One of my favorite definitions of subtext (can't remember who said it, so go ahead and chime in on this) had something to do with a guy telling a girl he likes her shoes, but really meaning, "will you sleep with me?"
Still, I think visual scenes can also effectively feature subtext. And staying with the shoes = sex thing, I'd like to highlight two scenes that effectively delivered sex on a somewhat subtextual level (both times played for laughs, of course).
First, the absolute classic. A somewhat forgotten, but absolutely wonderful period romantic comedy is 1963's Tom Jones. Written by John Osborne, based on Henry Fielding's novel, and directed by Tony Richardson, it won Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Director, and Music Score Oscars.
In one of the most famous and hilarious scenes from the film, Tom finds himself at a country inn, dining with a bawdy wench (I've always loved that phrase, along with "brazen strumpet"), ample bosom straining against her overgarment (let's see what this post does for my Google searches). He is no stranger to sex, and many would see it as his sole driving force in the film. (Others might see it as the primary driving force in the world overall, but that's not a discussion for here and now!) They sit opposite each other, with the table between them piled high with a feast of epic proportions.
And then they begin to eat. The scene proceeds with them taking turns biting into different foods, making seductive eyes and facial expressions, and generally playing off each other in a dance of culinary debauchery. All they do is eat, but there is so much more there, and it is an absolute riot. I Googled to try to find some of the stills, but was unsuccessful. And I used to have a published version of the script that included a series of stills showing the progression of the scene, and let me tell you... The pictures themselves were hilarious and descriptive enough.
If you haven't seen the film, I highly recommend it.
The second scene is less successful, but still funny, I think. In 2004's "existential detective comedy" I Heart Huckabees, written by David O. Russell & Jeff Baena, directed by Russell, there is a scene about 2/3 of the way into the film between Jason Schwartzman and Isabelle Huppert. Having danced around their lust for each other, they finally begin a scene of consummation via dirty sex.
No, I mean that literally. For a few minutes, we watch as they playfully and comedically rub dirt on each other, push each other into puddles of mud, and the like. Effective and funny stuff that makes very clear what is "really" going on. Unfortunately, I think they shortchanged the scene's cleverness by ending with a more literal act of sex, taking what was solid and funny subtext and pushing it in our faces. Still, the earlier part of the scene works well on its own terms.
Perhaps the reason that sex plays so well in subtext is that it is something that remains somewhat taboo to discuss in our society, so in a sense it remains subtextual in typical conversations. Regardless, the same methods can be played out with other subtextual messages as well. See where the methods take you!
Tags: screenwriting, subtext, sex+scenes