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Split screen for character exposition

by Critical Commons Manager

The introductory shots of each of the three primary characters in The Grifters culminates in this elaborately choreographed split screen effect. In addition to positioning each character in his or her physical and narrative context, this shot prefigures the love-triangle that will ensue among the three characters. Unlike the use of split screen simultaneous action for narrative exposition in films such as The Thomas Crowne Affair, the split screen in The Grifters is used for visual effect only and does not repeat throughout the rest of the film.

Victoria Cline

by Victoria Cline

The format of this clip splits the screen into three, showing the life of three individuals. They all look suspicious and happy as if they are all trying to hide something. When the camera is up close on all three of their faces, they turn around to see if anybody is watching what they are about to do next. As the clip ends and the doors all shut on all three characters, it leads me to believe that somehow, they will be opening a new door into each other’s life’s sometime soon.

Split-screen in the opening of Requiem for a Dream

by Michael Frierson

In the opening to Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000), Sara Goldfarb’s son Harry is a drug addict and comes to steal his mother’s television set. As Sara (Ellen Burstyn) hides in the closet, Harry (Jared Leto) becomes increasingly angry with her, and Aranofsvky uses a split screen to simultaneously present both the interior of the living room closet (and occasionally Sara’s subjective point of view of the living room through a hole in the closet door) and Harry’s rampage in the living room as he works to steal the television set she has chained to the radiator to keep him from stealing. Part of Aronofsky’s strategy here is to replace traditional ‘objective’ camera placements with ones that are more subjective, rendering the isolation and alienation of the main characters who suffer from addiction, particularly Sara’s descent into psychosis brought on by the prescription amphetamines that she takes for weight loss. By simultaneously presenting the mother’s fear – a dark, confined entrapment shown in close up and claustrophobic subjective shots through the keyhole -- and the son’s rage – a maniacal pacing back and forth as he berates his mother for the key and unchains the television -- the split screen in Requiem makes concrete their estrangement and isolation as heroin takes over Harry’s life. In addition, the split screen simultaneously presents both “cause” – the depth of Harry’s addiction as he steals the television (steals again, or why would she have chained it?) and “effect” -- a mother’s fear of her own son, enabling his addiction when she slides the key under the closet door for Harry to unlock the television. We see on screen two contrasting states of being that is starkly opposite our traditional image of mother and child.

Split screen for character exposition in The Grifters

The three main characters in Stephen Frears' The Grifters are introduced via this precisely choreographed splitscreen sequence

from The Grifters (1990)
Creator: Stephen Frears
Distributor: Cineplex-Odeon
Posted by Critical Commons Manager