Scene analysis

Recognizing and interpreting transcendent motifs and symbols in a film scene

In her third and last run, Lola has exhausted all her possibilities to help Manni. In desperation, she says a quick prayer – and surprisingly gets help.

Symbols (Greek for ‘token, mark or watchword’) ) are carriers of meaning which stand for something else and whose meaning we learn through experience and culture. For example, the cross is a symbol for Christianity. Letters, traffic signs or the dials of clocks are also symbols.

Motifs are narrative building blocks that are significantly repeated in a film text and reappear during the film. A motif can be an object, a colour, a place, a sound, a melody or even a certain stylistic use of the camera.

Individual elements in the film can thus take on the role of both symbols and motifs.
The term symbol is generally used to refer to any signifier (sign, word, object, process, etc.) that denotes a concept or idea (of something that does not have to be present). This idea is defined more precisely and sometimes very differently in various different fields of application.

All religions express core ideas in symbols, for example the wheel (as a symbol of eternal return), the cross (as a symbol of the suffering and death of Jesus, but also of reconciliation with God) and the way (as a symbol of life history or lifestyle).

A numerical symbolism also runs through many religions, for example, some Christian thought considers the number three as the number of the Trinity and the theological virtues (faith, love, hope), and the number four as the number of the world: there are four times of day and seasons; cardinal points; elements; ages; streams of paradise (Euphrates, Tigris, Pison, Geon), sometimes depicted as men with water jugs, for example at the baptismal font of Hildesheim Cathedral; great prophets; and evangelists.
Three and four add up to seven, and when multiplied make twelve. In Christianity, the number seven has a variety of meanings; it is interpreted here as a combination of the divine Trinity (three) with the world (the four earthly elements). In the Book of Revelation (a letter to seven churches predicting the Apocalypse), the number seven is mentioned 54 times, including the book with seven seals; the seven trumpets, each of which heralds another apparition of the Last Days; seven bowls; seven plagues; and a seven-headed beast. We also have the seven virtues and the seven deadly sins. There are the twelve tribes of Israel and, connected to them, the twelve apostles.
Religious symbols are elements which form part of religious identification, language and actions. Every "religious language" is essentially symbolic, because religion usually refers to a reality that transcends the superficially visible reality.
Film music is the music that accompanies the images of a film. It can be created from already existing musical works or composed especially for the film (the film score). A characteristic feature of film music is the connection between the image that we see and the music, in terms of content and function – the music should support the mood and feeling of what we are seeing.
There are three main types of camera movement, each of which is divided into further categories:

  1. Movements with a camera that is permanently mounted on a tripod (fixed camera):
    Pan: The camera moves along its horizontal axis, either from left to right or vice versa. A particularly fast pan, which makes the image appear blurred, is called a whip pan.
    Tilt: The camera moves up or down along its vertical axis, changing the camera perspective.
    Rotation (rolling): The camera rotates along an imaginary line between itself and the object being filmed.

  2. The moving camera (mobile camera):
    Tracking shot: A camera mounted on a vehicle, which is typically running along rails, performs a smooth movement through space on a horizontal plane. The movement can lead towards or away from the object (counter movement). However, the camera can also move on a circular path around the object (circle or arc shot).
    Dolly shot: A camera dolly is a cart the camera is mounted on that allows it to move freely in horizontal space. In contrast to regular camera movement, the freedom of movement here is not limited to straight-line movements along rails.
    Crane shot: : A camera mounted on a crane seems to float freely in space.
    Hand-held camera shot: The camera is held with the hands, so that the camera movements are caused by the body movements of the camera operator.
    Steadicam: The camera is attached to the camera operator's body and is stabilised by a holding system in such a way that the unwanted walking movements of the cameraman are largely compensated. Steadicams enable very smooth camera movements, similar to camera movements on rails or with a dolly.

  3. Apparent camera movement (by changing the focal length in the shot, an effect is achieved that looks as if the camera is moving):
    Zooming in: Zooming in focuses attention on a specific detail by narrowing the camera's angle of view, thus enlarging the view of the filmed object.
    Zooming out: Beim Zooming out reveals more of a scene by gradually increasing the camera's angle of view.

Pictograms representing movements of the fixed camera:
Pictograms representing movements of the mobile camera:
Pictograms representing apparent movements of the camera:

TC: 01:00:29 – 01:01:42

Task 1

The excerpt can be divided into several sections in which Lola gradually gets closer to the solution. The soundtrack plays an important role in structuring the excerpt.
  1. Work out the sections using the timeline. To do this, arrange the coloured sliders in alternating colour sequences.
  2. Write down what Lola thinks in the text cards. Place the cards above the timeline and align the arrows with the timeline.
  3. Use the visual markers to show what else you are listening to and when something in the music or surrounding sounds changes or stands out. Write what you think is important on text cards.

  1. Explain how the soundtrack contributes to the structure of the clip.
  2. Describe the character and effect of the music and relate it to Lola's quick prayer.

Task 2

In this part of the excerpt Lola says her quick prayer.
  1. Identify different shot sizes (camera distance) and camera angles. Take some still images to illustrate the shot types.
  2. Add the appropriate visual markers to your selection.

TC: 01:00:29 – 01:01:21

Camera angle
Shot size (camera distance)
Note cards
  1. Describe what happens as Lola runs quickly and how the camera movement and shot sizes are used in this context.
  2. Name any religious or spiritual references that are suggested by the camera work and the way in which the scene is constructed.

Task 3

Here Lola gets an inspired idea. First comes the truck … and then?
  1. Describe the camera work or camera movement, before Lola notices the casino (filming location Kronprinzenpalais 📍). Take some still images and use the camera tool to reproduce the changing camera positions.

TC: 01:01:22 – 01:01:42

Note cards
  1. What impressions and ideas are conveyed by the way the camera is moved? Explain how the camera movement and the editing illustrates Lola's developing ideas.
    Do a short imaginative experiment: Imagine that Lola sees the casino from a subjective point of view (i.e. from her point of view). How would your understanding of the scene change?
  2. In her third run, Lola goes into a casino. In German the word for casino is “Spielbank” (a game bank). Explain how the casino (Spielbank) does relate to locations that you have seen in other runs.
  3. Are there additional visual religious or spiritual references that are being made in the extract? In this context, explain the role of the truck.