoman Empire and Theeb’s way of life, making the introduction of the gravesite a powerful thematic detail.
No one tells us where we are. Specifics aren’t important in introductions, setting the tone and emotion and thematic significance are.
When we come to understand that the gravesite is Theeb’s father, we know that this young boy has faced death in a very personal way. The thematic detail then points the possibility Theeb will have to again deal with death before the end of the story.
Later in the film, when Theeb does indeed have to deal with death only this time on his own, we’re reminding that he knows what to do because of scene one. We’ve seen a grave first-hand and although we don’t consciously remember more than the overall picture, when he has to create a grave himself, we are reminded of the earlier details and feel intimately included in this very personal ritual.
As unsettling as the story was, especially well-aware of what’s happening in the region now, the thematic details and beauty, the heart and the great acting make Theeb a memorable character and Theeb, the movie written and directed by Naji Abu Nowar, a film I’ll remember for a long time.
For more on creating significant thematic details in a novel, memoir, screenplay: Writing Deep Scenes covers the effective use of thematic details in the beginning, the middle and the end of as tory .
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