Character Reflection and Projection – Edward Branigan

Details of the scene or action are used to reveal character traits, to externalize aspect of character. In Barthes’ terms, the connotations of various details are systematically marshaled in support of character: image space becomes charged with character semes. Formally, of course, the connotations may arise from the performances of actors, from the mise-en -scene, lighting, the soundtrack, aspects of editing and camerawork, etc. In general the problem is that of ‘expressive’ compositions and camera movements, which Jean Mitry refers to as “subjectivising the objective.”

“Where camera movement is not used simply to emphasize relationships in space, it very often carries with it a certain subjective impression. The movement of the camera draws attention to the imaginary observer whose movement it reproduces. The content of the shot is seen, not directly, but through the eyes as it were, of someone who is reacting to that content in a certain way.”

Two types of subjectivity: reflection and projection. Reflection and projection occur in (1) present time and depend on a (2) metaphorical framing which links the character to a production of space, as opposed to  framing which is literallly from the character’s point in space, such as the point-0f-view shot. In addition (3) reflection reveals only the presence or normal awareness of the character – examples are mirror shots and eyeline matches -whereas projection refers to a specific mental state of the character.  More broadly in reflection and projection, we witness a series of objects, external and preent to the character in continuous (or simultaneous) present time; at least the principal devices of the sequence must be diegetically motivated. The objects are linked to character by a narrative inference and their presentation is (supposedly) modulated by a particular kind of character attention – normal awareness, fear, guilt, desire etc.

Metaphorical Framing: 

A set of inferences, therefore, may substitute for a literal camera framing and free us from the optical vantage point of character while maintaining the subjectivity of space. We see that a space is subjective but do not (directly) see its subjectiveness. The verb ‘see’ in this formulation, however, is being employed in two different senses – one of which metaphorical. It would be more accurate to say that we understand that a space is subjective though we do not, literally see its subjectiveness (from the place of the character). This is opens a second way of explanining the framing of reflection and projection sequences – through the concept of metaphor.

Stephen Heath argues that “the less narratively ‘metonymical’ and the more ‘metaphorical’ is wat is looked at…, the nearer such a shot will come to subjectivising the image.”
Although Heath is speaking of POV shots, we may generalize and say that even where the framing is not strictly from the character’s point in spae, there can be a metaphorical transfer from what is looked at to the character who looks (to be looking). Furthermore, the transfer is facilitated in so far as the shot breaks way from the metonymic progression of narrative events – the main causal line – for such a break requiters justification and, when justified by character perception, it becomes subjective.

The first metaphor is narrative – the comparison of a new object to character – and the second is narrational – a transfer of the activity of seeing the character. The narrative metaphor, of course, may refer to the character without being subjective.

All metaphors however  involve the transfer of sematic features and presuppositions (in this case about seeing, about cockroaches, about murderous machinegun fire, etc.) among features on surrounding nouns. A theory of metaphor is a theory of how, and under what conditions, transference occurs. The nature of the transference may be narrative and/or narrational.

If we allow metaphorical transfers on the plance of narration, the result may be a subjective interpretation even though certain shots are from non-charcter, ‘neutral’ angles. In literature, a parralel case might be the telling of a story as if by a character, but told in the third person. The indirect is a way of reporting the speech or thought of a character without direct quotation. It is intimaley connected to character without stating exactly the character’s speech or thought.

The intermediate status of reflection and projection – located between the strict subjectivity of a POV shot and a neutral reference narration – means that reflection and projection are often a matter of subtle discrimination and judgement. They may seem to be everywhere or nowhere in a film. Just as it is difficult to predict the metaphorical extension of a word so it is difficult to prescribe rules for the appearance of these transitional subjectivities. In all cases, however, a logical network of equivalences is created which acts to substitute , symbolically, the character for the origin for the framing.

For this reason one might guess that such sequences are harder to detect and developed historically later in films than, say, POV and perception shots which use literal framing or flashbacks and dream sequences which are clarly marked by a temporaal shift.

Character Reflection

When a character projects his or her body into space, and only the body, not a mental state, we will speak of character reflection.

Geoffrey Nowell-Smith: But hence too the importance of mirror shots generally – the mirroring within the mirror by which identity (of characters and/or spectator) is variously doubled, split and recomposed.

The mirror device becomes subjective when a character looks into it and sees himself. The reason is that the mirror image allows us to imagine ourselves at the other end of the sight line. Metaphorically, we are able to locate ourselves with the character as the origin of the mirrored image. Notice that the result is not yet an imaginary identification with the character which is much more complex. The problem is: how can the space we see within the mirror be justified, with respect to the production of other spaces we see? Is it different?

The mirror image is a way of representing the character as divided (conscious/unconscious). Note that in order for this condensation to be itself represented in the film it is necessary that new symbols be created (glasse, reflection).

In a reflective subjectivity that employs a mirror there is literally a frame within a frame which signals a new and distinct level of narration. The inner frame displays a series os spaces generated by, subordinate to, a character.

In the mirror device there is no reference to the character’s state of mind – as in a perception or projection sequence – but only to his attention.
Subjectivity exists when this framing is attributed to character. The power of eyelines lies in their very obviousness: of course, a character will look there and then, of course, look there. In this way, the look and the prodcution af a text, are naturalized in a subjectivity.

What a character sees, then, in himself, other objects, or persons, may be a new quality. As these qualities come to the fore through explicit marking, the phsyciality of the reflective subjectivity begins to shift toward a representation of mental states.

Expressive decor is about character but it need not also be from the character: the latter is the condition of its subjectivit. Expressive decor is public and inter-subjective rather than personal and intra-subjective. Again, the question is always, what serves as the rationalization for a production of space for the viewer? If character, it is subjective.

Character Projection 

Projection occurs in present time and untilizes metaphorical framing. It differs from reflection only in that a character’s mental state is made explicit. There are several theories we might use to explain why the framing is read metaphorically. First, we might concentrate on the production of connotation.
Another explanation for the subjectivity of metaphorical framing concentrates on the inferences about time and space which are made by the viewer. There are no absolute formal features which can guarantee a reading; instead, features ebb and flow in importance according to narrative context and structure.
A third explanation for the subjectivity focuses on the concept of metaphor.
A fourth explanation for the subjectivity of the sequence depens on an analogy with the literary style of the free indirect. In this style the words are presented from within as a sample of preverbal activity prior to, or following,  an explicit utterance.

A projection sequence is only for the spectator of the film. Projection, therefore, is not a communicative act but rather an expressive act where the text does not signify so much as become. This does not mean that expression escapes symbolic activity, merely that it is symbolic in a different way: it does not denote subjectivity but it is an instance or sample to which we are invited to apply the label ‘subjective’

Both reflection and projection break the direct spatial link to character posited by the POV and perception structures. The overall processs approaches Freud’s concption of the free flow of dream-work. More specifically, in Freud’s theory, projection is a defense mechanism ased on a throwing out of what one refuses to recognise in oneself or of what one refuses to be. What is abolished – repressed – internally, however, returns from without, that is may be recognized in another person or thing.

Melanie Klein: This leads to ‘good’ objects and ‘bad’ objects (or split). Projection is embodied in bad opjects that which is despised and has been thrown out. The opposite process for Klein is introjectionn where the ego brins in toward itself a good, pleasurable object.

Freudian terms: projection and introjection.

The index of this displacement and relocation is a camera framing which is no longer strictly first person, as in a POV shot, but is metaphorically first person: that is, partly subjective and partly non-subjective. In Mitry’s words, it is a “subjectivising of the objective.”


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