For this assignment, you will develop an argumentative essay about a film of your choice based on careful analysis. Your goal is to explain how one or two film techniques underscore a key theme or message of the film. Your thesis, and in turn your essay, should clarify what you believe that theme or message is and how the film communicates it. The theme or message can be about politics (what does the film say about class or race?), cultural values (what does the film say about technology or greed or childhood?), religion (what does the film say about good and evil, or the divine?), etc. The techniques can refer to shots, cuts, framing, mise en scene, sound, music, etc. You should reflect on how these techniques create impressions about the characters, narratives, ideas, conflicts, and themes of the movie, and then refine that reflection into a claim about the movie as a whole. The key is to highlight relevant techniques in the film (your evidence), explain the significance of those techniques to the reader (your analysis), and draw a conclusion about the film from those points (your thesis).
I would recommend you choose a film that you can rewatch, pause, and jump around in easily, like a film streamed on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime, or a film for which you own a digital copy. This will make analyzing film techniques much easier. I have listed five films from the Netflix database below that I think would be worth analyzing in depth. You can choose from one of these films or another film of your choice.
Here are some things to keep in mind while composing your film analysis:
- Take words, sounds, and images seriously – Remember that your subject is a construction or presentation of reality, meaning that there is always significance in the words, sounds, and images of your subject (whether or not that meaning is always intended in production).
- Choose your evidence wisely – It is impossible to conduct an effective and in-depth film analysis by discussing every aspect of your film, so be specific and concentrate on particular aspects of your subject that support, connect, or lead towards your central claim.
- Make strong claims – A common pitfall with analysis essays is devoting too much space to simply summarizing the subject and its argument and not enough space to defending a claim you’re making about how that subject works. Another common pitfall is to get caught up with agreeing/disagreeing with whether or not the argument made by the subject is right/wrong, rather than focusing your energy on convincing us to believe something new and interesting about the WHAT and the HOW of that text. Your thesis statement—your central claim or controlling purpose—is crucial to grounding the essay that follows.
Most of all, I hope that in the process of writing this assignment, you will appreciate how close analysis can illuminate, not ruin, “mere entertainment” like movies. That you will agree with me that the more conscious and observant we are in our entertainment, the more enriching—and entertaining—it becomes.