Obstacles – Stripes (Part 2)

As seen in part 1, nets and bars are commonly used as obstacles to virtually ‘imprison’ characters. But that very effect can be obtained with all kinds of stripe-shaped overlays, from props to postprocessing effects to rays of light and shadows.


Striping effects

In Jurassic Park (S. Spielberg, 1993), Genarro — accompanied by Hammond’s two grand-children — watches a tethered goat used as a bait for T-Rex. Although he is in a safe position in a car and watches the goat from the other side of an electric fence, he really feels as though he was in a cage, as suggested by the reflections of the fence on his face.

“What’s the matter, kid? You never had lamb chops?”

In Die Hard (J. McTiernan, 1988), Heinrich — a German terrorist — didn’t expect McClane to attract police’s attention on the building he and his team have hijacked. In Blade Runner (R. Scott, 1982), Sebastian is seeking refuge in a corner of the room where Roy — an android — and his creator Tyrell have a serious argument. In both cases, props (electric wires or candles) are used as obstacles to convey the characters’ feeling of being trapped.


HEINRICH (swearing in German)

“[Because by the second day of incubation, any cells that have undergone reversion mutations] give rise to revertant colonies like rats leaving a sinking ship.”

In BBC TV series episode Sherlock – A Scandal in Belgravia (P. McGuigan, 2012), Sherlock unsuccessfully tries to unlock Irene Adler’s mobile phone. The graphic user interface of the phone is superimposed to Sherlock’s Head & neck Close Shot to show the ongoing action as well as to draw two thick bars on his face, which conveys his feeling of being defeated by a four-letter code.

“Just faulty.”


Light and shadows

With a little help from louvers, a smart play of light and shade can suggest prison bars — a film noir movie stereotype — as effectively as stripe-shaped objects. In Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (S. West, 2001), Wilson — a friend of Lara Croft’s late father — has lead her into a trap in spite of himself. In Big Trouble in Little China (J. Carpenter, 1986), Egg Shen is being questioned by an attorney about his involvement in recent Chinese black magic events in San Francisco Chinatown. In both cases, the characters act against their will, feeling imprisoned, hence the black stripes drawn on their figures.


“Green flame! All hell is breaking loose here. And there are people who say you’re involved, that you might be responsible, that you’re a very dangerous man.”

Gratings and nettings can do their part too. In Gladiator (R. Scott, 2000), Proximo hears Praetorian guards storm his estate in search of Maximus. In Angel Heart (A. Parker, 1987), Angel — a detective — has a bad feeling about his inquiry, as though he was descending into hell in that elevator. In both cases, the characters are disfigured by shadows of gratings, conveying their feeling of …well you know.


“[Proximo! Open the gates,] in the name of the Emperor!”


A bunch of light rays can do as well as their shadowy counterpart. In 9½ Weeks (A. Lyne, 1986), Elizabeth tries to concentrate on the artworks she is selecting for her gallery, but can’t help thinking of the charming — but dangerous — man she has a toxic love affair with. The slide projector in the background draws bright rays of light on the character’s face, highlighting that she has become a prisoner of her emotions.


What’s up?

It seems that any kinds of parallel, radial or crossing stripes drawn on characters convey a feeling of imprisonment, whether they are produced by physical objects or by a play of light and shadows. In next article, we will study a different kind of obstacles: ‘stamps’.


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