The Storytelling in "CODA"

Creative Insights | Published: May 24, 2024 | By: William A. Freeman Jr.

CODA is a 2021 drama written and directed by Sian Heder. This film won three Oscars. One for best picture. Another, for best adapted screenplay, and another for best supporting actress. Taking a look at the form and elements of this story can help provide insight into techniques that can help other creatives learn how to create and develop stories. The movie title is a double-entendre for child of death adults and the music term that means the end in a musical piece.


"CODA" introduces us to a teenager named Ruby, who is the only hearing person in her family, which consists of her father Frank, mother Jackie, and brother Leo. She is helping them in the family fishing business while going to school. While at school, she realizes she needs an elective class to graduate. The inciting incident happens at this point when she chooses the school choir because her crush, Miles, chooses it. This is not a wrong choice because she can sing, but she is not confident in herself at this point for many reasons. One reason is that her family can not hear, and Ruby does not know who she is. She walks out of the audition. However, she returns to Mr. V's class and auditions for him.


The rising action in the film starts as Leo struggles with the family's dependence on Ruby. Ruby suggests to the family to go another route to make ends meet for the complications the family business is facing; however, it still requires help from Ruby to spread the word. As she spends time with Miles, he is brought into her world and breaks her trust when he shares information about her family with a friend who shares it openly. Ruby expressed that he should not have and avoids him day after day. 

Scene after scene, you see Ruby interacting with her family, her crush, and the choir instructor, and each conflict begins to build higher stakes. She forgives Miles and has been spending time with him when the Coast Guard pulls her family for not responding to a radio call while they are fishing. They managed to get their license back but needed a hearing person on the boat. Mr. V repeatedly warns Ruby about valuing his time as she prepares for her audition at Berklee. When we approach the climax, Ruby's relationship with her family is strained, and the choir director gives her another opportunity. Ruby decides to help the family and not pursue her dreams.


The turning point for everyone is when Ruby's family attends the school program she and Miles had been practicing for. Her family sees everyone enjoying Ruby's singing, however, they are disconnected from the performance because they cannot hear. In turn, they were more focused on the smiles and clapping and we were brought into their world of silence. not paying attention because they could not hear. Then you hear silence, but they see smiles and clapping. Later that night, Ruby puts her dad's hands on her neck as she sings because he likes rap music's bass and can feel the beat even though he cannot hear it. Leo tells Ruby not to give up pursuing her dreams, or she will regret them.


The film's climax is when she gets to the audition at Berklee, and the judges are curious about Ruby's experience because she does not have much singing. Mr. V volunteers to accompany her on the piano for her song, and she is nervous, so he purposefully makes a mistake while playing the piano to help her. Her family walks in, and the judges see them and begin to understand the uniqueness of their situation when Ruby begins using sign language as she sings. At that point, everything is working well together. Ruby understood how to help her family be a part of her world. The song was fitting for the scene, "Both Sides, Now"

In the end, Ruby gets into college, and her family has workers who can help in the business and knows ASL. She has a good relationship with Miles, and he can visit her at school. And she leaves with her friend Gertie and signs "I Love You" to her family from the car as she leaves the house.


The main character of this film is Ruby. All the action in the movie depends on Ruby's choices. The other characters pressure Ruby and force her to figure everything out. It is very believable that after all the tension and each scene, she is exhausted trying to figure out her place in the world. At times it seems as if she will give up and give in to the easiest choice, but she gains her family's support, which frees her from the burden of being the sole caregiver. Based on everything she has been through, this character will not be the same by the film's end.


There was tension for what Ruby desired, a life that was not consumed by her family but allowed her to become her own person. Her family didn't see any other way to survive except to rely on Ruby to help communicate and be the ears for the family. The main idea of this film is understanding the needs of each person's family, finding a way to communicate, and working together to bring about the best for the individual and the collective. We see that in this film, there was a synthesis of Ruby needing to come into her own person and her family needing help. Ruby didn't have to be the one helping the family, and with more help, the family could be more successful, and Ruby had to find a way to bring her family into her world. The tagline for this film sums it up, "Every Family has Its own Language."


The diction of this movie was everyday language and the use of American Sign Language. This was a working-class family that ran their own business, and Ruby was a teenage girl who had to know the language of business and how to speak ASL. The use of language was everyday language, but it showed just how intelligent, gifted, and flexible Ruby was.

The use of sign language created a spectacle in this movie. The writer created times when you saw the personality of the family over and over again, making jokes with sign language. Frank and Jackie, Ruby's parents, made jokes to Miles, which he enjoyed but got him in trouble with Ruby. Ruby told Gertie the incorrect signing, which she wanted to express her interest in Leo but said she had herpes instead. Then there was the singing. Every time a song was sung, that moment allowed us to stay there and experience that world longer. Whether it was Ruby and Miles practicing, the choir learning new songs, or Ruby singing by herself, it became a spectacle.