In his movie, Stranger Than Fiction, director Marc Foster uses many formal techniques and elements to prove the theme that human beings should be open to love, for relationships change people for the better. Foster explores this theme through the employment of lighting, shot types, and mise-en-scene. The three scenes analyzed here focus on the relationship between Harold and Ana, and the positive effect that Ana’s love has on Harold’s life.
The first scene of the movie uses formal elements to portray the general feeling and mood of Harold’s life. In this scene, Harold wakes up and begins his day. He brushes his teeth, gets dressed, walks to the bus, and completes his workday. He heads home to get to sleep, and then restarts the cycle the next morning. All the formal elements used in this scene are in place to show Harold’s boring, meaningless lifestyle. The lighting in this scene is bland. The environment seems dark, dry, and almost colorless. The grey, blue, and green tones of the light mirror the tones of Harold’s feelings: cold, sad, and alone. The camera also shows the mood of this scene, keeping its angles high and its distances far away. In this scene when Harold wakes up and goes to bed, the camera seems to be from the ceiling’s point of view. This makes Harold seem smaller than normal, and more secluded. Because the camera is so far away, it makes the audience recognize the walls around him. The camera has to stand back, as to not protrude Harold’s bubble of isolation. The mise-en-scene also shows the mood of scene. Harold’s coat and clothes are drab and plain, just like his house, workplace, and life. Harold, at this point in the film, has not established any type of good relationship, and the director’s techniques show that. Once Harold begins to find love, not only does the entire mood of the story change, but also the formal elements that are used to create the mood change.
The next scene is when Harold stays over at Ana’s house. At this point in the film, the entire mood of the story has changed. Harold and Ana are in a good relationship, and both seem to love each other very much. Ana invites Harold over for dinner, and they share an intimate scene on Ana’s couch in her living room. Harold’s walls have come down, and the relationship between him and Ana has made him a better person. The lighting in this particular scene is very different from the previous scenes. The color has shifted from grey and blue to red, pink, and orange. The entire room where Harold and Ana occupy has a soft pink glow, which emphasizes the happiness that Harold finally feels. The camera also portrays this. Instead of using the far away, impersonal angles as it did before, the camera seems very intimate with the couple, using close-ups and point-of-view shots. The closeness of the camera to the characters shows the closeness between Ana and Harold, and the openness of Harold’s heart. The mise-en-scene in this scene contributes greatly to the mood and the theme. Ana’s home is full of colorful trinkets, with antique and mismatched furniture. The house is full of light and life, which is a complete change from Harold’s life. Even Ana’s clothes represent the differences between the two characters. Not only has Harold entered this happy and colorful household, but he has also entered a happy and colorful lifestyle as well. Already, Ana is changing and influencing Harold to become a better person. Harold has finally accepted and become open to love, and Foster uses these formal elements to emphasize his belief that human relationships change people for the better. Once Harold has found this love, he is a completely changed man.
In the very last scene of the film, Harold lies in a hospital bed, completely encased in bandages and casts. Ana comes to visit him, bringing her condolences. With just this description, it would seem that this scene is a sad and somber moment in the film. However, the formal elements of the scene create a light, cheerful mood. The lighting in this scene is very bright. The sun is shining and the entire room seems clean, bright, and happy. Even though Harold is seriously injured, the lighting assures the viewer that everything will be okay. The camera in this scene stays very close to Harold and Ana, showing their emotion towards the entire situation and towards each other. At this point in the film, Harold has finally found love and he is a changed person. His change of heart is clearly seen through the formal elements of the camera.
Marc Foster aims to prove that love can change one for the better, if all people are open and willing to accept it, in his movie, Strange Than Fiction. At first, Harold is lonely and isolated, and the lighting, shot types, and mise-en-scene emphasize this. The dark lighting and the impersonal camera distances show the mood of Harold’s lonely life. Once Harold meets Ana and they fall in love, the formal elements change with the mood of the story. No longer is the lighting dark and drab, but happy and colorful and bright. The camera becomes more intimate with Harold’s character, and we see the change in his emotions.
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