Cinematic Space and Mise-En-Scène Focusing on Hitchcock’s Movies



Shuiqiang Dong, Won-Ho Choi


Dept of  Visual Contents, Division of Digital Contents

Graduate School of  Dongseo University, Dongseo University

Busan , South Korea,





Spatial narrative is one of the basic dimensions of the artistic expression of film, and it is also an artistic technique that highlights the narrative function of contemporary film creation. Spatial narrative is different from writing narrative, using space lens and picture to show the unique aesthetic characteristics of the film and enhance the spatial expression of the film.


Keywords-Spatial narrative; mise-en-scène; shots; film


1. Introduction


From the perspective of narratological research, the characteristics of time are obvious, and it is also an important manifestation of the linear distribution of the causal relationship and logical development of events. Engels proposed that the basic form of any existence is a combination of time and space, and the two are inseparable”. With the development of narrative media, spatial narratology has received more and more attention and application. As a narrative carrier, the film is also a combination of time and space to organize film narrative. The most basic unit of the film itself is the lens, and the lens relies on the time dimension in the process of recording images. But from the narrative function of the lens, the conversion of the lens is also an important way of spatial narrative techniques. In recent years, with the development of spatial narrative research, especially the arrival of the Internet era, the spatial narrative research and artistic expression of movies have become an important connotation of film appreciation.


2. Theoretical Research on Spatial Narration


The space narrative theory originated from the field of literature. Joseph Frank first proposed the space form theory in Space Forms in Modern Novels, and formalized the spatial form of literature as a metaphorical representation of text time series and plot change. Similarly, in his research, he also analyzed the creative methods of terminating time flow and highlighting spacein modern literature, and proposed concepts such as space form, physical spaceand psychological space, enriching literature [1]. The birth and development of the film and the use of spatial elements have become an important means of film narrative art. In Movies as Art, Rudolf Einham used the spatial narrative of the film as the projection of the three-dimensional plane" and pointed out that the spatial elements of the film occupy an important position in the performance of the entire film [2]. Marcel Maldan put forward in his book Movie Language that Movie is the first art that can guarantee a complete control of space, and expounded the unique performance of Montage inspace modeling from the space expression of film narrative [3]. Louis Garnett conducted an in-depth analysis of the narrative techniques of space in Understanding the Movie, using spatial research as the basic element of film scene scheduling, and grasping the spatial narrative effect of the film in the study of distance mode [4].

Domestic scholars have also carried out comprehensive explorations on the study of film space narrative art. Such as Zhou Chuanji, Cui Junyan, Shao Mujun and others, through the translation of western film works, opened a window for us to understand the theory of film space narrative. In recent years, with the continuous expansion of film narratology research, there have been some achievements in the field of film space and film space narrative. For example, Li Xianjie's On the Space and Narrativeness of Picture Style in Film Narration, starting from the study of Picture Style, which is the most basic composition of the film, makes a dialectical analysis of the space, time and vision of the narrative, and puts forward the non-storytelling works which show the instability, juxtaposition and image of the composition pattern from the space level [5]. It is an important part of static drawing. In the new century, the research on film space narrative ushered in a new climax. Professional journals such as Contemporary Film and Movie Art also opened up related topics. For example, in Huang Dequan's On the Narrative Space of Movies, the narrative space is an important form of the story of the film story. It also proposes that a hypothetical world, intuitive audiovisual lens and composite space are the basic features of the narrative space of the film [6]. Hai Kuo and Luo Wei divided the film space art into four dimensions: historical space, geospatial, spiritual space and virtual space in the Paradigm of Film Narrative Space Culture Research [7]. In Space Narrative of the Film, Jiao Yongqin divides the film space narrative into three levels, one is the internality of space, the other is the limitation of space, and the third is the internal and external permeability of space [8]. In The Space Revolution of Film Narrative and the Regional Paradox of Chinese Film, Li Daoxin explores the space art of film from a philosophical perspective, and believes that contemporary Hollywood movies have been dominated by spatial narrative [9].


3. Taking Hitchcock Film as an Example to Analyze Movie Space


As a master of suspense movies, Hitchcock has formed his own unique image style with his excellent film space building ability and scene scheduling ability. In his films, space is not just a scene of film narrative, but also has created the film atmosphere, showing the character's psychology and other rich features. The environment is the cornerstone of the story, and it has an indelible effect on determining the overall atmosphere of the film and highlighting the tone of the film. The arrangement of the props, the size of the house, the position of the characters, and the internal objects of the light control by arranging the line of sight, Hitchcock can evoke the panic and fear that people feel uneasy. The method of expressing the mental and spiritual world of the characters through the external film space greatly extends the functions of Hitchcock movies.

The locations of the storyline in the Hitchcock movie can be roughly divided into two categories. One is a small room, such as the hotel in Psycho, Jamaica Inn, the boat in Lifeboat, the courtyard in Rear Window, Dial M for Murder, and the castle in Rebecca. Another kind of public places, although the space is large, but the density of personnel is very high, such as the railway station in North by Northwest and the hotel under the Capitol Hill, such scenes are easy to cause confusion and promote the plot. The first is suitable for creating a climate of terror, while the latter is also suitable for creating tension and panic, which can be said to have the same effect.

The reason for this is that Hitchcock needs a unique atmosphere in the film space, because they have two characteristics: First, the scene is in a relatively closed space, when people are in a narrow space, it is easy to produce a sense of depression, reasonable lighting can use this feeling and magnify it. Secondly, there are shelters in narrow scenes, such as walls, curtains, frosted glass and so on. During this period of panic, people could not control it completely. And in the shelter of things, the audience cannot have an intuitive understanding, which is easy to let the audience produce a suspense and fear of the unknown.

In addition to the overall space setting, Hitchcock often uses some local scenes to set up in a small space to achieve a certain suspense effect.


3.1. Background setting


The background of Hitchcock's movies often begins in densely populated cities. When the protagonist falls into trouble in the legal and modern cities, he avoids disaster and solves problems in sparsely populated and civilized places.

In Psycho, the film begins with a vision that tells the story of Phoenix, Arizona. Then the camera gradually pushes through the windows of an apartment, and the camera passes through the window to guide the viewer to peep into Mary and Sam's entanglement(e.g., “Fig. 1”). Not only satisfies the viewer's voyeurism, but also introduces the first scene of the film, a cheap hotel rental room. There are things that can't be said in public, so director Hitchcock set up an apartment at the beginning of the film. Mary wanted to marry Sam, but Sam was in debt and had to pay for his ex-wife's living. Monetary pressure prevented Sam and Mary from getting married in public. They had to sneak into the apartment and meet privately. This paved the way for the heroine Mary to steal the company's $40,000.


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Fig. 1 Mary and Sam are intimate in front of the window


In North by Northwest, although the hero is a successful advertiser in modern civilization, he is like a fish in water in urban life, but through his fear and awe of his mother, we know that he is still a little child. When the known world collapses in his life, the experience he faces is what makes him really grow up. In this film, Sanhill was suspected of murder. Hitchcock took a slap in the face of the United Nations building. The United Nations was the defender of the world order, but now it has become a spoiled spy. At the beginning of the film, Sanhill was the owner of the company that gave orders. Hitchcock used the medium shot with the camera to describe his arrogant action. At this time, however, he lost his confidence. Like a headless fly, Hitchcock used his overhead telephoto lens to highlight his smallness, isolation, and confusion.


3.2. Scene setting


Environment is the cornerstone of the story, which plays an indelible role in determining the film's neat atmosphere and setting off the tone of the film.

In Psycho and Rebecca, the setting of the space environment is very similar. In Psycho, the location of the motel is set on a highway away from the main road with few people. The film tells us that the hotel has no occupants, suggesting that Mary is going to be left alone.

The motel owner Batess cottage is on a hillside(e.g., “Fig. 2”). This retro-style country cottage is like a miniature version of the ancient castle, plus only one room with lights, revealing a horrible atmosphere. The use of a telephoto lens makes the scene only exist in the picture and compresses the surrounding space, giving a feeling of desolateness. The dark clouds in the sky slowly drift, as if this is the habitat of ancient vampires, increased the terror atmosphere of the film.




Fig. 2 The Bates Motel


The second scene shows that Mary drives the car to the audience's gaze on the road, making it farther and farther away from the audience. The distant horizon shows the sunset light, the sky is about to be covered by dark clouds, giving people a feeling that Mary gradually sailed into the dark abyss, the audience could not predict what was going to happen, which undoubtedly increased the horror of the film.

In Rebecca, the woman marries Maxim and lives in a secluded Mandalay manor in the suburbs, suggesting that the woman is in a helpless situation. She will fight alone with the outside forces, and Mandalay manor is filled with the shadow of her predecessor Mrs. Dewinter Rebecca. Portraits of the house, R-embroidered pillow towels, handkerchiefs, envelopes, and Mrs. Denvers, who worshipped Rebecca so much. The dead Rebecca filled the heroine's life like a ghost, which made the audience tense up for the heroine all the time.

The setting of indoor scenes is an important part of Hitchcock's aesthetics. Hitchcock can evoke uneasy panic and fear in the setting of props, the size of the house, the location of the characters, and in the light-controlled interior of the objects guided by the arrangement of sight.

In Psycho, Mary's desk sits in the corner of the wall(e.g., “Fig. 3”) and is not spacious on either side, in contrast to her colleagues' apparent superiority to Mary in office space and camera position. The dialogue between colleagues and Cassidy and Marie involved in marriage further paved the way for Marie's motives. And Arizona is in the southwestern part of the United States, the air is hot, in Cassidy and Mary's conversation to learn that Mary's workplace environment is bad, and the boss can enjoy the air conditioning alone.




Fig. 3 Mary's desk sits in the corner of the wall


In the scene of Mary's bathing(e.g., “Fig. 4”), the shower curtain played a crucial role as a shelter, so that there was no loophole in the plot. If there is no shower curtain, Mary will feel the proximity of the killer during the bathing process, so that the film is not suspenseful. The appearance of the shower curtain as an obstruction not only obscures Mary's view, but also keeps Mary in a relatively closed space, so that the murderer will not be found before opening the shower curtain, increasing the sense of oppression. The audience can clearly see the figure behind the shower curtain, making the audience feel nervous in advance.




Fig. 4 The scene of Mary's bathing


3.3. Props setting


In Psycho, Hitchcock shakes two shots while Mary escapes. In the used-car market, Hitchcock uses a newspaper buffet, a policeman standing across the street, baggage in the trunk of the car, and an ambiguous conversation with the salesman to push the suspense through the calm and safe scene until it reaches its climax. In a daytime and open space, it creates a dangerous effect. This kind of insertion of "props" in the film space will not make the plot out of the main line, but to prop up the whole car sales process of the story rhythm, so that the audience remain tense.  

Bates' own bedroom is decorated with rag dolls, rabbits, and ancient phonographs. These scenes show that Bates is immersed in his own world. He is still a child, his mother is still alive, and he has not killed his mother. All of this reflects Bates's distorted psychology, and also allows the audience to peek into the distorted spiritual world of Bates with Lyra's sight.


4. Conclusion


Through the preliminary exploration of Hitchcock's film space settings, we have a more comprehensive and intuitive understanding of Hitchcock's film space settings, fully affirmed the great role of its space settings in the film. We find that the space setting of Hitchcock's films plays an important role in the narrative of the film, the atmosphere of the foil, and the characterization of the characters' psychology, so that the overall artistic effect of the film has been improved qualitatively.




[1] Josef Frank, Space Forms in Modern Novels, Beijing: Peking University Press, 1991.

[2] Rudolf Arnheim, Film as Art, Beijing: China Film Publishing House, 2003, p.38.

[3] Marcel Gabriel, Movie Language, Beijing: China Film Publishing House, 1980, p.169.

[4] Louis Giannetti, Understanding Movies, Beijing:World Book Publishing Company, 2007, p.5.

[5] Li Xianjie, On the Space and Narrativeness of Picture Style in Film Narration, Journal of Huazhong Normal University (Philosophy And Social Sciences), 1994(06).

[6] Huang Dequan, On the Narrative Space of Movies, Film art, 2005(03).

[7] Hai Kuo, Luo Wei, Paradigm of Film Narrative Space Culture Research, Journal of Beijing Film Academy, 2011(02).

[8] Jiao Yongqin, Space Narrative of the Film, Contemporary film, 2009(01).

[9] Li Daoxin, The Space Revolution of Film Narrative and the Regional Paradox of Chinese Film, Modern Literary Magazine, 2011(02).