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  • Jeremy Neal

How Modern Films are Inspired by Older Movies: Kimi and Rear Window

Kimi directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Films tell many stories at once: the director’s vision, the soundtrack’s voice, the story’s message, the actors’ breath, the crew’s blood, and the narrative itself. The most profound and beloved of these films also serve as time stamps of the era they were created in, acting as a remembrance to the impact the film has had on humanity and its history. These classic and highly respected movies hold a special place in people’s hearts.

Sometimes, filmmakers opt to produce complete remakes of successful films. These remakes are driven to produce the same great story to a modern era of moviegoers. Although there are many well-executed examples like The Great Gatsby (2013) or Ocean’s Eleven (2001), quite a lot of them miss the mark. These failed Hollywood remakes have the high probability of isolating the former audience in an attempt to provide innovation and moderness to a contemporary audience. The 2019 remake of The Lion King (1994) was an impressive and expensive CGI visual feature that prides itself on that. But according to Rotten Tomatoes, The Lion King (2019) was a “by-the-numbers retelling that lacks the energy and heart that made the original so beloved”. Not all remakes garner great success.

Since movie classics are regarded so highly, it can be a difficult challenge to juggle innovation and authenticity to produce a creative and engaging final product. But one-to-one remakes aren’t the only types of movies that borrow elements of an earlier film. Some films carve out their own identity while simultaneously paying homage to a classical and/or beloved movie through its storytelling structure, direction, cinematography, and sound design.

Let’s take the film Kimi (2022) by Steven Soderbergh. A highly stylized thriller driven by a soft science fiction proposition, Kimi follows Angela Childs, an audio data streaming analyst for an AI company called Amygdala during the COVID-19 pandemic, who uncovers a murder while listening to audio recordings from an activated Kimi device that acts similarly to an Amazon Alexa or Google Home. Through her bouts of intense anxiety attacks and agoraphobia, Angela tries seeks justice for the women that was viciously murdered– but there is a catch. The murderer is Bradley Hasling, the CEO of Amygdala about to put his company up for an initial public offering. If the news of the murder surfaces, he will suffer immense monetary and legal repercussions. Now, Angela must save her own life as hired assassins rampantly pursue her and the information she carries.

Zoë Kravitz as Angela Childs in Steven Soderbergh's Kimi.

To an avid movie enthusiast, Kimi is just another thriller movie, but those familiar with Hitchcock’s work will easily recognize the tribute. Rear Window (1954) is an American mystery thriller film that follows the professional photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jefferies who is stuck at home recovering from a leg injury. Handicapped to his wheelchair, Jeff looks out of his apartment window and observes the daily habits of several neighbors in a building across the way. Similar to Angela’s storyline in Kimi, Jeff witnesses and suspects that a murder has taken place between a man and a woman. The story is pieced together as Jeff contacts a police detective, Jeff’s girlfriend enters the killer’s apartment to learn more, and too much involvement leads to Jeff being face to face with the true killer.

James Stewat as L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jefferies in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.

These two films share a very similar story arch but most notably, Steven Soderbergh opted to copy some of the cinematographic imagery used in the apartment scenes of Hitchcock’s Rear Window. The two most obvious visual parallels between the two films are in the immersive camera work and the longshots. The immersive camera work showcases both Angela’s and Jeff’s apartment, mental state, loneliness, intrigue, and fear while the longshots draw attention to the supporting characters’ daily routines from the isolated main characters’ perspective from their own apartment. These techniques paired together abstract the lonely and boring ambience of both of the main character’s current lives from the thrilling murder events that pursue later on in the film to build from a low-stakes beginning to the exponentially increasing thrill until the end.

Long shot window scene from Kimi.

Long shot window scene from Rear Window.

It’s no wonder that Steven Soderbergh opted to copy these plot and cinematic techniques from the “Master of Suspense” himself. It works.

This brings me to my conclusion. Modern films can take tried and true elements of narrative and cinematic design and make it fresh! Although not all exact remakes suffer from a spoiled identity, it's imperative to not diminish the work of the original in favor of modernization and profit. Kimi hits the mark on this by offering a modern story born from Hitchcock’s work rather than a modern duplication. It is not a hand-me-down cash grab. It has an identity of itself that can stand true and withhold the test of time like its predecessor.

I think people are tired of the Hollywood duplications and the constant reboots of dead franchises. Sometimes it’s okay to let art die so what’s born from it can flourish anew. It’s important to recognize how filmmakers such as Steven Soderbourgh live and breathe this philosophy to inspire filmmakers of all ages to create something new inspired from old– not the same thing.


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