Bullet in the Brain: from text to film (2023)

Bullet in the Brain is a digital short film by David von Ancken which was awarded many prizes in various film festivals and selected as the most " hypnotic " film in the Hypnotic Million Dollar Film Festival in 2001. It is one of the very first films ever to reach notoriety through the Web and it helped launch David von Ancken's career. Von Ancken was offered a $1 million dollar deal with Universal Pictures and Hypnotic at a special presentation during the Sundance Film Festival in 2001. The film follows a single character, Anders, a professor of literature, who is gunned down during a bank robbery.

The film is adapted from Bullet in the Brain, a short story by Tobias Wolff whose rights von Ancken had acquired in 1998. Tobias Wolff is one of the great masters of the short story on the contemporary American literary scene along with such great short story writers as Raymond Carver or even Ernest Hemingway with whom he shares a very specific tone. There is a razor-sharp relentlessness in Wolff's handling of the narrative, which makes the reading of his stories a captivating experience. While remaining faithful to Edgar Allan Poe's theory of the unity of effect, Wolff often takes the reader off-balance by resorting to different narrative voices. The simplicity of his style gives added weight to each carefully chosen word and the characters are brought to life thanks to the sheer honesty of his writing. It was therefore an interesting if not a daunting challenge for von Ancken.

(Video) Bullet in the Brain - Tobias Wolff

The short film format is in keeping with the brevity of the short story as such and the choices made by von Ancken are highly reminiscent of his work on a number of television series. The text begins in medias res, a device that allows the writer to plunge the reader in the midst of things:

Anders couldn't get to the bank until before it closed, so of course the line was endless and he got stuck behind two women whose loud, stupid conversation put him in a murderous temper. He was never in the best of tempers anyway, Anders - a book critic known for the weary, elegant savagery with which he dispatched almost everything he reviewed.

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Wolff deliberately chooses not to describe the main protagonist and piles up negative connotations regarding the situation and Anders's personality. He is also presented as a book critic, a profession that may be seen as highly uninventive. The location is also made clear from the outset.

Von Ancken chooses a completely different angle. The sound of a siren may be heard, followed by a series of very brief shots taken with what seems to be a hand-held camera. The point of view is subjective and, through a series of flashes, one catches several glimpses of a silhouette, a tall man walking briskly. The man is wearing a casual shirt and braces. He does not look very neat. Now and again, one sees the blurred image of his face. The absence of credits heightens this opening sequence. This is the sort of sequence one would expect to see in a television series. The second sequence shows the protagonist winding his watch and checking that it works properly. It is 2:55 p.m. He is lecturing a group of students. This sequence allows the audience to become better acquainted with Anders. One sees his "savagery" in action. The sequence is rather long, dominated by Anders's speech, filled with his bitter irony and his frustration at his students not being able to choose the right word. He hammers down his spite, shows them the portrait of a woman painted by Picasso, tries to imprint in their minds the importance of truth in the choice of one's words. The speech is compelling, almost mesmerizing, all the more so as the students remain silent. The weight of their silence can actually be felt on screen. The speech is interspersed with glimpses of Anders as he makes his way to the bank and then insists on being allowed in although it is almost closing time. The viewer understands that sequence one and two are intertwined and that the lecturing is actually a flashback. But the flashback is not an external narrative device. The constant reminder of Anders's walk towards the bank combines two time sequences and somehow enables the viewer to apprehend the film from Anders's point of view. The watch is not only a time marker that indicates the time span before closing time; it is also an old-fashioned watch that requires winding. It suits the looks of the academic but it also refers to a more distant past.

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The third sequence takes the viewer into the bank and actually corresponds to the beginning of the short story. The script borrows from the text quite closely and the tension of the dialogue is brought up to the surface. Tom Noonan's magnificent performance also contributes to the heightening of the tension. The discrepancy between Anders's attitude as a professor and his behavior inside the bank is disturbing and yet it illustrates the core meaning of the story: Anders's quest for the true meaning of life will bring about his own death in a tragic fit of laughter. "Capiche" means to understand and it is the last word Anders utters. The staccato rhythm of the editing, the pseudo point of view shots, the blurred images combined with the distorted angles chosen, are a reminder of the action scenes one is familiar with in most television series. The brutality of the images echoes the coarseness of the dialogue. The tension is also heightened by the treatment of sound. Behind the words uttered there is a kind of muffled silence that brings out each word, a weight one actually senses in the text and which is the mark of Tobias Wolff's style. The end of the sequence brings the viewer halfway through the film, and corresponds to the end of the first half of the short story.

Anders burst out laughing. He covered his mouth with both hands and said, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry,' then snorted helplessly through his fingers and said, 'Capiche - oh, God, capiche, ' and at that the man with the pistol raised the pistol and shot Anders right in the head.

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The robber's gun is pointed towards the audience, a shot that was introduced by E. S. Porter in The Great Train Robbery (1903) and also used on various occasions by Alfred Hitchcock, notably in Spellbound (1945). The shooting indicates the end of the sequence and introduces sequence number four thanks to a voice-over. One is first led to believe this is actually spoken by a journalist covering the event but this voice-over very rapidly becomes an omniscient narrative voice that follows the bullet's course as it enters Anders's brain. The text and the film coincide.

The last sequence accounts for the title of both the film and the story. The alliteration focuses the reader and the viewer on speed. The sequence is clearly delineated as in the text. The voice-over first refers to what he did not remember and then recalls what he did remember while the bullet was entering his brain at full speed. These are intense moments rendered first through an accumulation of chaotic flashes: Distorted close-ups of Anders's face, driving through a tunnel at full speed, Anders walking in the city, Anders lying dead, various reflections of Anders as he makes his way towards the bank, his first love, his wife, his daughter, the city at night in shades of blue. The piling up of such flashes contrasts with the smoothness of the tone of the voice-over. In the second part, one switches to a specific episode. Anders, as a child, remembers a grammatical mistake made by one of his cousins during a baseball game. Anders wears the same watch he is seen winding years later as a teacher. The watch is not mentioned at all in the text, but in the film version it becomes essential in order to illustrate the passing and the halting of time. Anders chooses not to correct his cousin's mistake, he looks relaxed on screen, and he smiles to himself. The whole atmosphere is almost idyllic and yet one is actually inside Anders's brain as he is about to die. The script follows the text closely; the film ends with Anders watching the city at night from the top of a building, time is running out but there is still time to remember…

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The bullet is already in the brain; it won't be outrun forever, or charmed to a halt. In the end it will do its work and leave the troubled skull behind, dragging its comet's tail of memory and hope and talent and love into the marble hall of commerce. That can't be helped. But for now Anders can still make time. Time for the shadows to lengthen on the grass, time for the tethered dog to bark at the flying ball, time for the boy in the right field to smack his sweat-blackened mitt and softly chant, They is, they is, they is.


What is the main message of Bullet in the Brain? ›

Nostalgia and Innocence

These scenes illustrate Anders's past emotional innocence, showing how he used to be the type of man to attend antiwar rallies, memorize poetry, and wake up laughing. In contrast, Anders's death is the final, unhappy culmination of his now joyless life.

Why did Wolff tell us what answers did not remember? ›

Wolff gives us a moment in the thoughts of the dying Anders, by telling us what he doesn't remember. Much of what he doesn't remember is what we expect from him already - because of what we have already learned about him via our brief encounter with him in the story thus far.

What does Anders not remember in Bullet in the Brain? ›

The readers learn the background of the man such as his past with his wife and daughter. “Anders did not remember his wife, whom he had also loved before she exhausted him with her predictability, or his daughter, now a sullen professor of economics at Dartmouth” (160).

Why does Anders laugh in Bullet in the Brain? ›

Anders is a jaded, cynical book critic, and the protagonist of “Bullet in the Brain.” When he visits a bank that is then robbed by criminals, the robbers' clichéd speech causes Anders to laugh, leading one robber to shoot Anders in retaliation.

What is the basic concept of bullet? ›

A bullet is a projectile, usually containing lead, fired through a rifle or handgun barrel. A slug is a solid projectile, usually of lead, fired through a shotgun barrel. Shot is a group of lead, steel, tungsten alloy, or bismuth pellets fired through a shotgun barrel.

What is bullet point summary? ›

What is Bullet Point Summary? A bullet-point summary allows you to present the vital points in a text concisely and adequately. It is effective because it compiles all the essential information needed in a brief amount of space. Bullet point is a short summation of the key points of a broader piece of information.

What is an important quote from Old School by Tobias Wolff? ›

“a true piece of writing is a dangerous thing. It can change your life.” “The beauty of a fragment is that it still supports the hope of brilliant completeness.” “You boys know what tropism is, it's what makes a plant grow toward the light.

What is the significance of the afternoon that Anders does remember what do the final words they is symbolize for him? ›

What is the significance of the afternoon that Anders does remember? What do the final word, " They is," symbolizes for him? Anders dies recalling a time when he was still young, innocent, and uncorrupted, far removed from the sneering cynic he has become.

How does bullet in the brain end? ›

A boy from out of town, Coyle's cousin, joins the game and asks to play shortstop, claiming it is the best position “they is.” The mispronunciation excites Anders, as he appreciates its “unexpectedness.” The bullet continues to travel through Anders's brain while this memory unfolds, and the story ends with Anders ...

Does the brain never forget? ›

Our brain tends to forget things that we wish we would always remember. And yet, it cannot forget certain things we wish never occurred and existed.

What happens if Anders lives? ›

If Anders Survived: The Inquisitor can ask Varric Tethras about his fate. If Hawke sided with the mages, Varric states that Anders fled with the Circle of Magi and stayed with them for awhile. A lot of mages blamed him for forcing them to live as fugitives and he had to move on.

What is the tone of Bullet in the Brain? ›

This pivotal moment in “Bullet in the Brain” acts as one of the final tone transitions of the story. As this dangerous (and fearful) tone fades from the lines, target male readers form an empathetic tone as the story uncovers background of Anders's troubled life.

What begins as soon as the bullet enters Anders brain? ›

Anders cannot stop himself from laughing at the robber's words, despite the fact that the robber has a gun pointed at him. In retaliation, the robber shoots Anders in the head. The bullet starts to travel through Anders's brain, starting a chain of “neurotransmissions” in Anders's mind.

How does Anders react when the teller closes her line? ›

Anders is also angry with the girl in front of him when she whines about the teller closing their window, telling her she is overdramatic. Most people would be slightly annoyed with these interactions, but murder would never come to mind.

When was Bullet in the Brain written? ›

Answer and Explanation: The short story "Bullet in the Brain" was first published in 1996. It was written by Tobias Wolff.

What is the bullet in real life? ›

A bullet is a kinetic projectile, a component of firearm ammunition that is shot from a gun barrel.

What are the 4 main parts of a bullet? ›

The basic components of ammunition are the case, primer, powder, and projectile.

What are 4 characteristics of a bullet? ›

Some of the class characteristics found on a fired bullet are (1) the caliber of the bullet (diameter), (2) the number of lands and grooves, (3) the twist of the rifling (left or right), and (4) the widths of the land and groove impressions.

What is the 3 bullet points rule? ›

Limit the number of bullets to the fewest necessary: three. Make is easy for them. They are more likely to be able to process and remember what you are telling them, and they are more likely to appreciate it and respond favorably.

What are bullet point answers? ›

Create precise and informative bullet points that can provide quick and valuable answers to the customers' questions.

What is the symbol of a bullet? ›

In typography, a bullet or bullet point, , is a typographical symbol or glyph used to introduce items in a list.

What is a famous quote about learning from the past? ›

"We can learn from history, but we can also deceive ourselves when we selectively take evidence from the past to justify what we have already made up our minds to do." "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." "Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it."

What is the quote about every child can learn? ›

There's a famous quote throughout the education world by George Evans, who said, “Every child can learn. Just not on the same day or in the same way.” It's not that students don't want to learn, they are just not being taught in a way that they can learn.

Who wrote the quote never stop learning? ›

Quote by Donald T. Phillips: “The best leaders never stop learning.”

What description captures the character of Anders best at the beginning of Bullet in the Brain? ›

Anders is presented to be an arrogant and unsympathetic character at the beginning of the story. His interaction with the woman in front of him shows how he is pessimistic about people and does not care about other's feelings.

What question does the speaker repeat in this poem a sight in camp in the daybreak gray and dim? ›

what is the poem a sight in camp in the daybreak gray and dim about? what question does the speaker repeat in the poem? who are you?

Who published bullet in the brain by Tobias Wolff? ›

Product Details
BN ID:2940169633436
Publisher:Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Publication date:12/15/2013
Edition description:Unabridged
Dec 15, 2013

What happens when a bullet hits the skull? ›

A bullet trajectory through key blood vessels in the brain can result in rapidly expanding blood clot in the brain that can critically compress the important brain tissue resulting in immediate death at the scene. If the victim survives the initial insult, the issue becomes the increasing pressure inside the skull.

Where do thoughts go when you forget them? ›

While you are thinking and engaging your memory centres, synapses between neurons become stronger, and over time they may weaken. Interestingly, sometimes thoughts and memories that have been long-forgotten, may be accessed again when you have strong enough information to activate those same groups of neurons!

Does your brain forget trauma? ›

In some cases, such as with injury or illness, memories may fade away as the result of damage to specific parts of the brain. When it comes to amnesia from a traumatic experience, however, memories may still be there — just hidden away and inaccessible.

Is there a person who never forgets? ›

Hyperthymesia is an ability that allows people to remember nearly every event of their life with great precision. Hyperthymesia is rare, with research identifying only a small number of people with the ability.

What happens if you refuse to help Anders? ›

If Hawke refuses to help Anders from the start or refuses to distract the Grand Cleric later, they can not subsequently talk to Anders, the armor stays the same and dialogue with him will be slightly different in The Last Straw.

What happens if you don't recruit Anders? ›

No effect... Anders is part of DA2, no matter what you decided. :/ Thou that is a good question, is he still a Grey warden?

Should I let Anders live? ›

Either way, he deserves to die. He killed at least dozens of innocent people and the fallout of his actions killed hundreds or even thousands more. It's not meant as a punishment, it's meant to remove a dangerous individual, to stop him from killing more people.

What is situational irony in bullet in the brain? ›

Answer and Explanation: Situational irony is one type of irony used in the story, "Bullet in the Brain" by Tobias Wolff because the outcome is very different from what is expected. Wolff gives us a moment in the thoughts of the dying Anders, by telling us what he doesn't remember.

Why is bullet in the brain in third person? ›

Answer and Explanation: Wolff's short story ''Bullet in the Brain'' is told in the third-person limited narration: the reader is privy to the inner-thoughts of the main character Anders, but not of the other individuals populating the story.

What do bullet notes look like? ›

A commonly used symbol to represent a bullet point is a centered dot ( ), but many different symbols and characters can be used in bullet point lists. Sometimes, bulleted lists even use numbers and/or letters.

What doesn t Anders remember as the bullet goes through his brain why? ›

Anders did not remember how his eyes had burned at those sounds. He did not remember the surprise of seeing a college classmate's name on the jacket of a novel not long after they graduated, or the respect he had felt after reading the book.

What does the brain do as soon? ›

After processing its many sensory inputs,the brain initiates motor outputs (coordinated mechanical responses) that are appropriate to the sensory input it receives. The spinal cord then carries this motor information from the brain through the PNS to various locations in the body (such as muscles and glands).

What part of the brain controls how fast you run? ›

Scientists have taken a step closer towards understanding what happens in the brain when we begin to run or walk. A new research project shows that two centres in the midbrain sends signals to the spinal cord to communicate when your legs should start moving, and how fast.

Why did Anders laugh in Bullet in the Brain? ›

Anders is a jaded, cynical book critic, and the protagonist of “Bullet in the Brain.” When he visits a bank that is then robbed by criminals, the robbers' clichéd speech causes Anders to laugh, leading one robber to shoot Anders in retaliation.

What is the summary of the story bullet in the brain? ›

The story is about an angry and bitter book critic trapped at a bank during a robbery; when he ridicules the robbers, they shoot him fatally in the head. The bullet triggers an ecstatic memory from his youth. As time slows, he basks in its recollection.

What is the theme of bullet in the brain? ›

Nostalgia and Innocence

These scenes illustrate Anders's past emotional innocence, showing how he used to be the type of man to attend antiwar rallies, memorize poetry, and wake up laughing. In contrast, Anders's death is the final, unhappy culmination of his now joyless life.

What is the tone of the bullet in the brain? ›

This pivotal moment in “Bullet in the Brain” acts as one of the final tone transitions of the story. As this dangerous (and fearful) tone fades from the lines, target male readers form an empathetic tone as the story uncovers background of Anders's troubled life.

What is the falling action of bullet in the brain? ›

The bullet passing through Anders' skull assuming a quality of slow-motion through the decelerated narrative style; Anders' final thoughts before death are expressed. Falling action and conclusion: the bullet continues through Anders' brain and the narrator explains that Anders will soon be dead.

What is the theme of bullet points? ›

The central theme discussed within Bullet Points is race. Brown examines how Black communities are treated by the police of America, this poem becoming his response. Race and racism are, therefore, at the heart of this poem. Another theme that Brown explores in the poem is violence.

What is the role of death in the bullet in the brain? ›

in tobias wolff's "bullet in the brain," he uses death as a flashback and final thought to show the character's life. Analyzes how tobias wolff uses anders' death and his flashback of what he has done in the past to show the reader that life is short, so live and enjoy it before it ends.

What part of the brain controls melody? ›

The recognition and understanding of pitch and tone are mainly handled by the auditory cortex. This part of the brain also does a lot of the work to analyze a song's melody and harmony. Some research shows that the cerebellum and prefrontal cortex contribute, too.

What part of the brain lights up when you hear words? ›

Neurons in the brain's motor cortex light up during speech of words and syllables.

What part of the brain controls memory emotion and hearing? ›

Amygdala: Limbic structure involved in many brain functions, including emotion, learning and memory.

What happens during the falling action? ›

A story's falling action is the action that occurs immediately after the big climax has taken place and the action shifts towards resolution instead of escalation. The action is now no longer rising, instead it is now falling and taking us (the viewer/reader) onwards to the end of the journey.

What is the falling action function? ›

What Is Falling Action? In storytelling, falling action refers to the period after the dramatic confrontation of the climax. This portion of the narrative helps deflate the plot's tension and gives the character time to unwind after the emotional scene.

Why do bullets fall? ›

Once the gases stop pushing it, it begins to slow down due to two forces - the resistance of the air that it's pushing through, and the downward suck of gravity. Typically, a bullet will take around 30 seconds to climb to a height of around three kilometres, at which point it has a velocity of zero. Then it falls.

What are some examples of bullet points? ›

Bullet points should have capital letters and full stops if they are a full sentence. For example: The capital of England is London. The largest city in France is Paris.

What are bullet characters? ›

In typography, a bullet or bullet point, •, is a typographical symbol or glyph used to introduce items in a list.

What is the special character for bullet point? ›

The Unicode character for showing the dot symbol or bullet point is U+2022 .

What happens to the brain during death? ›

Your heart no longer beats, your breath stops and your brain stops functioning. Studies suggest that brain activity may continue several minutes after a person has been declared dead. Still, brain activity isn't the same as consciousness or awareness. It doesn't mean that a person is aware that they've died.

Why does brain death happen? ›

Brain death can occur when the blood and/or oxygen supply to the brain is stopped. This can be caused by: cardiac arrest – when the heart stops beating and the brain is starved of oxygen. heart attack – a serious medical emergency that occurs when the blood supply to the heart is suddenly blocked.

What happens to the brain when someone is brain dead? ›

Brain death (also known as brain stem death) is when a person on an artificial life support machine no longer has any brain functions. This means they will not regain consciousness or be able to breathe without support. A person who is brain dead is legally confirmed as dead.


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