Mise-En-Scene Analysis


Mise-en-scene analysis
For there to be a mise-en-scene analysis of Fight Club, there must first be an understanding of the underlying plot twist of the film and that is, Tyler Durden is not real. In this scene, the narrator played by Edward Norton, is handing Tyler Durden, whom is played by Brad Pitt, a bottle of beer.

Where is our eye attracted first? Why?
Our eyes are immediately attracted towards Norton because of the color of his white shirt in an otherwise dark scene. Norton also takes up a fair share of the center of the screen. Other than that, both Norton and Pitt’s characters are the focus of the shot. They are both lit equally by the overhead street light as they sit on the curb. Nothing else is in focus, such as the neon sign in the background nor is the label of the beer in the foreground.

Lighting Key
High key? Low key? High contrast? Some combination of these?
This shot, like much of the movie is presented in low key lighting. Both characters are sitting under a streetlight draped by its light which casts shadows on their faces and clothing.

Shot and Camera Proxemics
What type of shot? How far away is the camera from the action?
Although they are seated, this scene is a medium shot, showing their knees and upward. Some of the background is presented to show that the two are indeed alone.

Camera Angle
Are we (and the camera) looking up or down on the subject? Or is the camera neutral (eye level)?
The camera is set at eye level as both characters are sitting relatively equal to each other. No power relations are being conveyed but perhaps that is the point since they are the same person.

Color Values
What is the dominant color? Are there contrasting foils? Is there color symbolism?
In the film when we flash to the narrators everyday life we see him wear a white shirt and tie. However, in this scene his clothes are disheveled due to his fight with Tyler. His light has become dirtied and scuffled since he has stumbled into Tyler’s world.

How do these distort or comment on the photographed materials?
This scene is probably shot in a wide angle lens because the two characters are out in the middle of a parking lot, but nothing is really in focus other than the two characters. Our attention should not be drawn away from the two and so the neon sign in the background is out of focus providing a contrast of depth. A slow film stock was used because the scene is lit by the streetlight above the two characters providing little light in a dark scenario.

Subsidiary Contrasts
After taking in the dominant, where does the eye go next? What are the other main objects in the shot besides the dominant?
Since Norton is dominant in the shot, then Pitt’s character is the subsidiary contrast. He is the only other character in focus and seen conversing with the main character. The beer bottle that Norton hands to Pitt is also in focus due to them exchanging possession of an object.

How much visual information is packed into the image? Is the texture stark, moderate, or highly detailed
There is not much density in this shot of the film, probably because viewers are encouraged to remember this scene as two characters speaking together (this scene is important to remember later for the reveal). Our view is limited to the two characters and the unmarked beer bottle.

How is the two-dimensional space segmented and organized? What is the underlying design?
This shot has a horizontally binary composition. Norton and Pitt are sitting crouched on the side walk at equal height and almost in the same position.

Is the form open or closed? Does the image suggest a window that arbitrarily isolates a fragment of the scene? Or a proscenium arch, in which the visual elements are carefully arraigned and held in balance?
This shot is an open form. Although there are only two characters in the shot, it does not suggest that everything is arraigned. They are merely sitting in the back alley of a bar, and if the scene were to incorporate a stranger walking in the background or a maybe an alley cat, it would disrupt the scene.

Is the framing tight or loose? Do the character have no room to move around, or can they move freely without impediments?
The framing in this shot is loose. They are sitting outside on the curb so they obviously have plenty of room to move around and they are not confined by the frame.

Depth of Field
On how many planes is the image composed (how many are in focus)? Does the background or foreground comment in any way on the mid-ground?
This shot is shallow. There is an apparent foreground where the characters are and a background where the scenery is. Everything around and beyond the two characters are out of focus where as you can see the fine details of cuts and bruises on both the characters.

Character Placement
What part of the framed space do the characters occupy? Center? Top? Bottom? Edges? Why?
Both characters occupy the center of the frame. Viewers don’t know much about either character, so neither is presented more or less different.

Staging Positions
Which way do the characters look vis-a-vis the camera?
Norton’s character is shown at a quarter turn towards the camera as he is speaking to Pitt while Pitt is shown at a profile, kind of ignoring the camera. This scene shows Norton kind of admiring Pitt as Pitt feigns interest from Norton as well as the camera.

Character Proxemics
How much space is there between the characters?
This shot shows that the characters are at an intimate distance. They had just engaged in a fight with one another, and are now sharing a beer. It’s as if after that fight they have been able to share a very intimate moment with each other.

This scene shows the two characters rejoicing after their fist fight. Norton’s work clothes are disheveled, his tie is undone, and his face is scuffed up. Pitt seems to be laying out comfortably smoking a cigarette, which is a common cliché after sex. It’s as if they have just shared an intimate moment and are now basking in the results over a beer.
The general lighting of this scene has many undertones that can be interpreted. First, the setting is a dark and dreary back alley behind a bar. There are only dull street lights and an out of focus neon sign of a bar. Norton and Pitt are crouched under a single streetlight seemingly basking under its rays. It’s as if they are now drenched in the light after being able to relieve themselves. However, the overhead light also casts intense shadows on both Norton and Pitt. Shadows are generally conceived as distortion, mischief, and darkness.
After the narrator realizes that he and Tyler are the same person, the film flashes back to this scene in particular but with a startling twist, Norton is speaking to himself. With that revelation, the mise-en-scene of this shot is completely altered and has to be re-evaluated. Norton is no longer speaking to Pitt, rather he is speaking to himself. He is handing a beer to no one.

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One Response to “Mise-En-Scene Analysis”

  1. Kevin L. Ferguson Says:

    Good analysis–I think you nail all the components of mise-en-scene (except maybe “framing”–since the actors would have a hard time staying in the shot if they moved too much).

    I think you emphasize mostly the “first-time” viewers experience of this shot, so I was wondering about how this shot would be reevaluated after seeing the reveal? You mention that “the mise-en-scene of this shot is completely altered and has to be re-evaluated”–but I wondered if you could say just one or two ways how we would re-evaluate it?

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