In the world of filmmaking, storytelling is paramount. There are many literary devices that can help you get your story across while using the right words. One rhetorical device that filmmakers and screenwriters can employ to great effect is the isocolon.

In this article, we will explore the definition of an isocolon, its significance in cinematic storytelling, and provide examples of its use in some of the most iconic films in history.

Let's pull this apart together.

What is an Isocolon?

Isocolon Definition

An isocolon is a rhetorical device that involves the repetition of grammatical structures, usually in the form of parallel clauses or phrases, to create balance in a sentence or passage.

This repetition serves to emphasize a particular point, add rhythm to the text, and make it more memorable.

Isocolon is derived from the Greek words "iso," meaning equal, and "colon," meaning clause or phrase, which perfectly captures its essence.

What is an Isocolon in Filmmaking?

In filmmaking, isocolon can be a powerful tool for screenwriters, as it can help convey a character's thoughts, emotions, or intentions more effectively.

By structuring dialogue or narration in a balanced and symmetrical manner, filmmakers can enhance the impact of a scene and create a lasting impression on the audience.

Why Do Filmmakers Use Isocolons?

Vito Corleone, played by Marlon Brando, as the Godfather in 'The Godfather'

'The Godfather'

Credit: Paramount

Filmmakers use isocolons for several compelling reasons, as this rhetorical device can enhance the storytelling experience and convey various aspects of their narrative effectively.

  1. Emphasis and Repetition of Key Ideas: Isocolons allow filmmakers to emphasize and repeat important ideas, themes, or messages within their films. By structuring dialogue or narration with parallel clauses or phrases, they can draw the audience's attention to specific concepts or character motivations. This repetition reinforces the significance of these elements in the storyline.
  2. Rhythm and Flow: Isocolons introduce a rhythmic quality to the dialogue or narration. This rhythm can be used to create a sense of pacing and timing in a scene. It can be especially effective in moments of tension, drama, or suspense, helping to build anticipation and engage the audience on an emotional level.
  3. Memorability: The structured and balanced nature of isocolons makes them more memorable for the audience. Viewers are more likely to recall key lines or speeches that use this rhetorical device, which can be crucial for conveying pivotal plot points, character development, or thematic elements.
  4. Characterization: Isocolons can be a valuable tool for character development. Different characters may use isocolons in distinctive ways, reflecting their personalities, beliefs, or emotions. For example, a character who speaks in measured, balanced isocolons might come across as composed and rational, while another character using fragmented isocolons might convey a sense of confusion or inner turmoil.
  5. Artistic Expression: Filmmaking is an art form, and isocolons offer filmmakers a creative means of expression. They can add depth, nuance, and poetic beauty to the dialogue or narration, elevating the overall quality of the film. Isocolons can be particularly effective in films that aim to achieve a literary or theatrical quality in their storytelling.
  6. Motivation and Inspiration: Isocolons are often used in motivational or inspirational speeches within films. By structuring such speeches with parallel clauses or phrases, filmmakers can inspire both the characters within the story and the audience watching it. Memorable isocolons can become catchphrases or mottos associated with the film.
  7. Cultural and Historical Significance: Isocolons have a rich history in literature, rhetoric, and oratory. Filmmakers may use them to pay homage to classical or historical speech patterns, adding depth and authenticity to period pieces or films set in specific cultural contexts.

Whether to underscore key themes, evoke emotions, or craft memorable lines, isocolons serve as a versatile device that contributes to the overall cinematic experience and leaves a lasting impression on the audience.

Examples of Isocolons in Film and TV

The cast of 'Glengarry Glen Ross

'Glengarry Glen Ross'

Credit: New Line Cinema

Isocolons are a rhetorical device that can be found in various forms of storytelling, including film and television. Here are some examples of isocolons in film and TV:

1. Gladiator (2000):

  • Example: "What we do in life echoes in eternity."
  • Context: Maximus delivers this line as he addresses his troops before a battle, emphasizing the enduring impact of their actions.

2. Dead Poets Society (1989):

  • Example: "Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary."
  • Context: John Keating encourages his students to embrace life and make it extraordinary, using parallel phrases to reinforce the message.

3. The Godfather (1972):

  • Example: "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse."
  • Context: Michael Corleone uses this isocolon to convey his determination and power when discussing a negotiation strategy.

4. A Beautiful Mind (2001):

  • Example: "In competitive behavior, someone always loses."
  • Context: John Nash uses this isocolon to highlight the inevitable outcome of competition, reflecting his mathematical mindset.

5. Breaking Bad (TV Series, 2008-2013):

  • Example: "I am not in danger, Skyler. I am the danger."
  • Context: Walter White's transformation into Heisenberg is emphasized through the isocolon, demonstrating his newfound confidence and power.

6. Game of Thrones (TV Series, 2011-2019):

  • Example: "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die."
  • Context: Cersei Lannister's isocolon underscores the high stakes and ruthless nature of the political struggle in the series.

7. The West Wing (TV Series, 1999-2006):

  • Example: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
  • Context: President Josiah Bartlet recites this famous line from the Declaration of Independence, using isocolon to emphasize the foundational principles of the United States.

8. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992):

  • Example: "A-B-C. A, always. B, be. C, closing. Always be closing."
  • Context: In a sales meeting, this isocolon-driven speech emphasizes the importance of closing deals in a high-pressure sales environment.

9. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002):

  • Example: "This is but a taste of the terror that Saruman will unleash."
  • Context: Gandalf uses an isocolon to warn of the impending danger posed by Saruman.

10. The Crown (TV Series, 2016-present):

  • Example: "The monarchy is a family. We are all together, and we are all alone."
  • Context: Queen Elizabeth II reflects on the complexities of her role and the isolation that comes with it, using isocolon for emphasis.

The isocolon can be a valuable tool for screenwriters and directors alike. By using this rhetorical device effectively, filmmakers can elevate their storytelling, engage the audience, and leave a lasting impact.

So, the next time you're writing a screenplay or analyzing a film, keep an eye out for the powerful use of isocolon—it might just be the key to unlocking the true potential of your cinematic narrative.

Let me know what you think in the comments.