Semiotic and Ideological Analysis of Extraordinary Measures

Valentin Voloshinov declared: ‘Whenever a sign is present, ideology is present too’ (Voloshinov 1973, 10). Signs do not merely reflect reality but involved in its construction; therefore those who control the sign systems also control the construction of reality. Film a media text, uses visual imagery to tell specific stories to promote specific ideologies. This essay will explore the film with the use of semiotics and ideology approaches.

Semiotics as the study of signs and signs are associated with visual images at various levels of usage, ideology on the other hand, is defined by Terry Eagleton as the process of production of meaning, signs and values in social life and also that, which offers a position for a subject. This film is an inspired true-life story from a book, titled ‘The Cure’, by Geeta Anand is a 106 minutes ‘drama’, released on the 26th of February 2010 in United Kingdom.


It’s centred on a Portland couple, John and Aileen Crowley, whose two amongst three children were diagnosed of a rare, deadly and genetic disorder disease, called ‘Pompe’- which long life span is nine years. John and Aileen Crowley has limited time to either enjoy their children while they can or find a cure for the deadly disease after Megan’s eight birthday party and Patrick’s muscles collapsing by the day.

Instead of wishing or waiting for a ‘miracle’, John Crowley, who is an advertising executive, puts his job at jeopardy, after many months of ‘no response’ messages and unsuccessful telephone conversation with Robert Stonehill, a researcher in Nebraska, who has done an extensive research for an enzyme cure but has no money to finance his laboratory and he’s ‘spiky’ attitude, many of his colleagues and sponsors cannot stand.

With many hurdle to cross, ranging from establishment of a ‘Pompe Disease Foundation’, to fund raising, to researcher’s anger attitude even during meetings with sponsors, to the deteriorating state of the children day by day, to other researchers coming on board, to the finale test of the enzyme anufactured by Robert Stonehill, by skipping protocols, after a major conflict between John Crowley and other executives of the organization, sponsoring the scientific experiment, which resulted to the termination of his employment, a ‘blessing in disguise’ leading to the long awaited miracle, as the disease became curable not only for the kids but for other victims such as ‘baby Megan’, particularly when used once there is a symptoms at infant. The film starts with a line of statement, ‘inspired by true invent’.

These are linguistics signs signifying the movie as a true-life story, preparing a good ground in the senses of its views. All the signs in various levels contribute to production of the myths on Parents’ unending love for their kids, going extra mile for them especially when related with death and life. For instance, the opening shot of helium filled balloons with one bearing the linguistic sign of ‘birthday girl’, in an office environment, signifying, a parent’s involvement in the celebration of a child’s growing status, even during working hour.

Leading to the introduction of John Crowley, who is the father of the young celebrating, who hastily dropped the call he was receiving, picked up the helium filled balloons, rushed out of the office, turn off the lights but came back to pick a gift item, with a close up shot on the gift item, alone in the scene, shows the importance of the gift in the movie. However, the gift as an iconic sign, denoting a lady driving a pink car, connotes the importance of the girl celebrating her eight birthday in the movie.

This opening sequence works as metonym for the rest of the narrative. The main cast hidden in the film that became a driver for the existence of the narrative was the ‘Birthday girl’ named Megan. She is a very significant character in the movie, by the emphasis placed on her, with camera angles, iconic signs, dialogue signs, musical, sound effect and graphic signs, giving a mythic meaning, ‘Megan’, which has a relationship with the ideology film. For instance, an introduction of the symptoms –“signs of some bodily alfunction. They lead whoever knows the correct way to interpret team to name and hence the nature of the disorder they are the symptoms of. The interpretation of the doctor is, thus an inference, and the symptom or signs of something which is not itself the illness but which leads a properly trained physician to the illness” (Sturrock, 1986, pg 74), linked with Pompe disease and its adverse effect on the muscular skeleton, respiratory organs and other delicate organs in the body, was signified in the film.

The light fading into black in the scene, when she was moved into the ICU, signifies the dark side of life for the parents and Megan. Also, the dialogue between doctor and parents on medical analysis signifies death hanging around the corner. The use of ‘extra- diegetic’ music in the film sequence, acts as indexical signs connoting the emotional register of that sequence, and then points out or reveal the emotional state of the Megan parents, who cant stand the death of their daughter as a blessing of pain relief. Bignell, J. eclares, “Music directly communicates emotion which the audience can share individually in the communal space of the cinema, as well as sharing the feeling with the characters represented in the film”, (Bignell, 1997, pg 190). Therefore, the combination of dialogue signs, visual signs, and sound effect suggests sympathy on the audience, thereby pulling the heartstrings of the audience, as the hope of Megan’s survival diminishes. A flower gift reading ‘get well soon’ from someone unidentified, presented to Megan signifies her importance to the family and the entire ‘community’ in the movie.

Shortly after that, a close up shot to an extreme close up shot of Megan eyes, staring into the fathers eyes for some minutes with a soft musical sound at the background slowly, cuts into the scene of the father in a business meeting with an extreme close up shot on his eyes, steadily as he’s name is called and a question is asked regarding the business of the organization, instead of answering, he stood up and walked out, as if he’s just woken from a scary dream and said, ‘I have to go’, ‘to where? ’ some asked, ‘to Nebraska’ he answered.

This whole sequence introduces the audience to the central theme and the inspiration behind the title given to the film ‘Extraordinary Measures’. It connotes, ‘not waiting for a miracle, go after the miracle’ even if it means losing well paid job, already financing the health insurance of the kids at hand. The dialogue sign between Dr. Robert Stonehill and John Crowley, when Dr. Stonehill, reluctantly picked the colour green enzymes as the best, due to the previous argument that, he is not part of the leadership team of the research groups.

John said, ‘thank you’ at the return of the scientific analysis note, but Dr. Stone hill answered, ‘I didn’t do it for you’. The question then is ‘for whom did he do it? ’ The next scene answered this question just by an iconic sign of a fish, signifying Megan, the giver of the iconic fish on his first visit to their house, which gives the answer. It signifies Megan, the driving force behind every move of finding the cure. Why was the film produced even after there is a book on the story line? What does the producer/director of the film wants to achieve by producing such a film?

Or what is the ideology of the film? The film as an intertextual media text creates awareness of a rare, genetic and fast killing disease called pompe disease. Knowing that pictures last longer in human memory than what is ‘read’ in a book or ‘heard’ from another source, the necessity of representing the book ‘The Cure’, in moving pictures with actors and actresses such as Brendan Fraser as John Crowley, Harrison Ford as Dr. Robert Stonehill and Keri Russell as Aileen Crowley, stars of the Hollywood film industry and characters that the public can identify with makes the film easy to associate with.

Not only just creating awareness of the disease, but presenting an in-depth analysis of, what the disease is all about and the availability of its cure. The ideology of film, presents a stereotype of an idealistic Father, who stretches himself with unusual methods, to find a miracle for his dying kids. Time not on his side, he’s pushed by courage and determination against all odds, into joining forces with an isolated medical researcher, Dr. Robert Stonehill to discover a life-saving cure for his kids. Travelling from cities to cities, his kids body system deteriorating, spend sleepless ights gathering information and devising loose ends to every knot tied, face to face with hatred from a colleague at work, but didn’t quit because he’s been driven by the power of love and faith. Ideologically, the patriarchy nature is believed to be very determined above all odds, would not back for any, not even death, does not want to be seen as a looser because of the in-built ego nature has brought on him and always want to be known to be in charge of his affairs, still supporting the male gender domination on the female gender and on his world as a whole.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *