Themes in a film or screenplay: deliberate, subconscious or accidental?

When pitching one of my screenplays I recently came to the realisation that all my films have the same recurring themes, which I show through mostly sci-fi settings and dystopian circumstances:

  • The capacity for evil in absolutely everyone, and how far we will compromise our morals for people we love or to achieve our goals
  • Inner strength; specifically a person bettering/improving their situation entirely by their own determination and being independent.
  • Not conforming to a pre-determined path or accepting what you are told without question.
  • The meaning of home being attached more to a group of people than a place; and those people forming a found family

What this epiphany made me realise was that not only am I an even darker person than I realised, but I had subconsciously spread these themes throughout all my work.

When writing I’ve never sat down and thought ‘I want to convey these themes in this’, I just have an idea from which themes later seem to stem. I do consciously focus on representation, and obviously our own personal experiences and ideology will always come across in our writing to some extent – whether consciously or not. But, although I know themes are incredibly important in films, I’ve never actively put them into mine. Which made me wonder whether other writers and filmmakers do deliberately put themes into their work?

For instance, one film I’m currently writing is set in a totalitarian dictatorship, and there’s horrific amounts of surveillance and invasions of privacy. When developing the world and societal structure I did deliberately make it like that, but why I did it was simply because I thought it would add to the story and atmosphere — rather than because I was trying to comment on societies which do have constant surveillance etc. Then in one of my university lectures we were discussing the concept of surveillance societies (fascinating, fyi) and it put clear definitions and descriptions to things I’ve been thinking for years. I then realised that in my film I’d created a society like the ones we were discussing; one we ourselves are headed towards or even – dare I say it – currently living in. So did I subconsciously put my thoughts about surveillance society into my screenplay to comment on that? Or is it just a coincidence that my personal opinions match with themes I accidentally put into my film? And if it is a coincidence, why do all my screenplays end up having similar recurring themes as listed above? Perhaps even subconsciously I’m putting them in.

I think, while themes are important in films as they add substance and depth, it isn’t necessary to actively put themes into your work. When writing, if you are invested in the story, characters and world you are creating, themes will evolve out of your own beliefs and the situation within the film. But one thing is certain, having been aware of the themes I’ve found in my work, I’ll definitely check if they come up again.

Thanks for reading,


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