After a pair of zoologist twins lose both of their wives in an accident, resulting from a swan jumping in front of a car, they become obsessed with black and white animals and the decay of life. Aside from the footage of various animals and fruits decomposing, the film progressively becomes more symmetric as it goes on. Before their wives had died, it was not known that the zoologists were twins. They were brothers, but no one knew they were twins. As they became closer to the woman who survived the crash and lost her leg, they begin to embrace their similarities. Dressing the same, tying their legs together and running. The woman mourns her lost leg, claiming her other is lonely, and chooses to remove her other one. She becomes pregnant with twins, by the twins, and but they cannot be the father. She decides to die. After the zoologist twins inherit the woman’s snail kingdom, they choose to die as well.
But the story is not moving, the characters are not easy to empathize with, and it is not the plot that makes this film significant. It is rich in symbolism, and the consistent score by Michael Nyman quickly fills in the shortcomings of the dramatized yet stagnant dialogue. The connection created between the viewer and the characters is woven by cinematography. In multiple interviews, Greenaway says that his art is “deliberately artificial.” To Gavin Smith, “I do not think that naturalism or realism is even valid in the cinema.” Everything is crafted. For me, the experience of a film in its entirety is more important than the plot. It cannot be relayed by words. A story can be long, complex, beautiful, and awfully executed. Discussed between groups, it can still be praised, because it is beautiful on paper, but there is no essence that remains with the viewer once that story is chopped, distorted, or forgotten.