Paper: Tropic Thunder Movie Poster

I had the misfortune to take a class on Modern Art during my senior year of college. The first assignment was to write a paper on a picture we’d seen and analyze it according to some of the earlier readings in the class. I wrote about the Tropic Thunder movie poster. You’ll notice I skip mentioning blackface (and my professor did, at great length); this is because we were limited to an extraordinarily short number of words.

Tropic Thunder Movie Poster

The Tropic Thunder movie poster provides a good introduction to many of the concepts discussed in class. The poster features 3 men (apparently soldiers) posed together in front of an exploding background, along with the names of the 3 actors: BLACK, STILLER, DOWNEY JR. At first glance, it is an iconic action-war movie poster and you realize it is an advertisement (ie, a representation) for an action-war movie.

Yet associating it with this icon reveals differences that change one’s perception of the movie involved. The tagline associated with the movie: “Get some.” Get what? Get tropic thunder? That sounds like a porn star or something. One of the apparent soldiers (BLACK) wears rose-colored sunglasses, has bleached-white hair, and is screaming— well, it’s not clear how exactly, but he’s not screaming in rage or in horror. The next (STILLER) is the least off but his expression is just a little too intense. And the third (DOWNEY JR) just looks goofy, is smoking a cigar, and…hey, isn’t Downey a white guy? Why’s a black actor labeled as Downey? And Black and Stiller, when did they start doing serious films? These departures from an iconic action/war movie all combine to tell us that the film poster is actually for a comedy.

The poster also allows a discussion of representation and photographic truth. Because we know this is a movie poster, nobody believes that the events it represents actually happened. But it does represent a coherent set of events (ie, a story) that might be remembered by those who experience them (watch the movie) and brought forth by viewing the poster. And for those who haven’t seen the movie, the poster itself might cause a chuckle and inspire the viewer to imagine such a movie. And while the representation implies that photographic truth is not absolute, viewers still retain some expectation that there are photographic truths within the poster: the explosion might be a computer render, but somebody took a picture of the actors in these costumes and then put them on top of the explosion. But this assessment is only partly true: while (presumably) the actors really wore these costumes, viewing the other three posters (which feature each actor in the same pose, but in a full-body shot) show that the actors were photographed separately. So there is still photographic truth within the poster, but it is even less than one might assume.