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Movie Analysis: "Elf"

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Emma James

on 16 December 2015

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Transcript of Movie Analysis: "Elf"


After orphaned Buddy stowed away in Santa's sack as an infant, the decision was made to raise him as an elf without telling him of his human roots. When Buddy overhears a conversation that reveals his identity as a human, Santa allows him to journey to New York in search of his father, Walter, who is on the naughty list. Buddy is exposed to the realities of human nature, but is able to keep Christmas cheer alive, foster meaningful relationships, and eventually save Christmas.
Major Plot
"Most of us do not realize the extent to which our word choice reveals our attitudes, judgments, or feelings" (Verderber & Verderber 2013: 107)
Direct Verbal Style
Buddy accepts a cup of coffee while going to work with Walter one day. Rather than verballyexpressing that he didn't like it, he continued to drink it, making disgusted facial expressions. Walter noticed these expressions and told Buddy he didn't have to drink it. Buddy's attempt to please Walter through drinking coffee is reflective of Walter's authoritative parenting style, and through nonverbal cues Buddy is able to express that he doesn't like coffee without saying it verbally and in turn letting Walter down.
Nonverbal Communication
Spatial Usage
Movie Analysis: "Elf"
CMS 330 Interpersonal Communication
Emma James
Elf is movie about a man who is raised by elves, but doesn't recognize he doesn't belong until he is full grown. When this realization sets in, he journeys to New York City, per Santa's request, to find his biological father, and along the way falls in love. He hopes that finding his father will help him find his true identity.
Main Characters
Buddy the Elf -- Will Ferrell
Buddy is the main character in the film, who was an orphan at the North Pole, after sneaking into Santa's present bag one Christmas Eve. He was adopted by Papa Elf, who raised him until he learned the truth of where he really comes from. Buddy is quite sheltered, which leads him to experiencing some harsh realities in New York City
Papa Elf, played by Bob Newhart, adopts Buddy and raises him as an Elf. He is supportive of Buddy's decision to travel to New York

Walter Hobbs, played by James Caan, is Buddy's biological father. He has a family in New York and works as a book publisher. Walter is on the naughty list.

Santa, played by Ed Asner, is responsible for Buddy's stowaway because he was unaware of it. He teaches Buddy the importance of spreading Christmas cheer, which becomes a later theme in the movie.

Emily, played by Mary Steenburgen, is Walter's wife, who welcomes Buddy into their home.

Jovie, played by Zooey Deschanel, works at a clothing store and becomes Buddy's love interest, and later, wife.

Michael, played by Daniel Tay, is the son of Emily And Walter, who at first dislikes Buddy, but eventually the two become close.
Language Reveals
Though Buddy speaks English, he has never been exposed to the slang terms that Americans may use. Santa warns buddy to be weary of signs for a "Peep Show." Because Buddy he has never been exposed to the American definition, he assumes that Buddy will believe it means "peeping" at Christmas presents early.
"Direct verbal style is characterized by message language that openly states the speaker's intention and by message content that is straightforward and unambiguous" (Verderber & Verderber 2013: 121)
Nonverbal communication is continuous
"Although your verbal message is bounded by silence, as long as you are in the presence of another person, your behavior may be noticed and interpreted as a message" (Verderber & Verderber 2013: 132)
"A family is a network of people who share their lives over long periods of time bound by ties of marriage, blood, or commitment, legal or otherwise, who consider themselves a family, and who share a significant history and anticipated future of functioning in a family relationship" (Verderber & Verderber 2013: 401)
The dynamics of Buddy's family changes overtime, as he gains a second family that he originally did not know existed. Buddy comes from a single-parent family by his ties to Papa Elf, but the closeness of the people of the North Pole can be considered a family as well, simply because of the aforementioned definition, which includes sharing a significant history. They would be considered a communal family, which is defined as a family of unmarried people related by nongenetic factors who participate in a cooperative living arrangement.
His "new" family with his biological father doesn't have as much of a history as his family at the North Pole, but a past is present, nonetheless. Buddy longs to know his father and to find a place to belong, as his birth mother has died. At the same time, Walter never even knew about Buddy.
Lastly, Buddy's relationship with Jovie takes a turn from acquaintances, to friends, to lovers. They eventually have a child, which is clear evidence of this progression. By the end of the movie it's clear that Buddy will remain in contact with his father, brother, and step-mom. He continues to visit the North Pole with Jovie and their daughter as well. All seem like they anticipate a future together.
Intimate or Close Friends
"Intimate or close friends are those few people with whom we share a high degree of interdependence, commitment, disclosure, affection, understanding, and trust" (Verderber & Verderber 2013: 164)
Buddy first shows a level of commitment to his biological father, Walter. Because Walter did not know Buddy existed, he assumed that when a 30-year old man dressed as an Elf showed up at his work, that it was a "Christmasgram" of sorts. When Buddy insisted that Walter was his father, Walter had security remove him. This persisted a few more times, until Walter eventually and begrudgingly brought Buddy home. Walter and Buddy experienced much difficulty in their relationship, as Walter has an authoritative parenting style, which is characterized by "firm control balanced with ample nurturing" (Verderber & Verderber 2013:406). This is clear based on his limited interaction with his children throughout the film, with intervention only when disciplinary action is required. He seems to change by the end of the movie, but this is his style while Buddy is getting to know him. This tension is difficult, but is overcome. In the end, Walter pulls through by helping to spread Christmas cheer through singing, ultimately tying up an underlying theme in the movie: Family is everything. This commitment to one another despite a difficult start, coupled with an eventual understanding of the different world Buddy comes with, turns an acquaintance into a close friends, and more importantly, into a father.
"Acquaintances are people we know by name and talk to when the opportunity arises but with whom our interactions are limited" (Verderber & Verderber 2013: 163).
Buddy is friendly from the start, so got to know many people by name throughout the movie, but nothing beyond interactions that involve small talk. An example of this would be his father's secretary, who Buddy would see and talk with briefly when he visited the office. Their relationship did not go beyond that.
"Spatial usage is the way we use the space that surrounds us during an interaction to send nonverbal messages to our partners. Personal space is the area that surrounds a person, moves with that person, and changes with the situation as well as moment to moment" (Verderber & Verderber 2013: 140).
- Intimate distance
is comfortable spacing for private conversations among intimates. It extends up to 18 inches. Buddy experiences this with Jovie, who he is romantic with and eventually kisses.
- Personal distance
is comfortable spacing for casual conversations with a normal amount of background noise. Buddy experiences this with coworkers while he is working his one and only shift in the mail room.
- Social distance
is comfortable spacing for impersonal or professional interactions such as a job interview or team meeting. Walter exhibits this during his meeting with Miles Finch to develop children's book ideas. It extends from 4 to 12 feet.
- Public distance
is comfortable spacing for people in a public forum where interaction and conversation are not desired. This occurs at Jovie's work, where people are shopping, sometimes in small groups, but interaction with unknown people is undesired.
Personal Space
Despite his experiences with all the different forms of personal space, Buddy has an issue with understanding the different ranges. He is used to everybody loving everybody and hugging. Sometimes he initiates unwanted physical interaction, or just gets too close to somebody. For example, he insists that his father tucks him in one night, which forces Walter to shift from a personal distance to an intimate distance with his son, which is uncomfortable for him based on his strained facial expression. Not only this, but Buddy initiates a "tickle fight" because he is unaware of the discomfort his individual personal space boundaries cause. Buddy also nudges in on a private conversation between his father and his father's secretary, which was about what to do with Buddy. He develops and exhibits more socially accepted behaviors by the end of the movie..
Buddy's development of an understanding of spatial usage showcases the change in his understanding of communicative norms, while simultaneously defining his relationships
"Empathy is the cognitive and affective process of perceiving the emotions others are feeling and then acting on our perception" (Verderber & Verderber 2013: 259)
Buddy's situation requires much empathy from all of those who are present in his transition from the North Pole to the real world. Although people initially believe he is crazy, they eventually recognize the goodness in his heart and try to put themselves in his shoes. Emily, Walter's wife, does this throughout the movie. She shows sympathetic responsiveness multiple times, specifically aimed at Buddy. Sympathetic responsiveness is empathizing by feeling concern, compassion, or sorrow for another person because he or she is in a distressing situation but not identifying with the specific emotion he or she is experiencing. Of course, Emily cannot understand the difficulty in being a child who never knew the truth about where he came from, and empathizes with Buddy by being an effective listener and helping him to feel a sense of belonging. She also is insistent that Walter does the same.
Buddy is extremely straightforward with his intentions with other people and leaves no intentions to question. He reads a list to his father indicating activities he wants to do with him without holding back for fear of rejection. "First we'll make snow angels for 2 hours, and then we'll go ice skating, and then we'll eat a whole roll of tollhouse cookie dough as fast as we can, and then to finish we'll snuggle." This straightforwardness contributes to his character development as an individual with a big heart and pure intentions.
Semantic Meaning
"Semantic meaning of an utterance is the meaning dreived from te language itself. At the semantic level, we are interested in the truth of the words. Denotation is the direct, explicit meaning of a word found in a written dictionary of the langauge community" (Verderber & Verderber 2013: 121)
Denotation accounts for many awkward encounters for Buddy. As someone without much social exposure other than to elves and Santa, he takes all words at face value without taking into consideration the possibility of sarcasm or other typical forms of banter. In one instance, Walter tells Buddy to get rid of his Elf clothes as soon as possible, and in turn Buddy drops his pants in the middle of the kitchen. Buddy relied too heavily on the denotation of the words, without taking into account the connotation of the words, which could have tipped Buddy off to the fact that Walter didn't mean it was something that had to be that immediate. This situation showcases Buddy's naivety as a character early in the movie. Though at the end of the movie his character still takes things quite literally, there is clear character development because Buddy does not always pursue an action based on someone's words.
Listening/Listening Style
"Listening is the process of receiving, constructing meaning from, and responding to spoken and/or nonverbal messages.... Listening style is your favored but usually unconscious approach to attending to your partner's message" (Verderber & Verderber 2013: 196-197).
"Listening styles reflect your preferences, attitudes, and predispositions about the how, where, when, who, and what of receiving messages" (Verderber & Verderber 2013: 197). Essentially, it's the automatic process that determines the priority at a given time during a conversation. A person like Walter, Buddy's father, has a time-oriented listening style. This means that when he listens, he prefers to have brief and swift conversations.
He showcases this often in his work life, where he is always rushing his associates to meet deadlines and sees time as precious.
While this is understandable in a work context, he carries this over into his family life. He often worries about how much time something will take up, such as our first introduction to his family when he chooses to eat dinner alone because he has too much work to do. Though this is only the excuse he is telling to his family, it still sends the nonverbal message that work is more important than family, and "precious" time that could have been spent with his family is prioritized elsewhere.
There are certainly aspects of the movie that relate to my interpersonal styles. I am very empathetic when it comes to other people's circumstances, which is reflected in Emily's character. She is kind to Buddy without judgment and tries her hardest to make him feel at home, just as I would with a friend or family member in need of help.

At the same time, Jovie has a lot of my communicative styles as well. She is sarcastic and cautious when entering new relationships.

While the move itself is unrealistic, the progression of interpersonal relationships is not. All of the relationships present in the movie go through the typical stages of relationship advancement and the relationships that are worked on thrive. This is the same in real life, as relationships that are note taken care of or deemed a priority will perish. Elf offers an innocent and thorough illustration of the progression of the different relationships we encounter in day to day life.
Verderber, K.S., & Verderber, R.F. (2013).
Inter-act: Interpersonal communication
. (13th ed., v-500. New York, New York: Oxford University Press

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