Chapter 2- Thematic Elements

Chapter 2: Thematic Elements
Theme: The central, unifying purpose and focus
of the film (Unlike literature, the theme of the
film is not limited to an idea.)
 Types of Themes found in Film:
1. Plot
2. Emotional Effect or Mood
3. Character
4. Style, Texture, Structure
5. Idea
Focus on Plot
The film is most concerned with what
happens. Its primary purpose/ focus is
linked to its plot.
 Action/Adventure films and detective
stories are concerned mainly with plot
 Examples: Bourne Series, Gladiator, Day
After Tomorrow, LA Confidential , Raiders
of the Lost Ark, Pirates of the Caribbean
Emotional Effect or Mood
The film’s primary concern is to convey a certain
mood to an audience, get the audience to feel
and react a certain way.
Horror/Suspense Films are most notably
concerned with the Emotional Effect
Horror/Suspense: Alfred Hitchcok films, Saw
Series, Texas Chainsaw Massacre series
Comedy: Stepbrothers, Superbad
Romantic Films: Notebook
Dramadies (part comedy and part drama) are
concerned with both emotions. Royal
The film’s primary concern is with
portraying a unique character and tracing
his/her development. These films are
“character driven” rather than plot driven.
 Bio-pictures focus on character (Ali,
Raging Bull, Frida, Ray, Capote)
 Non-bio pictures that also focus on
portraying a unique character: Rushmore,
Charlie Bartlett, Napoleon Dynamite
Texture, Style, Structure
These films are most concerned with the
visual representation of the story and
experimenting with style and structure.
What we remember most is the “look” of
the film or the way in which the story was
 Examples: Memento, Sin City, New World,
Waking Life, 300, Scanner Darkly
The film’s primary concern is to convey an idea
about life, human relationships, the human
experience, and/or society.
 The idea may be stated directly by a character
or clearly represented by a particular scene or
conveyed more subtlety through the connection
of various elements.
 The film’s central idea is open for interpretation
and there may be several opinions as to what a
film’s central idea is.
Moral Implications
These films deal with the moral
consequences and implications of a
character or characters’ decisions and
actions. Unlike the Moral Riddle, these
films seem to suggest more overtly a
moral statement like: “money is the root
of all evil.”
 These films include:
Crash, A Simple Plan, Quiz Show
The Truth of Human Nature
These films look at the universal
experience of human nature. These films
depict characters who represent some
idea about the universal human
 Examples: Lord of the Flies (How young
boys react once civilization is removed.)
 Sideways looks at how people cope and
deal with disappointment and broken
Struggle for Human Dignity
These films trace the struggle of a
character to defy the internal or external
challenges he/she faces to restore dignity
to their lives. The central character is
usually at a disadvantage in his/her life.
 Examples: Rocky Films, Pursuit of
Happyness, Million Dollar Baby, On the
Social Problems
These films are concerned with examining,
critiquing societal problems, institutions.
These films usually offer a critique, but
perhaps not a solution to these problems.
They may also deal with their subject
matter in a serious or satirical way.
 Examples: Philadelphia, Dead Man
Walking, Do the Right Thing , Michael
Moore documentaries
The Complexity of Human
These films look at the joy, pain,
complications that arise out of family,
friendships, romantic relationships.
 Examples: In the Bedroom, Breaking the
Waves, Brokeback Mountain, Terms of
Endearment, Before the Devil Knows
You’re Dead, Eternal Sunshine of the
Spotless Mind
Coming of Age/Loss of
Innocence/Growing Awareness
These films deal with a character, usually
young, who experiences events that
cause a change in awareness about
his/herself, society, and/or relationships.
 These films include: Whale Rider, Almost
Famous, To Kill a Mockingbird, This Boys’
Life, My Girl , Thirteen
A Moral or Philosophical Riddle
These films center around a moral/philosophical
 These films only raise moral/philosophical
questions rather than addressing them.
 They use ambiguity, symbolism and images
rather than overt statements.
 These films include: Being John Malkovich, I
Heart Huckabees, Fight Club, I’m Not There
A reaction to this type of film would be: “What’s
this all about?”
Identifying Theme
Usually, this can not be done until after you’ve
seen the film and thought about it.
 Start by explaining the film to someone else.
Usually, what first comes out of your mouth
about the film, will indicate the film’s purpose.
 Make a tentative statement about the film’s
 Begin analyzing individual elements and then go
back to revise previous statement.
Evaluating Theme
Evaluating a theme is highly subjective.
 Few criteria:
1. Universality of the theme (Does the
theme/characters transcend the time in
which the film was made?)
- Easy Rider versus Grapes of Wrath
2. Significance of theme (Is the theme
-Nacho Libre versus Godfather
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