One of the things I appreciate about cinema is that films are enigmatic. Many times the films we see when we're kicking back and watching as passive spectators are not the same films we see when we sit up, pen and pad in hand, and unfurl the cinematic message in its entirety. This video essay by Darren of Must See Films attempts to unearth all of the subtle ways director Denis Villeneuve and legendary DP Roger Deakins try to communicate through the film Prisoners. It breaks down many aspects of the film, like the blocking, costuming, and aesthetic choices, as well as its symbolism, motifs, and patterns, offering a richer, more well-rounded understanding of not only the film itself, but of just how complex and intricate visual storytelling actually is.

First, here's the trailer to Prisoners.

Take a look at this excellent analysis of Prisoners, but if you haven't seen the film yet, I definitely recommend watching it so you can follow along. Click here to buy it on Amazon.

I have to warn you, there are spoilers ahead, so watch at your own risk:

One time in a film class, we watched A Simple Plan, directed by Sam Raimi, for the purpose of analyzing it to shreds. After some good discussion about the bird motif, as well as the symbolism of the snow in the film, one of my classmates, who seemed pretty skeptical about our discourse, asked our professor, "Is all of this intentional really? Couldn't the filmmakers have just done some of this stuff by accident?" My professor, and I'm still inspired by her words to this day, said, "Nothing in cinema is an accident."

Of course -- there are accidents. One of the most famous of these was In Cold Blood's "Hopeless Dreams" scene in which droplets of rain on a window get projected onto Robert Blake's face, making him look he's crying. The film's DP, Conrad L. Hall admits that this brilliant visual technique was a complete accident -- but a good one, so they left it in.

You can hear from Hall himself talk about the scene in the video below. He talks about it around the 3:00 mark.

So, sure -- accidents and happy mistakes do happen in films, however the vast majority of what you see on-screen came from the imaginations and careful planning of incredibly talented artists. As you'll see in the analysis of Prisoners below, it's not only the narrative and cinematography that speak to audiences. Of course, shooting one character from a high angle and another from a low angle sets up a hierarchy right off the bat; having a character return, at the end of the film, to the place he was at the beginning is symbolic of many different things. However, films also communicate through symbolism (the color red in The Sixth Sense), motifs (the eyes, hands, birds, flies in Hitchcock's Psycho), and patterns (it's often said that anything of significance in a film shows up 3 times on-screen).

red sixth sense

Psycho birds

Analyzing films on different levels other than their basic narrative structures and basic aesthetic and cinematographic principles will show you not only how detailed and intricate films can be, but how detailed and intricate you can make them. The creative real estate is there!

What did you think of the analysis? Let's analyze Prisoners in the comments below!

[via Must See Films]