Film review : Professor’s Choice: Milk, 2008; Directed by Gus Van Sant
Assignment Objectives: Enhance and/or improve critical thinking and media literacy skills by:
1. Developing a clear and concise thesis statement (an argument) in response to the
following question: Does the film have the power to transform political sensibilities?
2. Writing an outline for a five paragraph analytical essay building on a clear and
concise thesis statement, including topic sentences and secondary supports.
3. Identifying and explaining three scenes from the film text in support of the thesis
4. Writing an introductory paragraph for the outlined analytical essay
Be sure to read thoroughly the writing conventions below before beginning this assignment.
Note: You are NOT writing a full essay; rather, you are outlining an analytical essay by completing the dialogue boxes below.
Writing a Critical Review (analytical) Essay
Every essay that you write for this course must have a clear thesis, placed (perhaps) somewhere near the end of the introductory paragraph. Simply stated, a THESIS (or ARGUMENT) expresses, preferably in a single sentence, the point you want to make about the text that is the subject of your essay. A THESIS should be an opinion or interpretation of the text, not merely a fact or observation. The best possible THESIS will answer some specific questions about the text. Very often the THESIS contains an outline of the major points to be covered in the essay. A possible thesis for an essay on character in Perry Henzell’s The Harder They Come might read somewhat as follows:
The protagonist of THTC is not a hero in the epic sense of the word, but a self-centered young man bred of economic oppression and cultural dependency. The characters in this film have no real psychological depth, but are markers for a society of consumption and momentary glory.
(You might then go on to exemplify from the text and argue in favor or against this interpretation: your essay need not hold to only one perspective.)
What single, clear QUESTION does the above THESIS attempt to answer?
Each essay should be organized into five (5) paragraphs, each based on one of two to four major ideas, which will comprise the BODY of the essay. Each paragraph must have a topic sentence, often (but not always) towards the beginning of the paragraph, which clearly states the ARGUMENT or point to be made in the paragraph. Following the thesis set forth above, the first paragraph might begin with a sentence like “Ivan’s desires and his destiny are signaled in the opening shots of the film, where the friendly, jumbled interior of the bus is contrasted with Ivan’s first view of the outer world: a world of shiny white cars and beautiful women.” Avoid topic sentences that fail to make an interpretative statement about the work or that merely state something any reader might observe; for example, “The first characters we see are country people on a bus to town.”
Underline the THESIS and each TOPIC SENTENCE in every critical review essay you submit. This exercise will force you to make certain that you have expressed and developed the ideas in your essay clearly and logically. (In other words, do not do this exercise five minutes before you submit the essay but, rather, as you are working on the very first draft.)
Always use present tense verbs in your critical review essays about film texts. Present tense is the verb tense of analysis. Past tense, on the other hand, is the tense of narration. In each essay, you will be analyzing a particular text, not retelling or summarizing the story. If you find yourself slipping into past tense as you compose, you are probably narrating rather than analyzing.
Use specific passages from the text to support each point that you make in your essay. You may simply refer to an event in the text, or you may paraphrase what a character or the narrator says. But the best EVIDENCE will most often be direct quotes from the text.
The Introductory Paragraph – Some Approaches
In your essay, an opening or introductory paragraph may not always be the first one you write. But it will be the first one your readers read and you need to engage your readers’ attention and interest and present all you need to make your thesis clear and convincing.
Some Pitfalls to Avoid
Dictionary definitions: Define key terms and concepts in your opening paragraph, but don’t quote directly from the dictionary to do so. Use a dictionary – more than one dictionary – to formulate the definition in your own words.
Generalizations about “life,” “society,” “people today,” etc.: You don’t want to begin your essay with the kind of statement that teeters on that fine line between opinion (those ideas you will go on to prove) and belief (those ideas unprovable with the evidence offered by the text). Rather than a statement like, “Almost every man has a sense of pride and will go to war to prove it,” try something more specific to the text you are analyzing. “The character of Roland exemplifies how personal pride and personal valor do not always lead to the most fortunate conclusion.”
The painfully obvious: Avoid opening statements like “Dante’s Inferno is about a journey to hell,” or “Roland is the hero of The Song of Roland,” unless such statements are in some way controversial and challenging to traditional interpretations of the text. Try to avoid any kind of tautological formula – “something is something else” – in the opening sentence, especially, but also elsewhere as an “argument.”
Try to distinguish between historical or biographical fact: “Dante’s Inferno was written in fourteenth-century Italy,” and interpretation, especially when you are considering the intention of an author: “Dante wrote his Inferno to expose the problem of Florentine political corruption to the world.” The latter may be a part of your theory or thesis (or conclusion) but if you use it as a statement of fact (an “intentional fallacy”) you will have to prove it rather than merely argue it – a slippery and difficult and perhaps not particularly useful task. Beware also of using vague or imprecise generalizations of terms such as “dramatic,” “realistic,” or “critical,” which differ in their literary and historical significance.
Challenges to Meet
Try for a (syntactically) shapely and relevant opening sentence: be thoughtful and original and persuasive. Always look for interesting ways into your essay: an epigraph, perhaps, or an important episode that seems to set the stage for what you want to say, or a succinct comparison with another well-known work, which will help your reader understand the point you want to make.
Always (particularly in a comparative essay) identify your texts early on. (Usually with full title, full authors’ names, and date/period of publication.)
Think of your thesis statement as the logical goal of the first paragraph. Everything you say here should lead towards (or from) that thesis. Anything that doesn’t lead in that direction – unless you are presenting a view different from yours, which you want to argue against—doesn’t belong in your paragraph. Think of the paragraph as a funnel, where the contents are being concentrated and filtered to one end.
Using proper MLA bibliographic formatting, cite the film text in the box to the right:
1. Develop a thesis statement pertaining to the assigned film text and whether or not it, the film, in your view has the power to transform one’s political sensibilities. Your argument should express your point of view regarding the politics of difference, political sensibilities, and political transformation(s) as related to the film. Remember, you’re writing (developing) an analytical essay. Submit your thesis statement in the box located to the right. Be sure to proofread your work.
2. Develop three (3) topic sentences that articulate the major ideas that will comprise the body of your essay. Remember that your topic sentences should clearly state the argument or point to be made in the respective paragraphs and must map back to your thesis statement. Submit your topic sentences in the box located to the right. Be sure to proofread your work.
3. Identify three (3) scenes from the film that support your thesis statement. Briefly explain your choices of scenes and how the scenes specifically support your thesis statement. Also, provide the exact time the scenes begin and end within the film text. Submit your reply in the box located to the right. Be sure to proofread your work.
4. Lastly, fully develop your introductory paragraph. Remember that the best possible thesis will answer some specific question about the text. In this case a question related to the film’s power to transform political sensibilities regarding difference. Your thesis statement should appear parenthetically within the paragraph you present. Submit your answer in the box located to the right. Be sure to proofread your work.