Theme Of Mise En Scene In Imitation Of Life

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In the film, Imitation of Life, director Douglas Sirk utilizes the visual elements of mise-en-scene to affect viewers emotionally when presenting them with life’s limits of race.
Throughout the film Sirk provides the viewer with a particular perspective of American life during the 1950’s. There are specific conventions and mise-en-scene devices that Sirk employs which are conducive to displaying the limitations of race. An example being, the scene where Annie and Sarah-Jane first arrive at Loren’s home and Susie invites Sarah-Jane to play dolls. Susie immediately and instinctively offers the black doll to Sarah-Jane. In the framing of the scene, the two children are in a small room which reflects the confinements of their amusement as well
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When being handed the black doll Sarah-Jane retreats as far as she can until she is stopped by the framing of the bed and Susie plants the doll on her lap. Sarah Jane’s rejects and tosses the doll to the floor, leaving it behind. The camera then switches into a close up shot of the doll, allowing the audience to understand the underlying meaning; Sarah-Jane’s dissent towards her own racial identity. Furthermore, this close up on the abandoned black doll foreshadows the numerous fleeing Sarah-Jane will attempt in order to leave her racial identity behind and “defend herself against...the world’s terrorism.” (Imitation of Life: On the Films of Douglas Sirk pg 89) Additional to this incident is the scene where Sarah-Jane is brutally beaten by her boyfriend. The setting of the scene takes place in a dim lit, dirty alley generating a risky and criminal feel. Throughout the shots in this scene, Sarah-Jane and her boyfriend are constantly separated by the angling of the camera and objects in the alley such as a street lamp. At one point the camera is angled towards a direct shot of Sarah-Jane’s boyfriend which includes her reflection, this in turn utilizes the window frame as a separation …show more content…
However her desire “to ‘pass for white’...[forces her to] reject her mother.” ( Style pg 47) The shots in Sarah-Jane’s room, when Annie comes to give her a final farewell represent this decision. When Annie first enters the room, the low angle shot symbolizes how Sarah-Jane is once again cornered and trapped by the reality of her racial identity. In an effort to flee, Sarah-Jane heads towards her suitcase. The wall serves as a division between her and Annie. The split in the framing of the shot “balances point of view so that the spectator is in a position of seeing and evaluating contrasting attitudes.” (Case Study: Imitation of Life pg 95) In a following shot, Annie and Sarah-Jane cry and embrace one another for the last time. The use of close up and head-shot techniques assist in capturing a direct point of view of both character’s body language and facial expressions. These expressions are manufactured to portray a dismal, intimate moment to pull at the audience 's heart strings. Moreover, when Sarah-Jane’s coworker enters she immediately assumes Annie is the maid. Annie identifies herself as Sarah-Janes nanny. Annie’s race allows her to “perform in order to sustain her daughter’s deception” and performance of a white woman. (Case Study: Imitation of Life pg 90) In spite of Sarah-Jane’s callous behavior towards Annie, it is clear that she loves her. However, Sarah-Jane is compelled to shun Annie for the sake of

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