Part one: WRITING A CRITICAL ESSAY
When you write critical essays on literature ( prose (short stories and novels), plays and poetry), you take your evidence from the whole text not just the dialogue (talking). For example: in plays two levels of language are used:
1. The words spoken by the characters in the play
2. The stage directions.
In the play called ‘Paper Tigers’ by Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore.
Inside the back room of the paper shop. Mr Ali is checking through some magazines and numbering them. He puts some of the magazines into the paper round shoulder bags. He hums to himself.
Gareth enters the room. He looks around nervously.
Mr Ali turns quickly and stares at Gareth.
Gareth Er…there was no one in the shop, and I heard you hummin’ in here…
Mr Ali I didn’t hear the bell.
Gareth Perhaps it’s not working.
Mr Ali (relaxing a little) Perhaps not. What can I do for you?
Gareth You are Mr Ali, aren’t you?
Mr Ali I am. And you?
Gareth (confusedly) No, I’m not Mr Ali…oh I see! Sorry! I’m Gareth. Gareth Davies. I’ve come about the job. On the window outside. The paper round job
I have written the stage directions in pink and the dialogue in blue so you can clearly see them. You could use both the dialogue and the stage directions in your answer.
For example: In the stage directions, the playwrights (Barlow and Skidmore if you prefer), show how shy Gareth is about asking for a job when he ‘looks around nervously’ upon entering the papershop. This is further expemplified when Mr Ali says ‘I am. And you?’ and Gareth ‘confusedly’ thinks Mr Ali is asking him if he too is Mr Ali. Both emphasise how anxious Gareth is about doing something he has not experienced before.
Part two: WRITING A CRITICAL ESSAY FOR FILM
For movies it is exactly the same. You have to use the whole of the text (and films are a text in the same way literature is). This means you have to write about cinematography (camera angles, shots and movement), mise-en-scene (see this post for a breakdown of the elements), sound (diegetic or non-diegetic) and symbolism amongst others.
Using your notes write an introduction in which you:
- Mention the title, director/writer, year of release, where it was set.
- Clarify what the genre is (dystopian)
- Name and briefly describe the main protagonist in a single sentence.
- Provide a plot summary (3-4 lines).
- Refer to the question
Do not write openings such as ‘I am going to talk about…’
Always write in the third person in a CEL
EXAMPLE: ‘The director, Gary Ross, uses many film techniques to convey the themes of…’(only write the themes in the introduction that you are analysing in your essay). ‘The Hunger Games’ is an American science fiction film set in the futuristic, dystopian society of Panem.
Once you have completed your introduction you will move on to do at least five analysis paragraphs.
An example of a CEM introduction using the film ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ (1984)
Tip: It is better to write all numbers in full such as District Twelve as it looks better in an essay.
‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ is a British dystopian film released in 1984. It was written and directed by Michael Radford, based upon George Orwell’s novel of the same name. The film follows the life of Winston Smith in Oceania, a country run by a totalitarian government. In dystopian ‘Nineteen-Eighty-Four’, Winston Smith endures a squalid existence in the totalitarian superstate of Oceania under the constant surveillance of the Thought Police. The story takes place in London the capital city of the territory Airstrip One (formerly Britain). Winston works for the Ministry of Truth, rewriting history in accordance with the dictates of the party and its extreme figurehead Big Brother. Using key film techniques such as: cinematography, mise-en-scene and symbolism, this essay will explore the themes of surveillance, sexual repression and oppression.
Title, genre,year of release, writer/director/adaptation, summary (including the information required to give a background to your essay 3-4 lines ONLY), refer to question and say what themes and techniques you are going to look at.
These are the SIX things you HAVE to include in your introduction.
You may have used the PEE structure before in your analysis of literature, however, I prefer to use PEAR which is an acronym for POINT, EVIDENCE, ANALYSIS and REFER BACK, because it includes a reminder that each paragraph must refer back to the original question. Your analysis in each paragraph has to be answering the same question all the way through. To ensure that the marker knows you are answering the question you have to mention the key words (or words that mean the same) of the question in the POINT and REFER BACK stages of your paragraph.
Below is an example of how to use the PEAR structure. Each element of the structure is colour coded to make it more distinguishable. To make it easier for you, I have included a template for you to structure your paragraph:
This is your topic sentence at the beginning of the paragraph. In the topic sentence you must introduce the main idea of the paragraph. For a critical essay that would be the point you are about to make to answer the question (each paragraph is about answering the same question). It must contain the technique you are looking at (for example Aerial shot) and how this technique (highlights their vulnerability) emphasises the theme (to emphasise the theme of oppression).
Example: In ‘The Hunger Games’ the director employs sound to convey (try to use different words for each topic sentence) the theme of oppression to the audience. As the children walk towards ‘The Reaping’, there is an ominous, non-diegetic, sound in the background that echoes the sound of a bell tolling. The sound of a bell tolling is symbolic of death and is often heard when someone has died. The director uses an aerial shot showing the children walking to further convey the theme of oppression. An aerial shot makes the character look small therefore it makes them appear vulnerable. The ominous sound coupled with the aerial shot of the children, makes them appear like animals being herded which echoes the saying ‘lambs to the slaughter’. This treatment of the children of District 12, where they are forced to attend The Reaping so that two can be chosen for The Hunger Games, reinforces the theme of oppression as it highlights their inhumane treatment by the Capitol.
The evidence has to be taken directly from the text. It is not enough just to make a point, you have to prove it! For literature you would just take the words (either dialogue or discription) and put them inside quotation marks, like this: ‘I am. And you?’. You can also do this in film, however, it is not enough! For film you have to use film language (cinematography, mise-en-scene, sound, dialogue and symbolism). The examples I have given will show you how to do this.
You have to take that evidence one step further! You have to explain exactly what effect it is having.
What the connotations are (this is a fancy word that means the emotional attachment of the word to you. For example:
Denotation is the definition of a word. For example, a cat is a furry animal with four legs and a tail.
The connotation is what you think of when you hear that word. For example, some people think of how cute cats are and their first cats, etc…some people hate cats, and that’s what they think of when they hear the word. Here’s another example: thin and scrawny. Which one has the more positive connotation? Thin. Scrawny sounds like a malnourished and ugly thing to be, but thin sounds attractive and positive.
Look at my analysis of ‘Happy Hunger Games’ (that Effie and President Snow use in the film – and Katniss and Gale make fun of)
‘Welcome, welcome, welcome…Happy Hunger Games!’ This echoes the saying ‘Happy Holidays’ (that Americans say a lot!). It is a complete clash of words (or oxymoron, if you want the correct term) as Happy mean to be joyful whilst the and the Hunger Games mean pain, death and suffering.
An oxymoron is when two words, that clash or contrast in meaning, are next to each other like black ice, red snow or cruel kindness.
Once you have made your POINT , given EVIDENCE and shown what that means through your ANALYSIS of that evidence, you must REFER BACK to the question. How else is the marker to know that you are answering the question and not just showing your knowledge of the text?
Example: This treatment of the children of District 12, where they are forced to attend The Reaping so that two can be chosen for The Hunger Games, reinforces the theme of oppression as it highlights their inhumane treatment by the Capitol.
This is a word doc that gives further examples of topic sentences and different verbs that can be used. verb-for-topic-sentences
An example of the PEAR structure used to analyse ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’
Example paragraph 1
From this clip of the film
In Nineteen-Eighty-Four, the government, called The Party, uses propaganda to control the people and keep them oppressed. The Party pretends that Oceania is continually fighting a war to keep the people focused on whether they are winning or losing, rather than how terrible their living conditions are. The director highlights the use of propaganda by showing a telescreen broadcast where a close-up shot of a newsreader
(which could be considered an extreme close-up since the top and bottom of his head is cut off) talking about the atrocities of war ‘They have attacked an unarmed village with rocket bombs…and murdered defenseless, innocent…and peaceful citizens of Oceania.This is no longer war. This is cold-blooded murder. Until now, the war has been conducted with honour…and bravery…with the ideals of truth and justice,in the best traditions of mankind…until this moment. Brothers and sisters…’The use of the words ‘innocent’, ‘unarmed’,and ‘defenseless’ all have connotations of the upright, virtuous people who are brutally murdered by a foreign enemy of Oceania. The Party uses this as a method of controlling the society and keeping them oppressed. They have to constantly worry about the external threat from a foreign nation which prevents them from thinking about how they are being treated as a society. It is The Party who are causing the bombings, which occur when the people need reminding that The Party looking after and protect them. Also, the mannerisms of the newsreader appear sinister, he is speaking in an indignant angry tone of voice, but the words ‘ideals of truth and justice’ clash with the way the people in Oceania are treated by The Party. There is no truth or justice in society since the Party decides everything and rewrites history. The newsreaders’ expression becomes even more sinister and angry as towards the end he begins to chant ‘Death! Death!’ which echoes what will happen to all those who disobey the authority of The Party and signifies the ultimate oppression suffered by the people.
Usually, you will have to include more than one piece of evidence that is related to the same point. I have shown here how you can do so.
Once you have completed your introduction and analysis paragraphs, it is important that you write a conclusion to your critical essay.
This is the final paragraph where you discuss how the director, Gary Ross, uses various film techniques to convey the themes in the film ‘The Hunger Games’ (list what techniques you have used in your essay overall. For example: sound, setting, camera angles/shots/movement, editing, colour etc).
The conclusion repeats some of the information from the introduction such as: the key words of the task, the director’s name, the title of the film and then go on to discuss how the film as a whole, conveys the themes you have discussed in your essay. You summarise your main arguments and say how they, as a whole, answer your question.
You can use dialogue from the film as evidence but it is important that you use other techniques as well.
From the opening section of the film:
‘From the treaty of the treason: In penance for their uprising, each district shall offer up a male and female between the ages of 12 and 18 at a public “Reaping.” These Tributes shall be delivered to the custody of the Capitol. And then transferred to a public arena where they will Fight to the Death until a lone victor remains. Henceforth and forevermore this pageant shall be known as The Hunger Games.’ ….