Scaling up – Have subjects come to the foreground (Part 2)

In part 1, we ran into the descriptive power of characters coming to the foreground. We will now investigate the emotional aspect of this technique with characters coming close to the camera to share their emotions, force themselves on us, to the extent of becoming scary.


Showing emotions

By coming to the foreground, characters are more likely to share their emotions with the audience, often transitioning from an objectified to physical to mental presence on screen. In Cast Away (R. Zemeckis, 2000), Chuck — the sole survivor of a plane crash — walks a long way towards the camera only to show how devastated he is, before turning away to call out for help. Now the closer a character comes, the more violent the emotions he conveys. In Raiders of the Lost Ark (S. Spielberg, 1981), Jones rushes to the aid of Marion, who has been kidnapped by Nazis. The character couldn’t come closer to the camera to show his utter bewilderment, before he decides to take action in the second part of the shot (not shown here).

Characters don’t have to walk long distances to show deep emotions. In Someone to Watch Over Me (R. Scott, 1987), one small step towards the camera is enough for Claire to convey her fear of identifying a criminal. Moreover, groups of characters can come to the foreground to show their emotions, as in The Lost World – Jurassic Park (S. Spielberg, 1997) when Eddie, Malcolm and Nick have an unexpected encounter with a herd of Stegosaurus.


Forcing oneself

As we saw in Focus – Power and intrusion, moving to the foreground is commonplace for characters who want to force themselves on another character. In My Name is Nobody (T. Valerii, 1973), Jack Beauregard pays a visit to Sullivan — who is responsible for the death of his brother. As you can see, the closer he comes to Sullivan in foreground, the more threatening his presence. But again, characters don’t have to walk a long way to enter another character’s personal space and become a threat. In Full Metal Jacket (S. Kubrick, 1987), one small step forwards is all Animal Mother needs to burst Joker’s physical comfort zone and threaten him by his mere presence.

Obviously, the closer a character comes to the foreground, the more threatening. In Pirates of the Caribbean – The Curse of the Black Pearl (G. Verbinski, 2003), Barbossa accepts Will’s proposal by invading the foreground in a suspicious and uncomfortable way. But invasive subjects are not limited to characters. In Max Payne (J. Moore, 2008), Max — realizing that his friend Alex takes too much time to show up — takes action and barges in his place. Max’s determination is conveyed by his car aggressively moving to the foreground and stopping right in our faces.


Shaking up the audience

Having a subject suddenly invade the audience’s comfort zone while looking straight at the camera is an efficient way to shake them up. In Sleepy Hollow (T. Burton, 1999), Crane wakes up with a jolt from a recurrent nightmare. Having a character’s face rush towards the camera is a typical and very common way to depict a violent awakening. In The Abyss (J. Cameron, 1989), Coffey — a soldier who has turned paranoid — threatens Bud with a pistol. By watching the gun aggressively enter our private space, we feel so threatened that we want to recoil (read more in Obstacles – Representatives).

In For a Few Dollars More (S. Leone, 1965), Colonel Mortimer — a bounty hunter — shoots Calloway in a duel. To convey the brutality of the confrontation, the victim is literally tossed into the camera and hits the ground right before our noses. In The Matrix (A. & L. Wachowski, 1999), Neo — trying to imitate Morpheus jumping from one building to another — is unable to escape the (virtual) laws of gravity. Being put right into the character’s trajectory — thus anticipating an impact — we are made to experience his fear of hitting the ground.


What’s up?

From showing us their feelings to forcing themselves on us, there are reasons why characters would need to come to the foreground. Moreover, scaring us by bursting our personal space is a way to convey brutal emotions and commit us to the story. In next article, we will see how zooming in can help scaling up subjects on screen.


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