Subtitles

Adel Gabot

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7:32AM

There is this scene in the movie Me Before You where Emilia Clarke’s character watches her very first subtitled movie with the wheelchair-bound character of  Sam Claflin, and comes out of it enthralled and completely taken by the French movie they just saw.

Some people wouldn’t experience the same fascination.

My brother, for example, has this aversion to watching anything that has subtitles, and he much prefers the material be dubbed instead. That’s why he skips on a lot of non-English movies and anime because of that, effectively shutting himself off from a lot of excellent material. He doesn’t want to have to read the dialogue off the screen and divide his attention between that and the movie’s visuals.

It’s akin to reading a book while watching a movie at the same time. Or maybe he just doesn’t want to make the effort; it does ask a lot of you to multitask like that. I kind of understand his point, but at the same time I don’t share it.

There is something to the argument that taking the time to read the translated dialogue does take the attention away from the visual composition and action that occurs on the screen, and that you would be shortchanging all the effort the filmmakers put in in composing the scene.

But then again, you get a lot of unspoken cues from the original audio, even if you can’t understand it.

Example:

MOVIE DIALOGUE: Yung buwaka ng inang hinayupak na yun! Putang ina nya!

DUBBED: That bastard!

You see what I mean?

There’s something in the tone and inflection of the un-understood spoken dialogue that speaks volumes, the degree of happiness or anger or emotion that’s discernible even if you can’t understand the words. That’s something that’s irretrivably lost when translated and dubbed into a language you can understand. Not to mention actually losing something in the translation (which, to be clear, you still lose in the subtitling—but at least you preserve the sentiment in the original audio).

Besides, I think there’s something valuable lost when a movie is dubbed in American English—you lose the authentic flavor and character inherent in the film which makes it different and unique and original. Reading the translation of the script on the screen doesn’t affect that at all, and I think well worth the effort.

I have to make peace with being distracted by reading words on the screen while I’m watching a movie at the same time—it’s simply the price I have to pay because I’m not multilingual. I can live with it. Besides, I think the movie’s the better for it, rather than having the dialogue simply dubbed over by voice actors who inadvertently change the meaning and subtext of entire scenes.

I’m on this topic because I’ve recently been on an anime binge this past week where I’ve watched dozens of episodes of Japanese animation, all subtitled, and I got to thinking about the whole issue. My brother walked in on me watching one, hmmphed derisively and left. Well, to each his own.

Of course, there simply is no substitute for watching a movie in the native language in which it was made in. But until I get around to learning to speak in that language, I’m going to watch it subtitled. You can keep your fancy dubs.


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