Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Analysis of a scene from Beetlejuice (mise-en-scene)

I'm going to analyse the scene in which the couple, Adam and Barbara Maitland, drive into the sheltered bridge. I feel it's the most clue giving scene in the whole film, and is really interesting to understand and interpret.

A quick synopsis of the scene:
Adam and Barbara are currently on a two week vacation which they are spending in their run down house, and plan to decorate it. The couple need a few things from the store that Adam runs, so Barbara drives Adam to the store to collect these few items. As they are heading back, a dog distracts Barbara from driving, and they ultimately drive into a sheltered bridge and fall into a river.

I was trying to decide how to analyse the film in terms of what order to place the certain areas predominant in a film (those being the mise-en-scene which include the set and costume, the music, special effects and camera work). And feel it would make the most sense, and be the most understandable to analyse them in the certain categories. So here they are...
The mise-en-scene in this film gives everything you need to know away. You really wouldn't need any kind of dialogue if you just read the set. So to start off with, we are presented with a huge white house. The size of this house could represent how innocent the couple are. Tim Burton could have chosen any colour for this house, but he chose to choose white - The most innocent of all the colours. So immediately you are not threatened by anything that is giving to you. Around this white house you see a tree with no leaves, a fence that looks very unstable and thick clouds in the blue sky. The fence could show the signs of the interior of the house, as it is very run down. And the tree and clouds could actually be an indication of the dark that's about to occur in their lives. I know it sounds a bit far fetched but really, everything put into the scene has a meaning. They could have adjusted the sky in post-production to have no clouds, they could have brought in a tree full of life, but instead these two factors, and the run down fense in this scene have an unpleasant feel about them indicating something isn't quite as simple as the huge white house might signal. And in the distance of this huge house is the village in which they both live near by. The houses seem, from what is given in the shot, to all be of cream colours and whites, but are distanced from this house. This meaning that the house is isolated from any interaction with the main village - Like the alive being isolated from the dead.

When the camera cuts to Adam and Barbara running down the stairs, their costumes are very much relating to their personality. Adam wears a shirt, with clashing trousers and glasses, giving the smarter part of the couple. And Barbara wears a white dress with a small floral design on it, which is flowing and covers most of her body up; a very good indication of her innocence and motherly figure in this film.

The car they drive is of a yellow pastel colour, enough to stand out from the creamy looking houses and make a statement, but also isn't too domineering against this very quaint picture we are being given.

The very first sign of something bad about to happen is the shot of the sheltered bridge. The surrounding picture is of the countryside; A beautiful image of fields and white houses. But right in the middle is this huge, bright red interfering bridge. Red is always associated with anger, stress, death and blood, so for this bridge to stand out in such a way isn't appealing at all. And from this very first sign of seeing red, a pattern begins to emerge. Red becomes the common colour in the scene with subtle hints of it throughout the different shots that the audience are watching. This is used in films to hint to the audience that red is of an importance (You may notice if you're watching Jaws that yellow is the reoccurring colour in that film). Provided in the next few scenes is a man wearing a red cap, men washing a big red car, red as the font colour for the front of the shop, red flowers and the shop containing many red apparatus. This isn't a coincidence. It has all been there to signal that something red is an important aspect in the script.

Along with these images we see a man cleaning his statues with his dog walking across the street, houses that are neatly kept and a hair dresser sitting in a chair waiting for someone to ask for a haircut. Obviously, he has been given the appropriate uniform for a hairdresser to make the audience believe he is one. And these images seem very nice and pleasent to observe.

But, after being exploded with these red images, we return once again to this domineering red bridge. Remember just above I said the 'dog walking across the street'? Tim Burton didn't let the dog do that randomly. The dog is the reason why the the couple are killed. We see this dog again, in front of the bridge, which distracts Barbara from driving, and ultimately she crashes through the side of this sheltered bridge, the yellow car contrasting and standing out so much from the red that's presented, and eventually falls in the deep flowing river. Again, the river could have been a stream but the action had to have an impact so it's huge and splashes everywhere to create the dramatic effect. And, of course the bridge is sheltered because the car had to drive into something, to create the tension of balancing on the edge, before falling in and bringing down the red wood with it.

So, when you actually start reading the mise-en-scene, you realise that dialogue is such a small part of the script in a film...

Next blog, camera work and editing.


  1. what model is there car they drive that huge yellow wagon

  2. Apparently it's a Volvo 245 according to this website: