Cinema a Mirror & Face

Cinema as a Mirror and Face are two contrasting approaches in film. It weighs between whether it is a persona or self-reflection of a character or just a shallow surface.

Elsaesser and Hagener argues that “A look into the mirror necessitates a confrontation with one’s own face as the window to one’s own interior self.” (2010). Cinema as a Mirror allows the audience a look into the characters consciousness and a deeper understanding of their interior self. We don’t experience close ups in real life, unless you’re very intimate with the person, which allows the director a chance to focus and construct a scene in an artificial way. Some would say this is the crowning achievement of cinema, as it reveals a great deal about the characters psych. A brilliant example of this is the mirror scene in Taxi Driver, Martin Scorsese uses a literal mirror as a window into Travis Bickle’s (Robert De Niro) unconscious. We see the protagonist unraveling before our eyes through this monologue, unknowingly sharing his emotions with us. This device harks back to Hamlet; “To be, or not to be – that is the question”, but here its use of realism through De Niro’s improvisation conveys it in a very chilling way. At first it humors us, we play make believe with Bickle in this scene, as what we see is his reflection looking back at us, and it possibly triggers memories of times we ourselves have practiced speeches or standing up to someone. This provides a link between us and him as well as the feeling of revulsion, given the violent context. This with his clearly fractured mind shown through the use of repetition “You talkin’ to me?” possibly makes us feel sorry for him, not only is he delusional but “I’m the only one here” reminds us how alone he feels.

In contrast, writer Haruki Murakami states “no matter how long you stand there examining yourself naked before a mirror you will never see reflected what’s inside” (2009), however, this could be a biased opinion as Murakimi is a writer. With modern cinema it demonstrates its own history as a medium of appearances  and deceptions not just reflecting images of us as humans but also of cinematic gestures not just human gestures. The thing that is being made and created is being shown to us known as modernist self reflexivity. After making the phenomenon that was La Doce Vita, there was an immense pressure on Frederic Fellini’s shoulders to create something even bigger and better. This was channeled into his next film 8 1/2, as we really get inside the head of the director. It’s fragmented and incomplete not linear at all. The story is part of the process that emerges from the conscious and the unconscious but the these lines are often blurred. As an audience member, we watch Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) searching for his muse who is just out of reach and his retreat into his memories and fantasies. We are ultimately watching how Fellini constructs a film. The camera is always moving, there is a constant fluidity, and a constant flow of pressures of everyday life. The film is called 8 1/2 to reflect the number of films that Fellini had made and had started – this was the same for Guido and so there’s a great autobiographical link between the director and character.

In conclusion, I believe that cinema as a mirror or a face is incredibly important with in film to reveal a characters inner thoughts and feelings. As an audience member, the depth of exploration into a character’s psych is what makes film incredibly important to me. We are able to enter someone else’s unconscious, who may not be like you at all and yet find something that you can link yourself with. Using cinema as a door, we have a clear concept but with a mirror it can be blurred, allowing us to make our own interpretation giving the film more depth.




Elsaesser,T and Haegener, M. (2010) “Cinema as mirror and face”, in Film theory; an introduction through the senses. NewYork: Routledge, pp. 55-81

Murakami, H. (2009) What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. United States: Vintage International


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