The analysis of film enables viewers to truly appreciate the work as a form of art. It explains all of the working parts, thusly encouraging a more complete understanding of the whole. This in turn deepens the characters, conflicts, and theme of film making it more real or significant to the viewer. While initially developing and implementing skills of analytical viewing are difficult. With practice one will be able to analyze an entire move and describe how viewers find meaning in a film. Also, one can develop their own personal criteria for analyzing film. After reaching these goals the viewer will not only be able to enjoy the film emotionally but also intellectually.
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Effectively analyzing a film is complex in that film is not static. In literature and screenplays one is able to read and re-read the information because it remains motionless on the page. In film, however the viewer must be able to process the non-verbal, and other visual ques. During critical analysis of a film the critic must be able to view all of the elements separately but also understand their relationship to the whole. The viewer must ask several questions prior to the analysis of the film. Does the film have a unified plot? Is the story and characters credible? Is the film interesting? Does the director create a simplistic yet complex film? Does the film handle emotion with restraint (Boggs, 1996, pg. 6)?
A film with a unified plot enables the viewers to follow a stream of consciousness when viewing the movie. It has a beginning, middle, and an end. In literary terms, a unified plot includes an exposition, a rising action, a climax, and a denouement. The characters, theme, and plot are developed as the film progresses. A logical sequence of events maintains a constant theme and the conflict are resolved by elements or characters that have been introduced in the film. The events bear a resemblance to cause and effect; this forces the actions to move the story along (Boggs, 2008, pg. 41).
During analysis one must decide if the film is credible. To accomplish this, the plot and the characters will fall into one of three categories. What is understood to be true, what could be true, or what is convincingly created as a reality. Harsh realities often fall into what is understood to be true. The audience knows that the protagonist will not always win and couples do not always stay together. On the other hand, human emotions dictate a desire to experience “happy endings.” In these films, Romeo would have received his letter from Juliet. Lastly, a production team will create a world of science fiction or fantasy. The objective viewer must decide whether this is done skillfully. The audience’s response to the film is directly correlated to the credibility of the fantasy characters and the world of which they live. While all of these aspects can be found in a majority of film, the critical viewer will understand that one follows closest to the theme (Boggs, 2008, pg. 42).
The most evident aspect to a reviewer and the audience is the movie’s ability to captivate. How do the filmmakers make the movie interesting? While to the audience this can be dependent on personal preference, the reviewer must remain objective to make this conclusion. Directors and writers will create suspense throughout the movie to create the desire to keep watching. They will usually provide the audience with clues hinting to possible outcomes. Another aspect of how interesting the movie is the action. Whether it be external, or physical action or it is internal or psychological action. As easily as the reviewer can see a duel or crash landing, they will be able to see external action. Now, when the action takes place in the mind or emotionally for the characters it is internal. They both however create movement that is essential to maintain the audience’s interest in the film (Boggs, 2008, pg. 46).
The complexity of the film should be taken into consideration during analysis. While it is possible to over-simplify the theme, characters, or the plot of a film it is also possible to make it too complex. Movies are essential created for consumption and as with all things consumed, consumers have different opinions on what pleases them. So, it is possible for many people who enjoy the complexity of a serious, thought-provoking film. On the other hand, it is just as simple to find those who would rather be entertained and do not desire to be challenged during a film. Either way as a critical reviewer, one should be able to recognize how well the film-maker combines these to ideas. How well they are able to present complex ideas in a simple manner without taking away from the meaning, and vice-versa (Boggs, 2008, pg. 48).
A final aspect in critical review of film to consider is its ability to present emotional material with restraint. Normally the director will intend for the film to be reciprocated with a certain emotional response from the audience. However, if the audience feels as though it is being forced or coaxed to feeling a certain way it may have the opposite effect. As the objective viewer, one will notice that emotional content can be presented in plot structure, character’s dialogue, musical score, and even visual cues. When analyzing the film, it is important to look at all of these aspects to understand the effect that they have on the whole. To understand how the emotional content is presented to add value to the film (Boggs, 2008, pg. 51).
People from across every economic, social, gender, cultural, and all other stratifications that can be thought of watch movies. Knowing that people are innately different from one another leads one to the conclusion, that there exist hundreds of different ways that individuals use to find meaning in film. Meaning in cinema can be found and interpreted exclusively at face value. This method of course does not fully value the vision of the filmmakers and does not allow for the viewer to receive the complete experience that critical receptiveness would attain. When a critical viewer attempts to find meaning in a film there are several different areas in which they can search. The meaning of film can be found in its allegories, symbolism, metaphors, and ironies (Boggs, 2008, pg. 55).
In cinema and literature, allegories create an additional meaning for what is being portrayed on the screen. The characters normally cannot adopt distinctive personalities because their primary role is to accurately portray something already in existence. In the film, Animal Farm, the audience understands the different roles that each animal plays and their association to the actual events that occurred in the early 1900s (Boggs, 2008, pg. 70).
Films often use symbolism to help the audience discover meaning beyond what is being shown. Filmmakers will introduce a symbol that will arouse certain emotions, feelings, thoughts, and connotations within the viewer. This skillful application of symbols can be done with the use of natural or universally accepted signs or through by the director placing emphasis on the symbols throughout the film. Because different natural or universally accepted symbols have different meanings to different people there is some ambiguity in their meanings. For example, a common association of bats in Western society is to demons or spirits, association of the night. While in the East bats are a symbol of good fortune. When filmmakers want to apply meaning to symbols that occur in the film they utilize methods, such as, repetition, value added by characters, and context. When the director places emphasis on an object that otherwise would seem insignificant by showing it to the audience. When the characters place emphasis on objects or identify themselves through something, the audience understands that by considering the objects meaning and its associations they will be able to better understand the character. In context, the director will use a symbol to suggest a meaning to the audience through combining scenes, juxtaposition, or relating the object to other images in the scene. In Batman, when Bruce Wayne’s mother was shot the audience is shown her pearl necklace being broken and falling to the ground an example of juxtaposition (Boggs, 2008, pg. 71).
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Often in cinema different metaphors are used to represent actions. Normally metaphors are figures of speech that denote an object or idea to suggest likeness or analogies between them. There exist two methods in creating metaphors in film, extrinsic and intrinsic metaphors. Extrinsic metaphors a normally very similar to symbolism in film in that they are achieved by juxtaposition or showing scenes simultaneously. In a romance the director could show a man and woman making love and then show a bee pollinating a flower to show the miracle of life. The intrinsic metaphors occur more naturally, the metaphor can now replace action. The director can simply show the two people entering a room and then show the bees and the audience will understand what is happening. Of course, the metaphor for the actions depicted is the birds and the bees and many people grow up knowing and understanding its connotation (Boggs, 2008, pg. 80).
Quite the opposite of metaphors and similes is irony. Irony creates association through differences; through the differences the audiences can draw similarities. There are many different types of irony: dramatic, situational, characters, setting, tone, and cosmic. Audiences draw meaning through irony by understanding the contradictions that exist in the film. In an example of irony of character in Sling Blade, the audience sees that the formally institutionalized for murder, Karl Childers, as a positive role model and even a father figure for Frank Wheatley. This portrays to the audience a caring, loving side of Karl but also shows the hopelessness of Frank’s situation (Boggs, 2008, pg. 88).
Although viewers can find meaning through these devices, the most common methods are through analyzing the plot and characters of a film. The audience is able to automatically identify with these aspects and parallel personal experiences to find a meaning in a film. The conflict which is central to the plot a film is what moves the movie along. Conflict centers on man versus self, nature, society, or man. The characters portrayed in a film can be identified by the conflicts that they will face and the audience will be able to deepen their understanding of characters through the conflicts that they face. Firstly, the audience will see what actions lead to the conflict. Secondly, the audience will see how the character copes with the situation, whether he will rise to meet the challenge, remain static, or fail to act. Finally, the audience will be shown how the character reaches a resolution adding depth to the character. The type of conflict and the personality character who is facing it often develops the theme of a film. Once the nature of the characters is establishes the viewers can find meaning in them. Is the protagonist a strong minded, witty character who always is quick to act, like James Bond? The director’s intention in films like these is to glorify traits of heroism and fearlessness. Similarly, Jason Bourne portrays many of the same traits but with distinct differences. Bourne is a neurotic and is on the run seeking vengeance from the government who betrayed him while lacking the suave style normally associated with Bond. While Bond classically a misogynist, Bourne is in love only with one woman. Audiences find interpret these characters differently and value them in different ways whether they like the values that the characters portray or not (Boggs, 2008, pg. 133).
Criteria for effectively analyzing a film will vary from person to person. The most important objective is to establish a pattern, a system, or to evaluate films in way to ensure one covers every aspect. Personally I have developed a system that allows me to enjoy a film on an emotional level and then take a critical look at the different elements work together to create the whole.
I do this by: locating a film, ensuring I have a clear open mind, watching the film first to determine interest and initial impressions. Then I will watch the film again to carefully analyze literary elements, such as, setting, plot, characters, and symbols. After the film is completed it is important to reflect on several questions. What is the theme of the movie? I consider if the movie effectively communicates a theme to viewers. How did the storyline move? Does the plot flow easily but remains complex drawing the audience in. Does the dialogue work? Will viewers of the film find the dialogue credible and natural? Do the set, lighting, score, and special effects add to the movie? If not properly utilized these effects can overwhelm the senses and detract from the film. How does the film represent its topic? How well is the film edited? If there are unnecessary scenes that do not add to the movie they should be cut out. Also, do scenes effectively transition or has too much been removed making the film hard to follow. How effectively does the director use symbolism or metaphors? Does the director add depth to the characters or objects through association (Boggs, 2008, pg. 8)?
After deliberate review of all of these questions I am able to fully appreciate the value of the effort put into, or lack thereof, filmmakers have put into their work. While at the same time it allows me to enjoy the film on a platonic level prior to analysis.
Film is unique because it is an art form but it also an industry. Audiences are willing to sacrifice money and time to take part in the magic of the silver screen. Their love for this art form has created the need to better understand the films, to create a deeper meaning than what is first visible. With practice audiences can analyze an entire move and describe how they find meaning in a film. Also, they can develop their own personal criteria for analyzing film. Techniques employed by filmmakers at first may be difficult to comprehend, but once understood they will add significant value to the film.
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