In most narrative filmmaking, everything you see is
designed to produce a precise graphic or pictorial
effect. Everything is motivated. The image is
shaped to cause you to make assumptions about a
character according to the way he or she is
dressed and moves in the frame, or is situated with
respect to their environment.
Here are some key terms and techniques you
can use in analyzing film.
Questions to ask when discussing the narrative:
• What is the chronological order of the film? Is it
told in flashbacks, real time, or over an
extended period of time?
• Are there voice-overs or title cards to help
narrate the film? What is the plot of the film?
• Is the narrative conforming to the conventions
of a specific genre? (Romance, Western,
Analyzing Filmic Characters is similar to analyzing
written characters: Are they realistic, how do they change
over the course of the film, what do they represent etc.?
Types Of Characters:
– Complex, life-like, multidimensional, and changeable
– Usually only a few per film
– Appear throughout the film
– Essential to the plot
– Simple, stereotypical, minor, one-dimensional, unchanging
– Appear only in a few scenes
– Are rarely essential to the plot but add interest
The Matrix –
Neo and Trinity
Example of Flat
Characters in The
Matrix – extra
agents who help
POINT OF VIEW (POV)
• When is the POV objective (omniscient), and
when is it subjective (seen through the eyes of
one of the characters)?
• What does this POV tell us about the
• How does the camera’s eye limit or control what
you see? How do shifts in POV affect the viewer
and the viewer’s understanding of the film?
Point of View
How do the different POVs in these
two images create interpretations?
Objective POV in The Matrix (1999)
Subjective POV in The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
Literally means “put into the scene” and refers to
sets and backdrops, the use of props and
lighting, as well as the blocking of actors’
movements within the dramatic space. The term
is used to describe the space constructed for the
camera. It includes two important elements:
• Lighting: is it harsh or soft? Tinted or colored?
Natural or artificial? What shadows does it
• Costumes: what do we learn about the
characters from what they wear (or don’t
• Sets: Are props or sets significant? How do
characters relate to them? Are they related
to any themes?
How does side lighting
influence the interpretation
of the frame?
The Sixth Sense (1999)
What is the effect of back-lighting
in this image from The Lord of the
Rings: The Two Towers (2002)?
Costumes may be used to distinguish main characters from
secondary characters, to further the plotline, and to identify
good and evil.
Gone With the Wind (1939)
Star Wars (1977)
Sets can reveal how a character has changed. In these two
shots from American Beauty (1999), the setting echoes the
changing relationship between Lester and his wife.
Some questions to consider when analyzing
– The Arrangement: How are the elements in the
frame arranged? (Foreground and Background)
– Photographic qualities: Are the images grainy,
distressed, crisp, or processed in a special way?
– Framing: Do elements (besides the screen itself)
confine/divide/exclude parts of the image? What is
off-screen? How is space created or violated by the
– Camera angle, distance, and tilt: Does the camera
itself move (tracking) or does it stand still and just
rotate (a pan)?
Composition: Arrangement (Part 1)
Foreground and Background
How filmmakers position
people and objects in the
foreground in a given
image influences what the
The background of an action may go unnoticed because it is
obscurely lit or out of focus or because subjects in the
foreground draw so much of the viewer’s attention.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
In symmetrical compositions, the subject(s) is seen in the
approximate center of the frame.
American Beauty (1999)
Moulin Rouge (2001)
In asymmetricalIn asymmetrical
compositions, majorcompositions, major
subjects are not offset orsubjects are not offset or
balanced by otherbalanced by other
subjects elsewhere insubjects elsewhere in
the frame.the frame.
compositions can causecompositions can cause
the viewer to paythe viewer to pay
attention to an aspect ofattention to an aspect of
the shot he or she mightthe shot he or she might
otherwise ignore.otherwise ignore.
Thelma and Louise (1991)
Composition: Photographic Qualities of The Shot
The grainy, washed-out
quality in this shot from
Minority Report (2002) recalls
the hard-boiled detective
genre, suggesting that Tom
Cruise’s character will be
involved in a mystery.
What could this greenish
tint suggest about the
scene or the character in
The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
Trinity seems to literally touch the camera
lens, which emphasizes a framing device
that separates the viewer from her. This
shot could also be useful in an analysis of
fore and background.
This jagged frame of broken glass
could emphasize the havoc that
Agent Smith wreaks. How else does
this framing device work?
The Matrix (1999)
The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
Composition: Framing (continued)
In these two images, which
follow each other sequentially
in the film, we see an object
(the parasol) and then we cut
directly to the subject looking
outside the frame at that
object. This happens quite
often in scenes of dialogue.
The Age of Innocence (1993)
Composition: A Framing Sequence in The Matrix
Composition: Camera Angle, Distance and Tilt
Here are two interesting “from-above” camera angles.
How could this camera angle change or enhance our
interpretation of characters, events or themes in the
The Lord of the Rings: The
Fellowship of the Ring (2001) The Matrix (1999)
The following elements should help you
analyze any film.
• Point of View
– Setting (lighting, costumes, sets)
– Composition (arrangement, photographic
qualities, framing, camera angle)