Three Film Scenes Examined

The Shining (1980): This is the scene where Jack Torrance steps into the 1920s restroom with Delbert Grady, the manservant, who has just spilled a cocktail onto Jack’s jacket and is now wiping off the stain. In the first half of this scene, Delbert is obsequious. The shots are edited in such a way that most of the time both characters appear onscreen together. Also, we generally see the backside or the profile of Delbert, while we see Jack’s face full on, which suggests Jack’s power over the manservant. In the second half of the scene, Jack elevates Delbert’s standing by calling him “the caretaker.” Though Delbert at first denies this status, he soon straightens his posture, and takes on a more demanding tone. We start to see a series of reverse shot cuts: Each man alone in the frame, which implies at the very least that they are co-equals. Also, both faces face the camera at the same angle, like the two characters are mirror images of each other. This implies that Delbert really is Jack’s conscience. To augment this point, we now see the mirror behind Delbert, which means Delbert is standing where Jack’s mirror reflection would be seen, whereas in the first half of this scene we saw the mirror as off to the side and only sporadically. 

Dressed to Kill (1980): This is the scene where Dr. Robert Elliott is sitting at his desk, while Liz Blake, the prostitute helping to investigate the murder of one of Dr. Elliott’s patients, is seducing him. The scene starts off as a series of reverse shot cuts, while the two characters converse on an equal footing (both asking questions of each other instead of the norm where the psychiatrist would be asking, and the prostitute answering, all of the questions). To augment that the two characters are equal to one another, each of them appears in medium shots. Moreover, at one point, the prostitute leans back on a dresser so that she is seated in much the same posture as the psychiatrist seated behind his desk. The dynamic between them changes, though, when she walks to the other side of the spacious office and starts to remove her clothes. For the first time in this scene, we see a full body shot of her. Also, the camera follows her walking from the dresser to the other side of the office in one continuous shot, which directs the energy away from the psychiatrist and to her. While she stands partially nude in a full body shot, and with much more office space around her, he continues to appear in medium shots and cramped behind his desk. At the same time, she now takes over the conversation with her offer to have sex with him; and he is diminished to the point of being contained visually in a close up in a vanity mirror. Also, while the camera moves with her, there are sharp cuts between the psychiatrist at his desk (medium shots) and the psychiatrist reflected in his vanity mirror (close ups). The contrast (camera moving for one but cutting back and forth for the other) highlights how the former equality between them has given way to her dominance. They are in a kind of disharmony with one another (hence the camera moving for one but cutting back and forth for the other), and that suggests the tension underlying manipulative sexuality. 

Get Out (2017): This is the scene where Chris Washington, a young man spending the weekend with his girlfriend’s parents, steps outside their palatial home for a smoke in the middle of the night. We see an establishment shot (Chris stepping away from the palatial home and onto the lawn) followed by a medium shot (Chris sighing and reaching for a cigarette). There is a wide shot of the forested and moonlit lawn that he sees. All is quiet and uneventful. Then, surprisingly, the groundskeeper starts to run at full speed toward Chris from the other side of the lawn. We cut back to Chris getting more nervous as the groundskeeper seems intent on barreling into him. With each cut from the runner back to Chris, we get closer to an actual close up of his frightened face. Though the camera is no closer to him than when he started to reach for his cigarette, the succession of cuts, each getting closer to a close up of his face, suggests that we the audience are about to barrel into him along with the groundskeeper. When the groundskeeper passes by him, there is then a sudden cut to the maid staring out at Chris from inside the home. Chris turns and sees her after we the audience have seen her. This implies that the maid (and by extension the entire household she serves) has control over him, since she sees him (and we see her seeing him) before he sees her. Even though the first shot established that Chris is outside on a wide and open lawn, presumably free to go wherever he pleases, by the end of this scene we see little more than his face reacting in fear to the maid. He is contained by his own fear, and this suggests that he is as controlled by his own fear (foreshadowed by the fear and insecurity he had earlier of the prospect of meeting with his girlfriend’s parents) as he is controlled by the household. Sure enough, he will turn the tables on them later when he gets control over his own fear. That is implied by the opposite happening here. 

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Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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