Writing a Film Analysis: A Guide

In the following guide, you will hopefully be able to understand the essentials of writing a clever and intellectual film analysis. To enhance your learning, we will provide examples from first-film-class-freshman Malin Andersson’s 2018 essay analyzing Iranian director Majid Majidi’s film The Color of Paradise (1999.) We will share with you the conventions of this form, the no-no’s, and hopefully breed the next generation of great cinema-consumers. 

First, a note on language: 

Before you put pen to paper or finger to key, you must understand that the Film Analysis is not a Movie Review. For example, you do not use the term “movie” to describe your film. It is a film. This is serious cinema. Do not use words like “bad”, “good” , “I liked” or  “I didn’t like.” Your purpose is not to tell the audience whether it was good or not. Your purpose is to give them something new to chew on – a fresh lens through which to read the film that’s in front of them. You are an analyzer, not a reviewer. Know that this is your place before you begin. 

On your introduction/audience: 

Your audience will likely be people who have seen the film, so you do not need to recap the entire plot. Most people will not read a film analysis if they have not seen the film in question. However, it is effective if you highlight the aspects of the plot that will be relevant to your argument. For example, if you’re going to discuss the role of class in Frank Capra’s 1947 classic It’s a Wonderful Life, you should describe the economic demographic of Bedford Falls before you share your analysis. This is best done in your introduction, after you have mentioned the director’s name and the year the film was released. Let’s look at Malin Andersson’s essay for an example. 

She identified which aspects of the plot would be most relevant to her discussion of the film. Here are her introductory sentences: 

Majid Majidi’s The Color of Paradise (1999) explores the story of Mohammed, a young blind boy who struggles to feel loved by those around him – especially his father, Hashem… He is ashamed of his son, worried that Mohammed’s blindness will thwart his own arrangements for a second marriage. Despite the negativity in his life, Mohammed sees the beauty of the world – he listens to the birds, feels the grass, and desperately wants to go to school in order to better himself. (1)

Andersson illuminates the aspects from the plot she believes will provide good context for what she has to say. In this, she has already begun to tailor the story to support her claim. Andersson will be exploring the juxtaposition of Mohammed and Hashem’s personal spiritualities in the rest of her essay, so she highlights the tensions that exist between the characters, setting up her argument. 

On making/supporting your claim: 

As mentioned before, you must provide new insight into the film with your film analysis. Beware of cliché and the obvious. You need to sound clever, and your interpretation must be arguable. Anyone can watch a movie – but it is the lucky few who can analyze a film. 

However, you cannot make any ridiculous claim that lacks a firm foundation. As in much of academic writing, you must prove yourself as a writer who knows their stuff. You need to be original in your reading of the film – while also displaying firm roots in logic and cinematic tradition. A simple path to achieving this credibility is through the correct use of language such as “pan” , “fade-in” , “cinematography” , “diegetic” and “motif.” 

You must also provide evidence to support your claim. Supporting evidence should come from: 

  • Visual techniques used in the film (colors, camera movements, angles, significance of wide takes/tracking shots, etc.)
  • Historical/social context of the director and his film (what about their life/art allows you to hypothesize what their intent was) 
  • Storytelling elements (the script, dialogue, clear character relationships, etc.) 

These are wells from which you can draw to back up your claim. Every time you make a claim, you must back it up with a clear example from the film. Let’s return to Andersson’s analysis of Majid Majidi’s film The Color of Paradise (1999) for two examples of supporting evidence. 

Andersson claims that “Majid suggests that a life is best lived when identity is placed in spiritual values.” (1) First, she must explain why she is able to look at this 1999 fim through the lens of spirituality. On the second page, she justifies this reading by pointing out that, before the film even begins, there is “a single line of text over a black screen that reads ‘In the Name of God’ or ‘To the Glory of God’ – depending on the translation.” (2) Andersson responds to this genre’s expectation of her to provide her logic– even before she discusses what Majid’s message might have been. 

One of Andersson’s claims is that Majid works through the juxtaposition of Mohammed and Hashem to clearly communicate the difference of a faith-led life and one lived without any spirituality. On pages 4, 5 and 6, she identifies three key areas of difference between the two: acts of kindness, interaction with nature, and sight. She dedicates a separate paragraph for each of these themes, identifying motifs and moments in explanation of the characters’ differences. She draws from both storytelling elements and visual techniques, strengthening the grounds of her argument

A closing note on emotion: 

You might be tempted to analyze emotion, but know that analysis calls for logical minds. Your heart does not have much say in the cleverness of a film. Stay clear of reactions such as “this makes the audience feel…” and “this is a moment that evokes an emotional response in the viewer…” because it is not rooted in logic. Some might call this avoidance of emotion in analysis a “constraint,” but it just makes you more credible. 

On that note, we conclude. There is a wide world of cinema out there for you to analyze, from arthaus to indie to critically acclaimed adaptations of novels. Take these tools, and educate the masses. And remember: if you say it smart, that means it’s art.

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