What do 2001: A Space Odyssey, Annie Hall, and Raiders of the Lost Ark have in common? Great opening shots. And film critic Jim Emerson has a blog dedicated to them. This is Nareg Torosian on the opening shot of Punch-Drunk Love:
As described on the DVD’s back cover, the focal point of the movie is Barry Egan, “a socially impaired owner of a small novelty business, who…is unlikely to find love unless it finds him.” On the surface, nothing much happens during the handheld shot that begins the movie, but for this first minute and a half, Anderson is able to set up three crucial elements for the rest of the film:
1. Barry’s loneliness. The set is about as sparse as can be – one desk and one chair in the corner of a large, unadorned, warehouse-like room. No one else will enter the frame, and other than the voice on the other end of the telephone, no other sound can be heard. (A metallic ping that breaks the silence will attract Barry’s attention and cause him to leave, thus creating a bridge to the film’s next shot. Jon Brion’s lush, atmospheric score/soundscape will not come to play for several minutes.) Anderson shoots the sequence in a long shot, and the resulting amount of empty, indifferent space conveys the character’s sense of isolation and emotional distance; this composition is mirrored later when Barry calls the phone sex service in his apartment and when he calls Lena from a pay phone in Hawaii. Even the first spoken line (“Yes, I’m still on hold”) subtly hints at his feeling of emotional repression and arrested development.