For the most part, movie posters only need one direct or striking image to grab the attention and turn someone from a potential viewer into someone whose interest is so piqued they’ll want to see the movie as soon as possible (well, mostly – there’s always someone who’ll resist). One such poster is for the Russian movie Leviathan.
From the start, it’s easy to see why this poster is so effective. A man sits on a rock on the edge of the sea. His back is turned to us, and if this was the only part of the image we could see, then we could assume that he’s looking out across the water, perhaps watching the mountains we can see in the distance, or the horizon. We might think he’s looking wistfully, or anxiously, or even desperately, but still we wouldn’t know for sure. But the wider image – the whole image that we can see at once – tells us he’s looking at the remains of a large sea creature, in all likelihood a whale. He’s looking at this giant collection of bones, but the best part is: why can’t he still be looking at it wistfully, or anxiously, or even desperately?
Of course, none of these things might apply, but it’s still a lonely, melancholy image to look at, and a reflection of the tone of the movie perhaps. It prompts many questions as well. Why is the man there in the first place? What has brought him to this spot? And why are the whale’s remains still there so long after the flesh and muscle and sinew has been picked from it? Why haven’t the bones been removed? (Perhaps it doesn’t matter if they’re there or not; are they worth so much attention?) Is the man fascinated or horrified, or unmoved even, by this display of the apparent complacency of nature? Is he there out of curiosity, or respect? Does he see himself, or his future perhaps, there in the jutting bones of a once-proud sea creature? Or is it a more immediate reflection of the man’s life and circumstances?
Of course, it could all be none of these things; none of them might be relevant. But that’s the beauty of the poster: it provokes so many ideas about what the image might mean, both in terms of the character, and the movie itself. So the movie becomes a challenge: to see if any of these ideas are correct. And if they aren’t it doesn’t matter, because it’s important enough to enagage with the poster and give it that much thought. It’s a thought-provoking image, very carefully chosen (make no mistake about that), and in some way it speaks to everyone that sees it. And yes, it is haunting, but for reasons that may only become apparent if you watch the movie.
Otherwise, it’s quite a straihgtforward poster, design-wise, with a handful of fulsome, praiseworthy quotes above the title, all indicating just how good is the movie, and reinforcing the potential viewer’s need to see it, and how well they’ll be rewarded for doing so. These kinds of critical soundbites emphasise how well recieved the movie has been amongst the critics, and promise an exceptional viewing experience, and on a par with the poster’s salutary effectiveness. Add the regular formatted credits aong the bottom of the image and you have another poster that acts as an intriguing reference to the movie it’s promoting, and an arresting, complex, mysterious image all by itself.