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Analysis of The Use of Mise-en-scène to Convey Narrative in Titanic

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In this essay I will be talking about the use of mise-en-scène to convey narrative in a film sequence from the movie Titanic, directed by James Cameron.

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“A narrative is a story that you write or tell to someone, usually in great detail. A narrative can be a work of poetry or prose, or even song, theater, or dance.”

Mise-en-scene is the terminology used for the arrangement of everything within a frame, such as setting, lighting, actors, body language, props, costumes and staging. The term mise-en-scene itself is a French word, which means ‘The arrangement of the scenery’. Another part of Mise-en-scene is considering the way a film sequence is shot, so things like the framework and camera angles are also apart of this. David A.C. writes in his book a History of Narrative film that Mise-en-scene is made up the things that actually “within the shot itself as opposed to the effects created by cutting”, so basically, he is trying to say here that everything that you film, and that is physically there in front of the camera, then that is mise-en-scene.

The scene that I am going to look at in this essay is from the movie titanic and it is one of last sequences when Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater sink into the ocean and Rose DeWitt Bukater climbs on to a door, which is unable to hold both of them.

When talking about setting’s we are normally looking at things like costume, make-up, lighting and staging. The setting creates the sense of the mood of the scene and gives an atmosphere to it, it can also give us a sense of the characters emotions. Settings when making a film is a main part the mise-en-scene. The setting can be both a fictional or non-fictional set. The sets that get used in a film all contribute to showing the realism and atmosphere. The term realism is what people who watch the film sequence say when the film sequence creates and truthful picture of a society, or a character or whatever aspect of real life that the movie is trying to portray. When viewers talk about realism is can relate to the psychological or emotional accuracy in the characters, viewers want to see recognizable or logical actions and developments in a story line, they basically want to see something convincing and relatable.

If we look at the setting of the scene above, we can see that it is dark lighting and the costumes of Rose DeWitt Bukater and Jack Dawson have been covered with ice to show us that they are freezing to death. Rose DeWitt Bukater is laying down on top of the door out of the water and Jack Dawson is nearly fully submerged into the water. This shows us how chivalrous Jack Dawson is by giving Rose DeWitt Bukater the opportunity to climb up on the door instead of himself. Both Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater are filmed in the same shot together, so we can see both the characters and their situations.

The way that this scene is portrayed really goes into the aspect of realism, even though the scene itself was shot in a studio, the way it was portrayed and acted, it looked real. With the lighting in the studio, to Rose DeWitt Bukater and Jack Dawson being covered in white frost and blue lips to show the impression that they really were freezing to death. This really helped the development of the storyline and it was convincing, with all the mise-en-scene that was in front of the camera whilst it was being shot in the studio, it really led to a really convincing performance on screen. The viewers really got to view what could have been a reality, with the dead frozen bodies around them in the ocean, it looked like a convincing act.

Lighting has one of most important thing when making a film to show emotion within the film. The director of a movie must make that the lighting is matching what atmosphere they are trying to portray. When making a film a director uses two types of lighting approaches, low-key lighting and high-key lighting. High key lighting is mostly seen in movies like comedies, romantic movies and musicals. With high key lighting a director trying to avoid any dark areas in the frame, the director wants to make sure that everything looks bright, trying hard to make sure there are no shadows. The high-key lighting has an effect of its own. Low-key lighting is usually used in movies such as thrillers and horror movies.

The lighting pattern that is used with this type of lighting that has both bright and dark areas in the frame. This adds to the eerie atmosphere that these movies are trying to create. During this scene in the titanic, we can clearly see that most of the scene we can see the use of low-key lighting in order portray death and to really show what has happened when the titanic sank. The movies director used both high-key and low-key lighting whilst filming to show the contrast of everything when the titanic started to sink. We can clearly see that because the ship is meant to be in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and this is meant to be late at night, so the lighting is very dark around the titanic. The lighting that is used whilst filming the scenes in titanic really show us the contrast throughout the movie it attracts viewers when we physically see the difference in the scenes with the low-key lighting and high-key lighting contrast.

Costume is really big part of mise-en-scene because it is what the characters are wearing within the frame. Make-up is another massive part of costume as it adds to the realism that is being portrayed. Costumes also give a sort insight to the viewer of a character’s personality or status in society. Actors can wear costumes that range from fashionable suits and dresses, (which would portray on upper class characters) to wearing more normal dull coloured clothing, or clothes that are a bit ripped in places (this would portray lower class characters).

Make-up is another thing is important when it comes to costumes, the way make-up is applied to an actor’s face and body and the way they may sometimes alter a person’s face to look disfigured really contributes towards what the character may be like and what the story might be. In the scene in the titanic where Rose DeWitt Bukater and Jack Dawson are drowning we can see that clearly that they both have been through a struggle. Rose DeWitt Bukater is wearing a Jack Dawson et that was put on her by Caledon Hockley. Jack was in his usual dull coloured shirt and pants with his iconic suspenders. In this scene it wasn’t just the clothes that added to the scene, it was the make-up. Rose’s lips were coloured blue and so were Jack’s, they were both covered in frost that gave us the impression of them slowly freezing to death. This really gave viewers a realism approach, so they can really see in the frame shot how much they were both suffering, alongside the low-key lighting. The mise-en-scene used in this film sequence to portray the narrative to the viewers really was enough to pull off a convincing performance.

One of main things in mise-en-scene is an actor’s performance itself, the way the actor delivers the performance on screen can bind all of the movie together. When a shot is being taken it is the actors duty to bring that particular character to life because if the actor does not pull of a convincing performance, the realism aspect of the story is then taken away (if that is what is meant to be portrayed). The emotions that an actor shows whilst in shot must engage the audience. There also two methods that used in modern cinema in this era, these two types are naturalistic and stylized. When an actor is taking up the role of a character then it becomes their responsibility to become one with the characters, dressing, personality and basically all of their characteristics that this character may possess (this is when a character is using the naturalistic approach). However, the opposite of this is stylized acting which is more of an evident approach which is used to get what the director wants to portray across.

The main purpose of stylized acting is to over dramatize the acting in order to portray a comical effect to the film sequence. Within this scene in the titanic the acting skills of Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack Dawson and Kate Winslet as Rose DeWitt Bukater were very convincing. Throughout the movie itself the chemistry between the two characters had been incredible. When Rose was laying down on top of the door, and she was desperately trying to wake Jack up after he died we could almost see the desperation on her face to try to wake him up. When Jack let Rose climb up on the door instead of himself we really got a sense of the character’s personality and how much he cared for Rose. The acting in this scene was very moving and the way it was shot with close up’s and the different angles creates more of the atmosphere. In this scene we see many close ups and in the background, we can see the dead bodies of those who had frozen in the ocean, this really adds to the scene, so the viewers can see the severity of the coldness in the water. The mise-en-scene in this scene are mainly the actors and the make up and costumes that pull of a realistic performance.

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In this essay I have talked about the use of Mise-en-scene in the narrative sequence from the movie titanic. We can see that there were clear uses of setting, lighting, costumes and acting in this film. All of these were used to the full potential in the movie. With the many different camera techniques and the high use of low-key lighting to the actors pulling of a convincing performance within each shot. We can clearly see that the mise-en-scene has been used to a full potential to convey the narrative in this scene. We have a clear understanding of what mise-en-scene and why it plays an important part in conveying narrative to an audience. Mise-en-scene isn’t normally a term that directors use on set however when doing analysis, the technical term for everything within a camera frame or shot is classed as the mise-en-scene. I have gone through the many different ways the mise-en-scene helped create an atmosphere and deliver and convincing and realist performance within the movie.

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Analysis Of The Use Of Mise-En-Scène To Convey Narrative In Titanic. (2021, January 25). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from
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