Centered characters – No way around
Being framed smack bang in the middle of the screen is not reserved to self-confident or aggressive characters. This kind of framing has the ability to give voice to symbolic objects as well as to isolate victimized characters, as we will see in this article. Read more in Centered characters – A sense of presence.
You can’t miss it
The first shot of Marnie (A. Hitchcock, 1964) starts with the purse Marnie is holding as she walks up the station platform. By pointedly keeping the chock-a-block handbag at the center of the frame, the director makes the audience wonder about its content. Obviously, this has to be an important cue in the story.
In Jurassic Park (S. Spielberg, 1993), Tim observes ripples — caused by the thumps of an approaching T-Rex’s footsteps — on the surface of water in a glass. Even though the ripples are tiny, you can’t miss them at the center of the frame. The audience instantly senses the danger this shot foreshadows.
In The Shining (S. Kubrick, 1980), the camera points to Jack’s forsaken typewriter, suggesting that he still hasn’t dropped a word of the roman he is supposed to be writing. This makes the audience feel that something’s wrong with Jack. And indeed, this shot is the first tangible clue of his descent into hell.
In Sherlock – The Blind Banker (E. Lyn, 2011), journalist Brian Lukis has been followed to his apartment, as suggested by the handheld shot of his back centered in the frame — the POV of his murderer.
In Amadeus (M. Forman, 1984), Mozart finds himself unjustly belittled by the Emperor and his clique after his masterful performance. Placing the character at the center of the frame conveys his feeling of being attacked from all sides.
“This is absurd!”
In The Usual Suspects (B. Singer, 1995), the mysterious passenger aboard the cargo is panicked at the thought of being the prey of his elusive enemy. He doesn’t have anywhere to hide as suggested by his centered position in the frame, losing all sense of dignity.
“I’m telling you it’s Keyser Söze!”
In The Matrix (A. & L. Wachowski, 1999), Neo experiences an unexpected free fall from a building top. What better place than the center of the screen to display a shape rushing at the audience? Being directly targeted by the character, they instinctively cast their emotions back to him. It works every time.
Having an object hold a central place in the frame makes the audience focus on the meaning of the shot. Victimized characters appear even more isolated at the center of the screen. In next article, we will see how centering characters can help them show their true colors.