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Short scenes with obvious and easily explainable symbolism

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Short scenes with obvious and easily explainable symbolism

Old 02-11-06, 09:27 PM
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Short scenes with obvious and easily explainable symbolism

Hello friends,

So I'm giving my freshmen high schoolers a bit of basic film studies. I'm trying to show how symbolism is used in film---how certain scenes or a series of shots can be symbolic of x, y, or whatever.

Here are a couple of the scenes I was thinking about showing:

Modern Times: cattle are shown moving along mindlessly, then there's either a fade or a cut to factory workers marching to work.

The Maltese Falcon
(right?): When Mary Astor's character is in the elevator (presumably on the way to jail), the metal bars close in front of her face.

The Rules of Attraction: The scenes in which students are moving backwards, as if their priorities, are, well, backwards.

Those are the most obvious scenes I could think of off the top of my head, but I'm sure you guys can think of a lot more. And better ones. I'm looking for scenes in which the symbolism is rather obvious and requires very little of the backstory to actually understand.
Old 02-11-06, 09:46 PM
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The Adventures of Robin Hood near the beginning when Prince John and Sir Guy are plotting, and a glass falls off the table and the camera zooms in on the spilled wine.
Old 02-11-06, 09:50 PM
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All of the original Matrix with the green tint.

Green = deceit
Old 02-11-06, 10:07 PM
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Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal. Show them the scene with the squire playing chess with Death.

-JP
Old 02-11-06, 10:11 PM
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Also, I should throw in that future posters shouldn't be afraid to use modern movies, even though two of my original three are fairly old. While I don't want to shy away from showing the classics, I want them to also see that the movies they consume use the same tricks. Well, some of the movies.
Old 02-12-06, 03:25 AM
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The Cell has some really interesting symbolism, which makes sense as you get to know the character.
Old 02-12-06, 05:41 AM
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X-men 1: Magneto and Proffesor X are playing chess in his cell. When Professor X leaves, Magneto knocks down his own King piece to admit that he lost.

2046: The robot has a delayed reaction parralel to the girl's boyfriend not answering her letters. The narrator explains it.

Open your eyes When the LE guy is explaining what Life Extension is all about: He has these long tabs. Places one down on the desk says it represents a life, one end birth, the other end death. Then he connects another tab to the end, representing life enxtension, life after death. then he overlaps the the second tab on the first representing erasing part of the life, the memory to make the transition seamless

Vanilla Sky -David and the LE technician are taking a long elevator ride to the top where the technician is explaining David's dream state. David is finally understanding, and rising up in the elevator represents enlightenment
- as David falls asleep drunk on the street he has a mask in his hand which the camera zooms on. the mask representing his artificial self and life and the exact moment of the splice to falsehood. this is explained in the elevator scene

Gladiator -General Maximus is followed by a wolf, representing him.
-Washing the blood off the hands before the social event. The hands remain bloody

Jerry Maguire Jerry's friend is firing him at a restaurant and then he looks down at his glass of ice water. Ice cold bastard!

Daredevil Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer, is in a courtroom and i believe he makes a reference to "justice being blind" Not sure on this, been awhile since i seen it

My Best Friend's Wedding Julia and her friend are talking on a ferry about "right timing" and "acting before its too late" as they pass under a bridge. "Or else the moment passes you by...." The pass through the bridge and they missed their chance to tell each other they loved each other

Last edited by MASAMUNE2; 02-12-06 at 06:14 AM.
Old 02-12-06, 06:03 AM
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Gods and Monsters: McKellen and Frasier sitting at the table having Lunch and a conversation about Homosexuality....afterwards they smoke cigars together. Naughty and Clever in one fell swoop. But you kinda have to be in on the joke. Not being gay I'm sure I read waay too much into that scene, but something tells me I'm onto somethin'.
Old 02-12-06, 06:08 AM
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Originally Posted by BigPete
All of the original Matrix with the green tint.

Green = deceit

Good one. Event Horizon also had a lot of green on it. I would think deceit played a role in that movie too.
Old 02-12-06, 06:14 AM
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red desert - antonioni places monica vitti's character in an oppressively gray and deathly urban industrial landscape. all scenes that signal a temporary independence contain bright, vivid colors.

leda - claude chabrol frames the reflection of a schizophrenic chartacter in a cracked mirror

in cold blood - rain running down a window casts "tears" onto a forlorn character's face.

seven samurai - a raging fire between two lovers simultaneously symbolizes their passion and acts as a metaphorical barrier keeping them apart.

casablanca - when ilsa pulls a gun on rick, they are each juxtaposed with a turkish urn in each of their frames.


Last edited by Cygnet74; 02-12-06 at 06:44 AM.
Old 02-12-06, 06:16 AM
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Since when does the color green represent deceit? no one taught me that
Old 02-12-06, 06:42 AM
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Originally Posted by MASAMUNE2
Since when does the color green represent deceit? no one taught me that
an important aspect to color theory is for the work of art to define what the color will represent. it doesn't necessessarily have to adhere to the more common qualities associated with it. to state the obvious, a green cast served to highlight a "false" reality - to signify a dream state of sorts, and not the more typical connotations of greed and jealousy or youth, life and virility.

Last edited by Cygnet74; 02-12-06 at 06:54 AM.
Old 02-12-06, 07:14 AM
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The most obvious one I can think of is the phallic train going into the tunnel in North By Northwest.

Good thread, by the way. Very interesting stuff by all the posters.

Last edited by kurupt; 02-12-06 at 07:16 AM.
Old 02-12-06, 09:32 AM
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Originally Posted by OwlAtHome
Here's a really obvious one: Schindler's List; The little girl in the red dress, she's alone presumabley lost yet no one helps her. At the same time Hitler was murdering Jewsih people and no one was doing anyting to stop him.
I would use this to model symbolism--because I do think it's pretty easy to grasp--but I'm actually going to use this scene in their evaluation. This mini film studies unit is placed within a larger Holocaust unit, and analyzing Schindler's List will be part of their graded work.

There's a lot of visual symbolism in the film that is, perhaps unsurprisingly, really easy to grasp. For instance, when Schindler and Amon are talking about saving Schindler's Jews, Schindler is on screen right, Amon on screen left, and they are literally (and thus metaphorically) split by----I forgot, but they are clearly shown to be on opposite sides. And of course the film's black-and-white cinematography is representative, I feel, of a darker and more sober time. And the film begins with a candle being burnt out, but ends with the candles being relit...

Anyway, keep it going! The more obvious, the better. A lot of these kids will start by thinking this "symbolism in film" is coincidence or just plain BS, so if its undeniable, that's great.

Also, since I haven't seen all these films (and won't have time to before I teach the unit), if you could post a short explanation about the film's symbolism, I would really appreciate it.

...does it seem like I'm giving you guys homework? hah. I apologize.

Last edited by Corvin; 02-12-06 at 09:35 AM.
Old 02-12-06, 09:48 AM
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The original Scarface (1932), directed by Howard Hawks. The scar on the main character's face is in the shape of an "X", so numerous scenes throughout the movie have an "X" in silhouette in the background.
Old 02-12-06, 09:50 AM
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the montage during the sex scene in The Naked Gun
Old 02-12-06, 09:54 AM
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Monster's Ball: Putting away his Old Miserable Hatefilled Father...Putting away his own Old Misearable Hatefilled Life.

Last edited by Giantrobo; 02-12-06 at 09:56 AM.
Old 02-12-06, 11:36 AM
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The Old Man and the Sea, Frankenstein's monster, etc., all becoming Christ-figures.

Diva: Our hero gets to meet the beautiful opera singer he idolizes. As they walk through the park at night, the frame is filled with vertical objects: light posts, obelisks, and the distant Eiffel Tower in the center.
Old 02-12-06, 01:22 PM
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Taxi Driver-When the camera is on Travis as he's on the pay phone with Betsy. The camera then pans to the doorway in the hall as if to say "This conversation isn't going anywhere and It's time to move on".
Old 02-12-06, 01:34 PM
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In Passenger 57, the 5+7 = 12, a reference to the Apostles. Wesley Snipe's character is John.

In Weekend at Bernie's, Bernie is man's inhumanity to man.

In Eyes Wide Shut, the mask Tom Cruise's character wears is his deceit. When it is placed on his pillow, his deceit has been found out.
Old 02-12-06, 01:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Mondo Kane
Taxi Driver-When the camera is on Travis as he's on the pay phone with Betsy. The camera then pans to the doorway in the hall as if to say "This conversation isn't going anywhere and It's time to move on".
or, if i could offer an alternative interpretation, that the rejection he's experiencing in that phone call is too painful to watch. (on the criterion laserdisc commentary, this was the explanation that scorsese gave as to the motivation behind the camera move).
Old 02-12-06, 11:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Cygnet74
an important aspect to color theory is for the work of art to define what the color will represent. it doesn't necessessarily have to adhere to the more common qualities associated with it. to state the obvious, a green cast served to highlight a "false" reality - to signify a dream state of sorts, and not the more typical connotations of greed and jealousy or youth, life and virility.

I still don't get it at all. Maybe it is an art major thing. Still not overtly obvious though.



You guys are missing one of the greatest transitions and symbolic moments in movie history. The end of the prologue in 2001 with the powerful image of the bone in primitive times transitioning to the pen in the space shuttle symbolizing the transition of brute force to intellegent thought in the evolution of man/civilization.

My professor commented that nowadays Kubrick might have chosen a laptop instead of a pen.

Really I think the prologue to 2001 has a lot of great imagery and symbolism and is a nice short piece of film to show to your class.
Old 02-13-06, 12:07 AM
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theres some great symbolism in the intros to the Austin Powers movies. hee hee hee
Old 02-13-06, 12:33 AM
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If you want to easily explainable symbolism which presents all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the grundies, look no further than the final shot in Castaway. Or even worse, the "all races look the same under the ash" finale in Volcano that was so dense and obfuscated that the "filmmakers" even resorted to using a smarmy little puke kid spell it out to the audience.
Old 02-13-06, 02:36 PM
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I know Pleasentville have too many to even mention. The ones concerning lust,passion, 60's race relations. One being that the first color that is seen in the black&white world of Pleasentville is red which often represents lust. Plus it just happened to occur after the kid just had sex.
I know my wife wrote a entire paper just on Pleasentville when we were in school.
In Blue Velvet the color of the inside of Dorothy's apartment building compared to other houses and the outside.

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