Off-centered characters – Facing the wall (Part 2)

Off-centering characters facing the closest frame border is not limited to situations when they have come to a dead end or when something is going on behind their backs. This kind of framing also naturally depicts characters overtaken by events. Moreover, letting them shift from one off-centered position to another can bring out a change of mindset. Read more in Off-centered characters – Facing the wall (Part 1).


Overtaken by events

In My Name is Nobody (T. Valerii, 1973), an old informer (I’ve arbitrarily named ‘Grandpa’) worries about Jack Beauregard settling his accounts with a ‘gold launderer’. He has a shallow understanding of the situation, which is supported by his figure off-centered and facing the closest frame border. By contrast, the character in his back — the mastermind of the whole plot — knows a lot more, which is brought out by his centering himself in the frame to deliver his line. Read more in Centered characters – A sense of presence.


“But don’t you see? If he kills Sullivan, he’ll have 15O blood thirsty cutthroats on his tail! He’s gonna make trouble for himself.”


“No, he’s gonna make a name for himself.”

In Sherlock – A Study in Pink (P. McGuigan, 2011), Sherlock (on the left) is asked by Inspector Lestrade (on the right) to crack a difficult case. The framing of Sherlock — off-centered and facing the farthest frame border — supports his taking over the dialog. Conversely, Lestrade, overtaken by events, appears off-centered and facing the closest frame border when he asks him to help police investigate, for what’s happened is beyond their understanding.


“Will you come?”

“Who’s on forensics?”



In Gandhi (R. Attenborough, 1982), Gandhi’s public address goes towards non-violence, much to the surprise of his contender Muhammad Ali Jinnah (right snapshot), which is suggested by an off-centered framing, having him to face the closest screen border as opposed to Gandhi (left snapshot), centered in the frame. Jinnah seems to be caught off guard by Gandhi’s speech.


“But the people of India are …untouched.”


“Their politics are confined to bread …and salt.”

Change of mindset

In Marnie (A. Hitchcock, 1964), Marnie’s mother, who has always pretended to ignore the origin of her daughter’s mental disorder, resigns herself to tell the whole dirty story, shifting from one off-centered position to a symmetrical one. This change in position translates a flip-flop in her mind state, from a ‘denying’ to a ‘confessing’ attitude. Letting characters shift from one off-centered position to another can tell a lot about the evolution of their mindset.


“I thought when she lost her memory of that night, it was a sign of God’s forgiveness.”

The opposite situation comes with a scene from Sherlock – A Study in Pink (P. McGuigan, 2011), when Sherlock is being recalled by the murderer he was hunting down that he hasn’t completely solved the case yet. At first, Sherlock appears in control of the dialog, off-centered and facing the opposite frame border. But the murderer (in a reverse shot not shown here to prevent spoiling the story) tells Sherlock that if he leaves the game now, he won’t ever understand how the victims died. That hits the nail on Sherlock’s head as suggested by the drift of the frame. His reaction shot shows him caught out at his own game, in the symmetrical off-centered position, facing what is now the closest frame border. The murderer is right, Sherlock is eager to know how the victims died. A stunning change of mindset.


“No-one else will die, though, and I believe they call that a result.”


What’s up?

In part 2 of this article, we have seen how ’empty’ space could put pressure on characters, having them off-centered and facing the closest frame border to convey their being caught off guard or overtaken by events. But an unbalanced frame might also suggest that something is missing on the screen, which is precisely what next article will talk about.


Recommended reading


Recommended watching