Character in Cinema Thesis

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Character in Cinema

While many elements go into making a good movie, characterization may be the most important of those elements. Characterization is the way that the personality of a character is revealed in a movie, and involves many different ways of revealing the personality of the character being portrayed in the film. Characterization can be direct or indirect. Direct characterization occurs when someone in a film, usually an omniscient narrator, describes one of the characters in the play. While this direct characterization is not always reliable, it does provide direct evidence of a person's character. Indirect characterization is not always as easy to interpret as direct characterization. Indirect characterization involves a combination of different elements than contribute to the overall perception of the character. Indirect characterization requires the audience to draw conclusions about the character being portrayed. Of course, the risk with indirect characterization is that the audience will draw the wrong conclusion about the character.

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Direct characterization is less common in film than in books. That is because direct characterization usually involves the voice of a narrator describing the character in question. While it is not impossible for a narrator to appear in films, it is unusual, which means that most movies do not employ direct characterization. The comments of non-narrator other characters about a character are not direct characterization, if there is nothing in the film to suggest that those characters have some type of special insight. Instead, those comments would reflect the character's interaction with others. Therefore, most films lack direct characterization. In addition, direct characterization may suffer from the fact that the narrators can be unreliable. Therefore, while direct characterization may have the benefit that the audience is directly given the information about the character, they have to understand the narrator in order to properly interpret that information.

Thesis on Character in Cinema Assignment

Because of the problems with direct characterization, most character development in modern films is the result of indirect characterization. Indirect characterization is what the audience can observe about the character without being directly told things about the character. For example, in the movie Grease, the audience does not have to be told that Danny is a greaser; his combination of leather jacket and jeans reveal that information about him. The five types of indirect characterization include: speech, thoughts, how the character interacts with others, actions, and looks (NCTE/IRA). In film, some of these types of characterization can be fully developed. For example, while speech in a written media requires the reader to assume the tone of the words being spoken, an actor can inject emotion into statements. Therefore, whether a statement is sincere or sarcastic is less open to interpretation, and more defined. However, determining a character's thoughts becomes much more difficult in a film, where there is generally no external insight into the character's thoughts. Moreover, most films do not contain an omniscient narrator who can reveal the character's thoughts and motivations. Instead, people who interpret films frequently argue about motivation. Through these various means of indirect characterization, one meets the character, much as one would meet an actual person in real life, and gets to form one's own opinion of the character.

However, much like meeting someone in person, one should not always trust how someone is characterized in a film. For example, audience members bring their own prejudices and preconceptions to their judgments of the characters being portrayed. On the most basic level, this means that audience members bring their stereotyped assumptions with them to the movie theater. They make assumptions about characters based on race and gender, which are going to exist regardless of how an actor approaches the role. However, sometimes these stereotypes can be challenged. There have been several instances of actors playing roles that were originally written for people of different genders and/or races, and this has been successful in many instances. However, there are some movies where race and/or gender are integral parts of the movie. Gender played a crucial role in the Accused and race played a critical role in Do the Right Thing; both movies would have lost critical importance if the race or gender of principle actors had been changed. Race and gender are two prime elements of appearance. Moreover, actors may portray characters in a way that exacerbates or minimizes stereotyped attitudes. For example, when portraying a young African-American male, an actor can portray very different images by choosing to dress in baggy jeans, heavy jewelry, an oversized top, and sports shoes or by dressing in a fitted suit, minimal jewelry, and polished shoes. Therefore, appearance plays a really critical role in helping convey the personality of a character.

This paper discusses several different examples of characterization in film, to see how characterization can reveal facets of individuality. However, it is important to keep in mind that characters in film are not always honest. They may be unintentionally dishonest, such as the characters that do not know themselves, and, therefore, cannot portray themselves to an audience. Great coming of age films tend to begin with main characters who present uncertain facades to the public, because they do not know themselves. Of course, the character may also be trying to portray something other than the truth to the other characters in the movie. There can be many reasons for this type of subterfuge. Perhaps the character is having an affair or in fact, many movies feature characters that are somehow conmen, who need the other characters in the movie to fail to completely understand them in order to accomplish their own goals. Perhaps the best example of misleading characterization in any film is the character of Verbal Kint in the Usual Suspects. Kint appears as a crippled minor accomplice in a crime, but the end of the movie strongly suggests that Kint is actually the mastermind of a major criminal organization (Singer). What that example makes clear is that the audience must be aware of the character acting in a movie.

Character is such an important element of movies, that the good actors are those who can completely embody the written character. For that reason, sometimes the most convincing movie characters are those portrayed by so-called "character" actors, rather than typical leading men and women. This is an idea embraced my many authors when their works are translated to the screen. They want an unknown or lesser known actor portraying their characters, so that the focus will be on the character, rather than the person portraying the character. In fact, the author Anne Rice famously protested the casting of Tom Cruise as Lestat in the film production of Interview with a Vampire, because of concerns that people were going to be looking at Tom Cruise, not at Lestat. Based on her own preconceptions of Cruise's work, she had determined that he would not be able to convincingly portray the vampire Lestat. She later retracted that statement, happy with the job that Cruise had done portraying Lestat, but it showed that she was aware of how the actor's reputation impacts characterization.

Anne Rice is not the only person aware of the fact that an actor's real life can impact how the public perceives him or her in a movie role. If two actors are romantically involved off-screen, their romantic relationships onscreen receive a greater level of scrutiny. Likewise, believable onscreen chemistry is investigated to see if it has led to off-screen chemistry. Actors are assumed to have some of the characteristics of their prior roles, and, at least before the audience begins watching a film, to bring some of those characteristics to their future films. The actors who are most successful in avoiding this are those who are most willing to dramatically change their appearance and/or demeanor for their roles. However, that is not always possible, and actors must deal with the fact that the audience is going to have preconceived notions about a character because of the actor portraying the character. In fact, many times movies demonstrate an awareness of how an actor's outside reputation will impact a movie role. Julia Roberts is the only significant female character in the remake of Ocean's Eleven, and its sequels. In one of the movies, Ocean's Twelve, her character's physical similarity to the actress Julia Roberts is used as a plot device (Soderbergh). Therefore, it is important to be aware of how an actor's stardom and prior roles can impact how a character is interpreted.

In some instances, movie stars have focused their careers on playing a certain type of character. For example, Clint Eastwood made a name for himself playing an archetypal cowboy in spaghetti Westerns. He was never able to shed this early image, but he incorporated it into later roles. In fact, one of his most critically acclaimed roles was playing the aged version of that same character in Unforgiven. Likewise, Robert DeNiro has a reputation for playing dangerous, usually criminal men. In his youth, DeNiro's roles were mostly serious portrayals of these types of men,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Character in Cinema" Thesis in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Character in Cinema.  (2010, November 28).  Retrieved February 24, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Character in Cinema."  28 November 2010.  Web.  24 February 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Character in Cinema."  November 28, 2010.  Accessed February 24, 2020.