Film Language: Why Transitions Matter

Imagine yourself in a dark movie theater. Sitting on the edge of your seat, your body tenses as you watch a dramatic scene play out in front of you: a train derails and is now careening towards a cliff! People are screaming! Children are crying! And then, just as the train is about to go over the edge, the scene is “wiped” away and the next scene appears like a checkerboard, piece by piece until finally the picture is whole.

What just happened? The flow of information was disrupted, the feeling of urgency and panic was lost, and the legitimacy of the film was damaged. Though we often don’t even notice them, transitions are rhetorical tools that filmmakers can use to strengthen the film’s argument. How scenes are connected creates meaning. For example, a dissolve transition – where one scene fades into another – can encourage the audience to make a connection between seemingly unrelated sequences.

Consider this clip from the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Pay attention to how each scene transitions to the next. How do the transitions add to the pace and feel of the movie? How do they help you understand each scene?


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