Essay–Film Analysis
Purpose: An analysis essay requires that you make a close, careful examination of
elements of a film to determine not only what happens but how it happens and what its
effect, mood, or meaning is. A strong analysis depicts supporting evidence or examples
from the film itself. An analysis essay requires you to think critically and logically and
engage the reader into a deeper understanding of the structures and meaning(s) of the
film.

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Assignment Description: Pick a quality film that we have not viewed or discussed in
this course. (You might want to look at allmovie.com for some strongly rated films, such
as a rating of a four or five stars.) Then, after watching the film many times, identify the
central message, theme, or mood of the entire film. Show the reader how this message
is portrayed in two or three key scenes through the use of mise en scene,
cinematography, editing, and sound.
Writing the Film Analysis: Before beginning the essay, I suggest viewing two or three
key scenes in the film depicting a central message of the overall film. For example, the
film, American Beauty, explores the alienation of teenagers in suburban America.
Which scenes in the film speak specifically to this theme? Watch these scenes
repeatedly, take notes, and analyze how the film techniques (mise en scene
cinematography, editing, and sound) contribute to this theme.
Film Techniques: When analyzing the meaning of the film and showing how film
techniques reveal that meaning, consider some, but not all, of the following questions

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for each paragraph:
” Mise en Scene (Composition)
” Are the settings true-to-life or imaginary?
” What settings are particularly expressive?
” What do the settings add to the film?
” What are the film?s major subjects?
” What actions and appearances are especially revealing?
” How are the subjects arranged in the frame? Are significant subjects bunched up
” within the frame or spread apart? Are they in the center of the frame or off to a
” side? Are significant subjects arranged in such a way as to balance out the
” composition or to create an imbalance?
” In what ways do background and foreground subjects relate to each other?
” Cinematography
” Are the images high grain or low grain? Are both looks used within the same
” film?
” What does the degree of graininess contribute to the film?
” Does the film use “cool” or “warm” colors to achieve certain effects? Is color
” used in a symbolic way? Is color used to enhance mood? How life-like is the
” color?
” Where is light used to support or create a mood? What mood? Where are
” shadows used to conceal information? If a certain kind of lighting is used
” repeatedly, describe it and explain its effects.
” For an especially significant part of a film, what camera distances are used? To
” what effect? Are many close-ups used in the film? Generally, does the camera
” stay back from the subjects and show much of the setting?
” For some of the most significant shots in the film, what lens is used: wide-angle,

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” normal, telephoto? With what consequences?
” In the scenes, does the subject tend to be filmed in high, eye-level, or low
” angles? Why did the director decide to use those specific angles?
” Where are point-of-view shots used? How often are they used? What effects do
” they have on your viewing experience? Where are camera placements used that
” make you feel like an outsider looking in on the action?
” If the camera tends to remain stationary, what are the advantages and
” disadvantages of the stationary camera work? If moving camera shots are used,
” does the camera dolly or truck or move up and down through the air? Are
” Steadicam shots used? What is the effect of the camera movement or lack of
” movement?
” Does the camera pan or tilt? Where and with what consequences?
” Editing
” Generally, is the film?s editing characterized by fast cutting or slow cutting? To
” what effect?
” Does the editing tend to be smooth and unobtrusive or disruptive and obvious?
” Where are shots joined for particular effect, such as to stress similarities or
” differences or to create or enhance a mood?
” Does the film use cross-cutting? If so, where and to what effect?
” Where is editing used to save time? To make their viewers use their
” imaginations (for example, by use of a cutaway shot)?
” Sound
” Where and why is offscreen sound used? Where is sound used to suggest the
” size of a location and the texture of the surfaces?
” How frequently is dialogue used? Is the dialogue always distinct? Does it

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” sometimes overlap? If so, with what consequences?
” Where is silence used? What effect does it contribute?
” Where is volume raised or lowered for effect?
” Where is sound used between certain scenes to create effect? What effect is
” created or supported?
” Where is sound distorted? What does the distortion contribute?
” Where is music used? For what purposes? Is the music always subordinated to
” the rest of the film, or does it sometimes intrude? What are the major melodies
” or tunes? Are they repeated? With or without variation?
” Where does the music suggest a particular place or time or both?
” Where is music used to suggest what a character is feeling or thinking?
Organizational Structure: I foresee two different organizational patterns for this essay,
but you, of course, may take a different approach as long as it is logical and coherent.
One approach is to focus on one scene per paragraph(s) and show how mise en scene,
cinematography, editing, and sound operate together to promote the theme or mood of
the film. Another approach might be similar to Appendix A in our textbook. This
approach focuses specifically on one technique at a time. Therefore, you could write
about the cinematography in a particular scene that captures the theme of the film.
Then, in a different section, you might analyze the editing of the same or a different
scene. This approach may be helpful to implement if editing, for example, is more
important in one scene than another scene, for all four techniques don’t always operate
equally in each scene you might analyze. Once again, whatever organizational
structure you choose, focus on analyzing how the film techniques reveal the message of
the film.
Possible Organizational Pattern Example:
” I. Introduction
” ” A. Very Brief Discussion of Film (no more than 1/4 a page)
” ” B. Your thesis (one complex sentence stating the focus of your paper)
” II. Scene #1 (relating to the theme, message, or mood of the film)
” ” A. Topic Sentence and a very brief description of the scene (no more than
” ” three sentences)
” ” B. Mise en Scene
” ” C. Cinematography
” ” D. Editing
” ” E. Sound
” III. Scene #2 (as related to the theme, character, mood, etc.)
” ” A. Topic Sentence and a very brief description of the scene (no more than
” ” three sentences)
” ” B. Mise en Scene
” ” C. Cinematography
” ” D. Editing
” ” E. Sound
” IV. Scene #3 (as related to the theme, character, mood, etc.)
” ” A. Topic Sentence and a very brief description of the scene (no more than
” ” three sentences)
” ” B. Mise en Scene
” ” C. Cinematography
” ” D. Editing
” ” E. Sound

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” V. Conclusion Suggestions (You don’t have to do them all)
” ” –Analysis or description of how your chosen scenes operate together
” ” successfully to enhance the mood, meaning, or theme of the film
” ” –Analyze or describe how the chosen scenes compare, contrast, or
” ” conflict with each other
” ” –Suggest how the director might improve a scene from the film to
” ” contribute to its theme or message
” ” –Please, do not repeat your introduction, even though some professors
” ” have told you to do so in the past. Your readers are smart, so I expect
” ” your conclusion to engage the reader and lead the paper toward closure
” ” and unity.
Note: (You may not want to cover all four techniques in Scene #1, #2, or #3. Some may
be more important than others. The scene itself and your observations will dictate what
you will or will not discuss in, for example, Scene #1. Also, you may need to break up
your discussion of Scene #1 into multiple paragraphs.)
Other Suggestions:
DO NOT…use outside sources, except perhaps in your introduction. This work must
stem from your own observations.
DO NOT…discuss the plot in any detail. Many students in the past re-tell the story of
the film. That type of plot summary serves no purpose in this essay. However, you will
have to write two or three sentences related to the key scenes. Also, using examples to
support your claims is not considered a plot summary. You need evidence, but use your
evidence correctly, accurately, and appropriately.
DO NOT…just list and describe the shots. Make your essay flow with the thesis and
topic sentence for each paragraph.
DO NOT…plagiarize from an Internet source, for I will be checking to make sure that
your thoughts belong to you. If I find any evidence of plagiarism, even if it is one
sentence, I will fail you from the course.
DO…use correct spelling, grammar, and syntax
DO…analyze the scene in detail
DO…use terminology from the textbook and PowerPoint lecture to show evidence of an
academic voice
DO…use present tense verbs and use characters’ (not actors’) names in your paper
DO…use multiple paragraphs and possibly break up your paper into specific sections by
labeling the appropriate section.
DO… number each page.
DO…proofread your work.
DO…use MLA format, as taught in our English Composition I and II courses.
Final Guidelines:
• Double-Spaced
• 12-point font
• 5-7 pages
• You may incorporate a still image, frame, or illustration from the film, but I will not
count the image as part of the length requirement
• Attach your paper to this Dropbox in .RTF (Rich Text Format), .DOC (Microsoft Word
Document), or .DOCX (Microsoft Word 2007)
Suggested Films:
The Shawshank Redemption (1994), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
(2003), Schindler’s List (1993), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Rear Window
(1954), The Usual Suspects (1995), Goodfellas (1990), North by Northwest (1959), The
Silence of the Lambs (1991), Fight Club (1999), Vertigo (1958), Eternal Sunshine of the
Spotless Mind (2004), Se7en (1995), Chinatown (1974), The Pianist (2002), American
History X (1998), L.A. Confidential (1997), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Sin City (2005),
Some Like it Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960), Donnie Darko (2001), Unforgiven
(1992), The Graduate (1967), Gone with the Wind (1939), The Exorcist (1973), Twelve
Monkeys (1995), Sling Blade (1996), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), The Searchers (1956),
The Insider (1999), Walk the Line (2005), Lost in Translation (2003), Star Wars (1977),
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Network (1976), The Gold Rush (1925), Fargo (1996),
and The Fly (1986)

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