Basic Instructions: This assignment asks you to make a thematic argument about a film. While this thematic argument should consider the film in its entirety, the essay should focus on supporting its thesis through a close analysis of no more than two scenes. To support and refine its thesis, the essay should draw on the film’s narrative but also on relevant formal features—mise-en-scène, cinematography, editing, and sound. 

NB: A summary of a film will receive a poor grade. A simple description of the formal elements within a scene will receive a poor grade. A paper without an argumentative thesis will receive a poor grade.

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Eligible Films: You can write on any of the films that we’ve watched for class or watched extensive clips from: Modern Times, Our Hospitality, Do the Right Thing, Whiplash, Singin’ in the Rain, His Girl Friday, Casablanca, Silence of the Lambs, and The 400 Blows. If you’d like to write on early cinema shorts, please consult with me first.


Thesis Statements and Non-Trivial Arguments 

– Example #1: a trivial and/or unargumentative statement The Dark Knight reconsiders what it means to be a good guy in the aftermath of 9/11. ^ This statement simply summarizes a very prominent theme in the film. It’s not enough to identify a theme or, even worse, summarize the plot. A thesis must take a stance about the significance, meaning, and/or consequences of how the film wants us to understand the theme. 

– Example #2: an argumentative statement By presenting the villain as utterly irrational and irredeemable, The Dark Knight justifies the unconscionable acts of so-called heroes. ^ This statement takes an arguable position on the prominent theme. The film is redefining heroism: The Dark Knight is justifying evil in the name of heroism and the essayist thinks the argument is amoral, immoral, and/or deeply problematic. 

– Example #3: an argumentative statement The Dark Knight argues that the protection of freedom depends on exceptions for the righteous use of violence. ^ This thesis argues that the film connects ideas of freedom to ideas of violence—you can’t have the former without the latter. Unlike the previous thesis, this one refrains from declaring its own position regarding the desirability of this connection, which is fine. 

– Example #4: a trivial and/or unargumentative statement The neorealist film Bicycle Thieves uses spiritual elements to tell its story. ^ Once again, the statement rehearses what is thematically evident or obvious to most viewers. It’s a conclusion than any reasonable viewer could reach. 

– Example #5: an argumentative thesis Even though it patterns its story on the modern-day religious quest, Bicycle Thieves insists that Christianity cannot solve postwar Italian poverty and hopelessness. ^ This sentence is a thesis because it makes a claim about the significance, or meaning, of the religious quest within the film. What appears to be a religious quest is, in fact, a demonstration that religion is not enough. Now we can have crazy arguments about the film’s attitude towards religion that will, if left to fester, result in thousands of beautiful fistfights. 

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