I recently watched a movie in which I expected entertainment. I got it. I expected humor. The story delivered. Romance. Check that.
What I didn't expect was to, weeks later, still be thinking about the characters. I didn't expect to remember the last lines of the movie. Who remembers those? And yet, the subtext in that dialogue left an indelible impression on me.
The ending to this movie was just incredible. After stewing on the why for a few days, I realized that the depth and allure of that final scene and its dialogue could be traced back to subtext.
Let me set it up.
Through extraordinary circumstances, loner dentist meets wounded heroine. The heroine has a sore tooth that the dentist hero offers to take a look at. They become friends. He makes her laugh (which is an awesome part of the storyline) and she helps him to see how he hides from the world. Their relationship grows into something lovely and believable, but then secrets are exposed and because of the heroine's past, she no longer feels she can trust the hero.
In the end, after some eye-opening situations, the heroine shows up at the hero's work. Things are awkward at first because you can feel the pain between them.
So the heroine shows up and after airing some things out, looks at the hero (who happens to be working on a patient) and says, "It hurts when I smile."
The hero turns to her and pauses, then he says, "I can fix that."
Wow! On the surface she could be talking about her teeth and since he's a dentist, obviously he can fix the problem.
But beneath the surface?
Smiling without him hurts. She misses him. She is in pain without him. And he is the fix to her wounds.
This is the beauty of subtext. It allows the reader to draw their own conclusions and to experience their own feelings about the subject. You don't tell the reader how to feel. You don't tell the reader how the characters feel. Instead, using subtlety and subtext, you allow the reader to intuit the emotions on their own.
In my opinion, it adds depth and more power to a scene when the audience experiences the emotions rather than thinks about them.
Do you have any great examples of subtext that you've seen? How about an example from your own work?