The Use of Focalization in Taken

Director Pierre Morel’s Taken is an action movie that fills its audience with a feeling of suspense and thrill different from one’s usual story of a savior or hero. Morel’s story takes a father, Bryan, and puts him in one of the most heartbreaking situations of any father’s life: the kidnapping of his only daughter, Kim. Although Bryan is a former CIA agent still well skilled in his profession throughout the movie, his role as a father leads him to make decisions in hostile situations during the rescue not customary to the usual James Bond-style rescue story. These decisions throughout the movie keep the viewer in suspense as they attempt to predict the father’s next move in potentially climactic moments of the rescue. In Taken, the character conflict between father and agent is highlighted through the use of focalization, placing Bryan in situations where both he and the viewer have a few moments to survey the setting and decide on an action to take.
One situation Bryan finds himself in throughout the movie is his conversation with the men who run the sex trafficking business inside their apartment. He arrives in their kitchen claiming he is Jean-Claude; an officer he has currently found seems to be dealing under the table with these criminals.

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Continuing this false identity quite smoothly, Bryan gets information about locations of the trafficking sites as well as names of the men leading these businesses. His ability to conceal his own identity while still getting to the details he needs to know to find his daughter highlight his abilities as a former CIA agent and the viewer as well as Bryan find themselves relatively comfortable with the situation at hand. But the hostility of the scene soon rises when one of the men says “good luck” in the same tone as the kidnapper on the phone at the beginning of the movie. At this point of the scene, there are a few seconds where the viewer sees the situation at hand through Bryan’s eyes as he briefly flashes back to the past scene that ties the phrase together. The viewer then does not know what the father will do next: walk away and not reveal his identity in front of the group of armed men, or get revenge on the man who robbed him of his daughter despite the risky circumstances. This veil of uncertainty leaves the decision in the air for even longer as the scene seems to stop for a moment to increase the suspense before Bryan reveals his identity and takes down all the men single-handedly. While this situation for a normal professional agent would probably end with him or her keeping up their fake identity, the father side of the main character took precedence as he made a decision that could have easily ended in his own death.
Another setting within the movie in which Bryan and the viewer find themselves at a point of suspense is in Jean-Claude’s dining room. In this scene, Bryan sits down for dinner with Jean-Claude’s wife and Jean-Claude, who returns from work surprised to see him in his house. As they begin to speak casually at the table, Bryan begins to insert comments with symbolic meanings in the traditional way movies do when there is a third party oblivious to the situation at hand. This third party, being Jean-Claude’s wife, listens on and eventually begins to feel the tensions brewing between the two men. At this point, a CIA agent or professional would most likely try to keep the wife out of the issue by either asking her to leave the room or moving their conversation elsewhere. Instead, the mind of an impatient father with little time decides to bring the matters of Jean-Claude’s secret criminal affairs out into the open in front of his wife. At this point Jean-Claude pulls out a gun that has already been unloaded, and the tension again mounts as the viewer begins to predict Bryan’s next move.

Time Stamp: 1:07:50

He has already put his skills to use by cleverly unloading his enemy’s gun, but now the wrath of a still-daughterless father again influences an important decision. Bryan pulls out his own gun and shoots the wife, an outcome the viewer would have never expected. This spontaneous and untraditional action by a CIA agent serves to keep the viewer loyal to each moment of suspense throughout the movie by showing that no action by this CIA agent will be held to special agent stereotypes; Bryan’s actions must be not just his former profession but his current role as a father as well.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Use of Focalization in Taken

  1. chaseweddington1

    I also noticed this tactic that showed the junction of a CIA agent and being a father. I feel as though it was a great contributor to the suspense of the movie. During each situation, the slight pause left the audience anticipating on how Bryan would handle the situation. Would he play the father role and be more passive and less violent about the situation? Or would he revert back to his CIA days and physically handle the situation? The uncertainty of how Bryan would handle situations left the audience eager to see the outcome. By merging these two identities, the director created a character that defied typical beliefs of a CIA agent and father, and helped strengthen the suspense of the plot.

  2. Your thesis makes an interesting point. As I watched this film, I noticed that there was a clear distinction between Bryan Mills the father, and Bryan Mills the CIA agent. I wondered what elements of the film helped emphasize this effect and I agree that the director’s use of focalization prompted this understanding of Bryan’s character. The most noticeable use of focalization comes when Bryan faces unique adversity. The director’s use of camera angles helped us connect more with the Bryan Mills that is a father less than the Bryan Mills that is the ex-CIA agent. I think this is because how you stated, that the film almost pauses in each adverse situation while the audience waits to decide what Bryan will do.

  3. kyliewatt

    This film tries to create the line between work and home life by using an extreme. Bryan as a father is caring and sweet and then when he is Bryan the CIA agent, he is fierce and ruthless. He transitions between the two roles often in the film and it forces us to think about how we would approach the concept of separating our home and work lives. This concept of separating your home and work life is something that is to be admired in the US. I think that this film reacts to how important it is to separate the two, especially for Bryan because if he home life affected his work or vice versa, his life wouldn’t be stable.

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