Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Use of Split Second Imagery to Depict Evil in: Passion Of the Christ

The director of the Passion of the Christ, uses some very interesting techniques from a directors POV to portray evil throughout the film. The way that Satan and other figures of evil are depicted in the film gives an insight on how one might think the director views evil especially in our modern world. In scenes in which evil is very much present, or more so than usual the director usually adds a supernatural spin to the scene to depict to the audience that evil and Satan are behind these deeds.

The first instance of this involves Judas and his betrayal of Jesus. At first when the guards drop Jesus off the bridge and Judas is there, he looks into Jesus’ eyes and feels horrible guilt. Just after this one starts to hear a growling and suddenly appears a hellish creature as if it was there to scare Judas and let him know he is being watched. Evil follows Judas like a curse because he has given into it.  Not only does it follow him around but it is very scary, and terrorizing to his well being.

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(Time Stamp: 15:32)

Judas also has a run in with evil once he realizes that he has ultimately betrayed his former savior. He is bleeding and sitting down, stewing in disgust with himself when some children run up to ask if he is ok. He lashes out at the children and the camera cuts in and out between the children looking normal to them looking very distorted and evil. The director uses hellish children to describe the torment Judas is going through. It makes the viewer ponder what evil is, and what scenarios it shows up in. In the film it seems that evil is present in every scenario but it is up to those people to either let the evil in and embrace it, or deny it. Evil can twist and distort even the most normal and beautiful things on earth, in this example it is children who are usually seen as innocent.

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(Time Stamp 32:09)

Lastly the movie shows Satan throughout the film as an observer of what is happening to Jesus. A particular scene that I would like to point out is when Jesus is chained to a stone pillar and is getting beaten and whipped by the guards. Everyone is watching and observing Jesus’ pain, when out of the shadows Satan drifts among the people and almost seems to take pride in what is happening.  Satan is very mysterious in this film, and kind of comes and goes as she pleases.   She watches over the shoulder of the High Priest as if she is backing his actions and standing with him in approval. It is also notices that nobody sees or acknowledges Satan in the film, but she is merely shown to remind the viewer where the root of evil stems from.

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(Time Stamp: 52:34)

The theme I think the director was trying to portray when it came to evil, is that evil will always be present in every situation, and sometimes it will be deceptively beautiful to the viewer. This is why I think the director made Satan an attractive woman because evil isn’t so obviously evil all the time, it is much harder to decipher under certain scenarios. There will always be some allure towards evil as it drifts in and out of life, but the director does a good job of showing and depicting to the viewer how evil took over Judas and how Satan lurks in wait of a weaker soul to take advantage of. Evil deeds are often disguised to the eye as good deeds,  but it is up to the person committing the deed to know the difference.


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“Pulling a Robbery”: Gary Gray’s Use of the Execution Scene Seen in Dead Man Walking

At this time in the U.S., the validity and true fairness of our justice system has become a very controversial topic. For example, with innovative strides made in areas such as DNA testing, people have begun to fight against the death penalty for some death row inmates who may actually be innocent if evidence were tested with this new method.  Another common issue with the justice system is the problem of actually putting those deserving of punishment away instead of those who have not been proven guilty without a reasonable doubt. As the American people have begun to question the judicial system frequently over the years, many directors have made these issues of justice central themes to their own movies. In Tim Robbin’s Dead Man Walking and Gary Gray’s Law-Abiding Citizen, both directors use similar scene set ups and shots for death row inmates in the midst of their executions in order to convey two differing themes. In these two films, directors Tim Robbins and Gary Gray use scenes of death row inmates to convey their themes regarding the controversial aspects of the American justice system.

In Dead Man Walking, Tim Robbins uses this final execution scene to highlight the controversial issues of the Death Penalty for inmates who arguably deserve a second chance or a punishment less harsh. The leading character Matthew Poncelet is a convict rightfully charged with the sexual assault of a teenage girl as well as the murder of her teenage boyfriend. Poncelet consistently denies these charges, claiming he did not kill or rape anyone, until the day of his execution when he emotionally comes to terms with his sin while talking to Sister Helen. As his time to live winds down and he begins to be prepared for execution, the viewer gets a view of Poncelet from Sister Helen’s point of view.

Time Stamp: 2:10

This view of Poncelet delivers an empathetic perception of this convict which the viewer, similar to Sister Helen, has watched grow and change as a person throughout the movie. Poncelet’s face in the scene gives off a feeling of solemn regret and deep sorrow towards the actions he has played a part in to receive such punishment. More importantly, the viewer gets a deep look at the true guilt Poncelet feels for the mistakes he has previously made. This push for empathy from the viewer helps to question the use of the death penalty as punishment for inmates. The movie serves to show that people can change, and Matthew Poncelet’s situation forces the viewer to decide whether a “changed” convict should still receive the severe punishment of death by lethal injection.

In Law-Abiding Citizen, Gary Gray’s scene regarding a man’s execution lightly plays with the topic of wrongly accused persons within the judicial system. In this execution the scene is displayed almost identical to that of Tim Robbin’s ending scene in Dead Man Walking, with the point of view coming from that of the main character, Nick Rice. The difference in this scene is that empathetic feelings toward the man facing execution are relatively nonexistent; the character’s only visible involvement within the story is a brief apprehension while taking part in the robbery and murder of the Shelton family ten years before the execution. His story bares some similar comparisons to Matthew Poncelet’s in Tim Robbin’s film by being part of a crime he did not necessarily want to be involved with. Aside from their stories, this man on the execution table also strikingly resembles the scene in Dead Man Walking.

Time Stamp: 15:24

The man’s face carries the same sorrowful and regretful expression as Poncelet’s, but in this case both the viewer and Nick Rice do not know about the innocence or potential changed emotions of this man. While the man actually did not participate in the murders of the Shelton family, he still finds himself punished by death with no one sympathizing for him. Gary Gray plays with the topic of the death penalty and judicial system by showing members of this justice system’s ability to completely disregard the cruelty of killing a man for questionable charges. The lawyer, Nick Rice, treats this execution as another common day on the job rather than actually looking at the real “rights” and “wrongs” of this present situation, a theme that becomes a bigger focal point as the movie progresses. In the end, Gary Gray’s clever use of Tim Robbin’s death row inmate scene helps to illuminate the opposite, unsympathetic side of the Death Penalty controversy.



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Who’s To Blame?

Law Abiding Citizen, directed by F. Gary Gray, depicts the events of a man, who was once a law abiding citizen that decides to take justice into his own hands after the government fails to punish one of his family’s killers. However, not only does he work to exact revenge on the killer, but also on anyone who was involved in convicting him during his hearing. In this film, Gray works to highlight a lot of flaws within our judicial system. For instance, when Shelton was speaking with his attorney, Nick Rice, he learns that his case was compromised due to the fact that he black out during the robbery, and the forensic evidence found was sloppy; therefore, the evidence they have against the two robbers is circumstantial. But, due to the idea that Rice wants to keep his conviction rate up, he makes a deal with the Darby in return for his guilty plea to third-degree murder in return for his testimony to send Ames to death row. It is unfortunate that we have so many stipulations that block victims from getting proper justice for crimes that were committed. So because he passed out during an assault, and the forensic team contaminated his evidence, killers can go free? We’re basically placing the blame on the victims for being able to improperly handle an attack, or holding too much value in the hands of poorly trained investigators that contaminate evidence crime scene after scene.  It is a scary though in the grand scheme of petty crimes that takes place throughout our society. However, like Shelton points out in the court room later in the film, it is an outrage that our supposed justice system make deals with known criminals.

How it that our government can know someone is guilty, without any doubt, but continue to make deal after deal with them to increase the rate of conviction? Is our legal system a competition? But to what cost? Clearly in this film, it cost the trust of a man’s faith in the government. Thus, he took matters into his own hands, like many others do. As a country shouldn’t we be able to trust that our government can know right from wrong, and punish those who are wronging those who are right? When they don’t, they send a message to the people that if you truly want justice, you must handle your problems yourself. However, is it justice that was truly sought, or revenge? At what point should our government punish a man who was doing what the government couldn’t?


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A Tame Version of “Saw”

The Film Law abiding citizen was directed by Gary Gray and is based off of the screenplay by Kurt Wimmer. Felix Gary Gray is most noted for two spectacular films of the past ten years; The Negotiator and The Italian Job (great actions flicks). First off I was expecting what I got out of this film in reference to climaxes of blood, action, and intense violence. Anyways, Jamie Foxx from Collateral and Gerard Butler from 300. Going to be awesome right? Wrong.  Clyde (Gerard Butler) witnesses his wife and young daughter’s murder by 2 accomplices who are caught. The issue now becomes the problem of the government. Ames is sent to death row, but the Jamie Foxes character claims that there was not enough evidence to convict both of them on counts of first degree murder. So here the fun begins. Clyde decides (like a million other movies) to take the “justice system” into his own hands and go after Darby and brutally torture him until he dies.   We can sense a feeling of revenge on Clydes part when he says “I’m gonna pull the whole thing down.  I’m gonna bring the whole fuckin’ diseased, corrupt temple down on your head. It’s gonna be biblical”.Although pretty generic in its approach, it does bring back the question of if it is ever appropriate for a citizen to take things like this into his own hands. Justice is not always done, but then that leaves the question of what would have happened if both accomplices were just sentenced to death row. Well it certainly wouldn’t make a good movie, but are the actions of this former federal defense agent justified? The movie is quite predictable, but is yet another film dealing with more philosophical issues regarding justified revenge. Is there such a thing? Clyde seems to think more along the line of just “blowing shit up” than actually taking a step back and thinking about things. Then again, his wife and kid were murdered. There seems to be elements of almost every city thriller in terms of the visual approach.

 Low angle shots and so forth are elements of every political conspiracy film I’ve seen. I apologize for pointing out most of the negative aspects of the film (other than the cool quote) but I just didn’t really get it. To leave on a good note, I think that F. Gary Gray seems to find great cinematographers.


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Hermaneutic Code in Law Abiding Citizen

With his use of hermeneutic code in Law Abiding Citizen, director F. Gary Gray draws suspense in a captivating manner.  One definition of hermeneutic code is “those plot elements that raise questions on the part of the viewer of a film.”  So this code entails the director strategically showing significant events occur without giving a clear explanation as to why they occur.  The viewer immediately gets involved, searching for reasoning behind such curious impactful occurrences.  While typically directors tend to evoke suspense by starting off with the “who, what, when, where, and why,” adding influential events along the way, the hermaneutic code more thoroughly suspends the viewer by immersing him into the movie’s action right away and forcing him to discover why any of the 5 Ws are missing.  Law Abiding Citizen begins with the apparent protagonist, Clyde Shelton, receiving a visit from two burglars who murder his family before his eyes.  Once Shelton is placed in jail for murdering one of these men, the viewer questions how the action will proceed with Shelton locked away.  As Shelton continues his attacks on officials while behind bars, however, he adopts a God-like persona in which the viewer and characters around him cannot detect his next move because he holds knowledge that they don’t.  This type of omniscient yet secretive power not only captivates the viewer, but also leads him to question Shelton’s interior motivations and rationale for his actions.

While in jail Shelton effectively manipulates the criminal system, gaining leverage in the prison by systematically murdering numerous officials. These murders shock and appall the viewer, and do so simultaneously to characters like Nick Rice.  By witnessing such horrific, groundless scenes along with Rice, the viewer can easily identify and relate to Rice’s subsequent emotions.  The viewer jolts at the surprise that hits Rice when a bomb erupts.  He feels fear grip him just as it grips Rice.  And he feels the uncertainty and paranoia that envelop Rice while Shelton lives.  This easy access into Rice’s psyche attaches Rice to the viewer and the viewer’s eyes to the movie as he watches events unfold through Rice’s viewpoint.  The clip below portrays a specific instance that evokes these emotions in Rice and the viewer, as Rice unexpectedly witnesses the judge’s head explode.  None of the characters other than Shelton know that the phone will explode, so their genuine astonishment parallels the viewer’s.

(01:02:33) Phone bomb explodes

This fear that Shelton strikes in people resembles the ominous presence that God himself possesses—the God-like comparison only starts here.  Another man, who Rice meets in the subway, exists out of Shelton’s way and only timidly does he come forth with information about Shelton.  He tells Rice that “if [Shelton] wants you dead, you’re dead.”  With this statement the man qualifies Shelton as an all-powerful force whose will is unavoidable, even when behind bars.  He can direct peoples’ fate; they should not try to avoid Shelton’s grasp because he has capabilities and resources that normal humans don’t have.  As the viewer witnesses Shelton exhibit his far-reaching power in his murders, the viewer predicts that he has hired associates to help.  When he finds out later that no man assists Shelton, but rather that he has equipped himself with an extensive military weaponry background, the viewer further questions how one man can retain so much power, and ultimately what motives propel his actions.

His earliest murders carry an obvious motive; vengeance for his family’s death.  The immediately following murders, however, contain more clandestine motives.  While Shelton clearly detests the corrupt officers who man the governmental framework, he begins to kill even those with no involvement in his case. The viewer consequently wonders whether this man has evident logic behind these murders, whether he is insane, or whether he embarks on this rampage out of pure spite.  Later when Shelton reveals his hopes to “bring the temple down,” the viewer concludes that out of spite, Shelton has formulated the logical goal to not only execute the system’s officials, but also to destroy the institution, structures, and ideas that come with the “temple.”  Shelton wants to abolish the whole corrupt thing.  At the end of the movie the viewer sees Rice uncover Shelton’s scheme, and sees Shelton fail to fully perpetuate a God-like persona.  This is where his God-like comparison stops.  In not fully being able to conceal his plan, Shelton allows Rice to discover his secret path and bomb, and he dies–like everyone else–by way of his own device.  Unlike God, he malevolently wields his powers to kill and destroy.  Both his calculating errors and his misuse of power distance him from God.  At the end of the movie, Gray depicts Hell-like flames envelop Shelton, who’s sinful deeds and imperfection perhaps place him closer to Satan than to God.

(01:39:40) Shelton's cell blows up

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Final exam structure

Here’s the outline of the final. Remember: it is roughly 2/3 or 3/4 on the films from after the midterm, but everything this semester is fair game.

Part 1: Film IDS. There will be between 4 and 6. Give title, country of production (or at least language), and year of production (within a 10-year window). = 20%

Part 2: Multiple choice. Basically like the quizzes. (On plot). Could include some basic terminology.  = 15%

Part 3: Short answer. 1-2 sentences, or less. On important critical/cinematographical terminology and other points of analysis of the films. Will be objective, however. = 15%

Part 4: Essay. basically 3 paragraphs. 2 of the following prompts will appear on the exam. You will have to select one. Prepare you answer in advance!

  1. Using at least 2 films from the course (can be from before or after the midterm) as evidence for your argument, argue whether revenge can ever be right? (Make this an argument. Yes or no. Do not equivocate.)
  2. Select one cinematographical technique (e.g., slow-motion, low-angled shot, extreme close-up) and explain how it’s used differently in 2 or more films (at least one from before and one from after the midterm).
  3. Take 2 different films (one from before the midterm and one from after) and explain the ways that these films interact with the contemporary culture of their time and place of production. Focus especially on the differences between the ways that your selected films do this.

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Transitioning from Non-Diegetic to Diegetic Sound in La Haine

Diegetic sounds in film occur within the context of the film and can be heard by the characters. For example, a song playing from a record player in a room would be a diegetic sound, whereas background music that only the audience can hear would be non-diegetic. While discussing Munich in class, we touched upon the use of diegesis as a tool to transition from one setting to another. Director Mathieu Kassovitz employs this method again in La Haine. The introduction to La Haine features a non-diegetic song played as a soundtrack and cuts to Saïd standing across from police in riot gear as the same song plays in the distance as a diegetic sound. The initial non-diegetic music provides the viewer with the context in which the film takes place and helps to set expectations for the film; the transition to a diegetic version of the same song pulls the viewer into the actual plot seamlessly.

The introduction to La Haine features brutal images of rioting and police brutality set to “Burnin’ and Lootin” by Bob Marley. During the news camera footage of the riots, the song is inherently non-diegetic because none of the characters on screen can hear or interact with the music. The choice to use this song is interesting because its feel is anything but violent, yet the lyrics ‘we’ll be burning and looting tonight’ are certainly appropriate. This background music helps to create setting for the film because the violence in the videos is juxtaposed against a song with a very relaxed feel. La Haine is a slow-moving film with a great deal of violence; a reggae song with lyrics depicting violence parallels the entire feel of the film perfectly.

The transition to diegetic music occurs as soon as the opening credits finish rolling and Saïd opens his eyes across from several police officers. Marley’s song can still be heard, yet the music is affected to sound as though it is drifting through the air from afar. As soon as the music becomes part of the surrounding atmosphere in which Saïd stands, it becomes diegetic. Saïd and the police officers across the street can hear the song bouncing off the concrete buildings in the banlieue, unlike the rioters in the opening sequence.

Kassovitz’ choice to transition from non-diegetic to diegetic music offers the viewer a neutral, removed look at violence in the balieue which then changes to a much more intimate study of the three teenagers involved. The director drops the viewer directly into Saïd’s world, which is comprised of the same streets on which the rioters clashed with the police in the film’s introduction. Because the song remains the same between these two sections, the viewer is subconsciously reminded of the violence presented just before. Also, the continuation “Burnin’ and Lootin’” into the actual story sets up the reasonable expectation that Saïd and his friends will find themselves in violent situations similar to those previously depicted alongside the non-diegetic version of the song.

The use of the non-diegetic music creates a distinction between the audience and the characters, as the characters are completely unaware of it. Kassovitz uses the transition to diegetic music as a way to make the viewer much more involved with the film and foreshadow some of the film’s key events.


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