Subjective Cinema: The Art of Personal Perspective in Film

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Cinema is a medium that allows us to experience stories from countless perspectives, often transporting us into the minds of characters and filmmakers. One particularly fascinating approach within the realm of filmmaking is subjective cinema, a technique that immerses the viewer in the subjective experiences, emotions, and perspectives of characters. In this exploration, we dive into the concept of subjective cinema, its historical roots, notable examples, and its impact on storytelling and audience engagement.

What is Subjective Cinema?

Subjective cinema is a narrative technique used in filmmaking to provide audiences with an immersive experience from a character’s point of view. It allows viewers to see and feel the world through the character’s eyes, blurring the lines between the viewer and the protagonist. This technique seeks to evoke empathy, understanding, and a deeper emotional connection between the audience and the character, resulting in a more engaging and visceral cinematic experience.

Historical Roots

The roots of subjective cinema can be traced back to early experimental filmmaking and the avant-garde movements of the early 20th century. Filmmakers like Dziga Vertov, with his groundbreaking film Man with a Movie Camera, experimented with subjective perspectives by using editing and camera techniques to mimic the experiences of the protagonist.

Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense, also played a significant role in popularising subjective cinema. In his film Psycho, Hitchcock famously used a subjective point-of-view shot during the infamous shower scene, effectively placing the audience in the horrifying position of the victim. This technique left a lasting impact on the horror genre and filmmaking as a whole.

Examples of Subjective Cinema

Lady in the Lake: Directed by Robert Montgomery, this film is a pioneering example of subjective cinema. Shot entirely from the first-person perspective of the protagonist, the audience experiences the events of the film as if they were the lead character.

Enter the Void: Directed by Gaspar Noé, this surreal and visually stunning film takes subjective cinema to an extreme. The entire narrative unfolds from the perspective of a drug dealer’s spirit as it hovers over Tokyo. The audience sees and experiences everything as if they were the disembodied spirit.

Victoria: Directed by Sebastian Schipper, Victoria is a remarkable achievement in single-take filmmaking. The entire movie is shot in a single continuous take, following the titular character through a series of events in real-time. This approach immerses the audience in the unfolding drama as if they are right beside Victoria.

Birdman: Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman uses the illusion of a continuous shot to create a sense of immediacy and subjectivity. The film follows a washed-up actor’s struggle to regain his relevance and sanity, providing an intimate look into his mind.

Good Time: Directed by the Safdie Brothers, this gritty thriller employs a relentless, first-person perspective to immerse the audience in the chaotic world of a bank robber. The close proximity to the character intensifies the tension and unpredictability of the narrative.

The Impact of Subjective Cinema

Subjective cinema has a profound impact on storytelling and audience engagement. It allows filmmakers to explore the inner workings of characters, their emotions, and their experiences in a more intimate and relatable manner. This technique can evoke empathy, making it easier for the audience to identify with characters and their struggles.

Furthermore, subjective cinema challenges traditional filmmaking conventions by pushing the boundaries of storytelling. It encourages filmmakers to experiment with narrative structures, camera techniques, and editing styles to convey the character’s perspective effectively. This experimentation often results in innovative and visually captivating cinema.

Audience Engagement and Empathy

One of the primary strengths of subjective cinema is its ability to immerse the audience in the emotional journey of the characters. By experiencing events from a character’s perspective, viewers can develop a deeper emotional connection with the story and its protagonists. This heightened empathy allows the audience to better understand the characters’ motivations, fears, and desires.

In Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void, the use of a first-person perspective places the audience in the uncomfortable position of witnessing the protagonist’s descent into a drug-induced hallucination. The disorienting and immersive experience makes the audience more empathetic to the character’s struggles and challenges.

Narrative Tension and Intensity

Subjective cinema often enhances the tension and intensity of a narrative. When viewers are placed directly in the shoes of a character, they experience the story’s conflicts and obstacles more intimately. This heightened engagement can lead to increased suspense and emotional involvement.

In Good Time, the relentless first-person perspective keeps the audience on edge, mirroring the protagonist’s desperate race against time. Every obstacle, every setback becomes a personal experience for the viewer, intensifying the film’s impact.

Breaking Down the Fourth Wall

Subjective cinema can also blur the line between the fictional world of the film and the real world of the audience. When a character addresses the camera or interacts with the viewer, it breaks down the fourth wall, creating a unique and often thought-provoking connection.

For instance, in Jean-Luc Godard‘s Breathless, the character Michel addresses the audience directly, inviting them into his world of crime and romance. This direct engagement challenges traditional storytelling and fosters a sense of participation in the narrative.

Challenges of Subjective Cinema

While subjective cinema offers a captivating and immersive experience, it also presents challenges for filmmakers. Maintaining a consistent and engaging first-person perspective throughout an entire film requires meticulous planning, choreography, and technical expertise.

Additionally, filmmakers must carefully balance the immersive qualities of subjective cinema with the need for coherent storytelling. Overusing subjective techniques can risk overwhelming the audience or detracting from the narrative’s emotional impact.

Subjective cinema is a powerful tool that allows filmmakers to invite audiences into the minds and experiences of their characters. Whether it’s through the eyes of a troubled protagonist, a disoriented spirit, or a bank robber on the run, this technique has the potential to create unforgettable cinematic experiences. By breaking down the barriers between the audience and the characters, subjective cinema fosters empathy, intensifies storytelling, and challenges the conventions of filmmaking. As filmmakers continue to experiment with this approach, audiences can anticipate more thought-provoking and emotionally engaging cinematic journeys that offer unique perspectives on the human condition.

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