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Watch: The Power of Reflection in 120 Films (in Five Minutes)

Watch: The Power of Reflection in 120 Films (in Five Minutes)

Reflections
are a common find in every type of film, but what can we learn from them? 
What does it mean when a character gazes emptily into his or her own
reflection?  What is communicated when the filmmaker decides to focus on
the characters’ reflections rather than on their actual bodies? 
  There are several ways a reflection may be presented to us–we see
them in mirrors, windows, water, shiny surfaces–each holding numerous symbolic
interpretations.  Of course, just as sometimes a “cigar is just a
cigar,” a reflection is often just a reflection.  If a character is
grooming in the bathroom, a reflection would clearly be a natural part of the
scene.  But even in cases such as this, the way the said reflection is
presented to us may hold deeper significance.

A recurring
idea expressed through reflections is duality.  Travis Bickle talking to
his reflection in Taxi Driver, the gasoline puddle foreshadowing Harvey Dent’s
disfigurement in The Dark Knight, and the overwhelmingly disorienting
mirror placement in Black Swan are prime examples of duality expressed through
reflections.  Reflections shown in the mirror of a vehicle can often
express regret, dwelling on the past, and isolation.  In Brokeback
Mountain
, Jack watches as Ennis becomes belittled by the distance in his side-view
mirror.  In Drive, we are frequently presented with the driver reduced
down to eyes in the rear-view mirror–this is all he has.  Sometimes
reflections are manipulated to help us feel the inner turmoil of a
character.  Rayon is pigeonholed into the tiny makeup mirror reminiscent
of his lifestyle in Dallas Buyers Club, Lou Bloom’s inner disconnect is
portrayed through his fragmented reflection in Nightcrawler, and Ed Avery’s
unpredictable state of mind is visually expressed through his fractured mirror
in Bigger Than Life.  Reflections presented in reflective surfaces other
than mirrors seem to suggest an intrusion of some sort.  As the elevator
doors close in Lost in Translation, Bob’s own identity is forced into his
view.  During Clarice’s close-up in Silence of the Lambs, Dr. Hannibal
Lecter’s reflection in the prison wall monopolizes the frame–he is in
control. 

When used in a
significant manner, reflections can effectively communicate intricacies of a
character’s thoughts, feelings, and secrets that would otherwise not be
expressed visually.  Here is a look at significant reflections in 120
films. 

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