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One important aspect in film making is putting together the mise-en-scene.  “Mise-en-scene includes those aspects of film that overlap with the art of the theater: setting, lighting, costume, and the behavior of the figures.” (Bordwell & Thompson, 2010). Comedic directors and producers use different elements of mise-en-scene to exaggerate certain things in the scene. One type of comedy, the drama comedy, is a comedy that has funny moments as well as more serious, dramatic moments. In particular, the movie 50/50 uses different elements of mise-en-scene to help seek different effects on the audience.


One element of mise-en-scene is the lighting. According to Boone, “As Jean Rosenthal described the narrow, formulaic conventions of lighting that dominated the theatrical stage as late as the 1930s, ‘Comedies were bright; dramas were uncheerful. Day was yellow; night blue.” (Boone, 1997).  Therefore, in the most basic form, comedies would have bright light and dramas would have a darker ambiance to them. In 50/50, the story shows Joseph Gordon-Levitt  and Seth Rogan as two friends who are just living the basic life. As the story progresses, the audience finds out that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, Adam, has cancer. Before the audience discovers this, the lighting is bright and cheerful. Once Adam gets cancer, we see his whole life somewhat fall apart. He finds out his girlfriend has been cheating  on him, and we suddenly see the lighting change. In one scene in particular, we see Adam lying in his bed with all of the drapes closed and there is darker lighting. This helps us as an audience start to switch moods from humorous to serious.

As previously mentioned, another element of mise-en-scene is the behavior of the characters. In the beginning, the characters behave just as two best friends talking about girls and their jobs.  There are also many comedic lines throughout the beginning of the film. As the story progresses, we see a change on how the characters are acting, especially the way Kyle, Seth Rogan’s character, begins to treat Adam. At first, Kyle has no doubt that Adam is going to survive and doesn’t seem too worried about his friend. However, once Adam is about to get surgery, there’s a scene in the car when Kyle is no longer making jokes. We see his character’s mood become much more serious and as an audience our perception of the seriousness of the situation intensifies. This helps the audience balance the comedic element to the movie with the serious story background.   Similarly, throughout the entire film, the behavior of the characters helps the audience balance the comedy with the drama. For example, even after Adam is diagnosed with cancer we still see humorous parts when Kyle takes Adam out to try and meet girls.  We are reminded of their humorous friendship in spite of the disease that is now in their life. One example is when they are shaving his head. Instead of remaining completely serious as a drama without comedy would do, they implement funny lines. Kyle is making fun of Adam because of the shape of his head, and while some may feel that as insensitive, it reinforces the natural humorous elements that occur between friends. Then, even immediately after funny parts, Adam will start to feel sick and we are once again reminded of how real life drama is present in the film.

When Adam is about to go into surgery, we get a sense of chaos throughout the characters. “The causal, sometimes chaotic mise-en-scene creates a strong sense of spontaneity.” (Neupert, 2011).  Before now, Adam has remained pretty calm under the circumstances. Many other people in his position would have felt self-pity or broken down before now. Since his character has not shown any of these immediate emotions we might expect him to feel, we do not view him as a completely emotional character. With the music in the background, we feel a sense of urgency and chaos before his surgery. The actuality of the situation starts to reside in Adam, and we as the audience begin to feel that too. Spontaneously, he starts crying and hugs his mom and once again this helps us to see the drama in the comedy.

One element of mise-en-scene is the setting. Richard Abel who has done research on mise-en-scene infers that some film makers will use an idea of ‘deep focus’. This basically means to integrate different planes of the film; middle ground, fore ground, and background; and to use them with one another instead of against one another. (Abel, 1975). For example, the scene when Adam is first diagnosed with cancer is when we first start to see some of dramatic elements in the film. At first, he is making witty comments about being sick and taking it lightly. The visual image of the doctor would be considered the foreground of the situation. Suddenly, when the reality starts to set in, we are drawn into Adam’s mind as background music begins to play and the doctor’s voice drowns out.  After this happens, Adam’s face and thoughts really become the foreground and the doctor explaining the options because the background. By integrating these two elements in the scene the film makers help us to transfer from the comedic mood to the dramatic mood.

In conclusion, mise-en-scene can be used to help an audience perceive certain situations in a certain way. In a comedic drama, such as 50/50, it is very important to do this successfully so the message of the film is accepted correctly. If the film maker does not use mise-en-scene correctly in a comedic drama they are at risk of offending many people. This film did excellent ways of portraying something as serious as cancer in a more humorous, realistic light.  The integration of setting, lighting, and behavioral of characters helps us as audience successfully switch moods when it is appropriate.

Bordwell, D. & Thompson, K. (2010). Film Art: An Introduction. New York: McGraw Hill.

Boone, M.C. (1997). Jean Rosenthal’s Light: Making Visible the Magician. Theatre Topics, no. 7.1. Retrieved from http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/theatre_topics/v007/7.1boone.html.

Neupert, R. (2011). Adieu Philippine and Rozier’s Alternative Sound Practice. Studies in French Cinema, 11(1), 31-41. doi:10.1386/sfc.11.1.31_1

Abel, R. (1975). Collapsing Columns Mise-en-scene in Boudu. Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, no. 5. Retrieved from http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC05folder/MiseSceneBoudu.html.


Film form and the meaning of the film take a huge role on how they influence the audience. Particularly, in comedic films, the meaning that a scene or the movie as a whole portrays can either make the film a huge comedic hit or a miss. “The evolution of cinematic form—in particular as the Hollywood film industry has defined it—has followed from attempts at all levels of the cinematic process to make the cinema appear ‘more real.’ (1)” So, since film in general has evolved to appearing more real to the audience, comedy specifically relies on realism of situations to appeal to the audiences. If a scene in a comedy, or the comedy as a whole, portrays situations that may actually happen in real life, the movie tends to get more humorous reactions.

For example, the film Mean Girls portrays a group of high school girls who are considered to be the most popular girls in school, and portray the stereotype that many people have about high school girls. Many, if not all, of the viewers of this comedy have been to high school and have had to deal with the popular, snobby people. Therefore, this sense of realism tends to make it funnier for the viewer and they bring their own ideologies to the movie. This film also carries some symptomatic meaning, or the significance that a film portrays. This often comes from social ideologies that are present in today’s world. “Ideology is a relatively systematic body of ideas, attitudes, values, and perceptions, as well as, actual modes of thinking (usually unconscious) typical of a given class or group of people in a specific time and place. (2)” For example, the film Mean Girls was released in 2004. At this time, perceptions of high school girls have historically been considered “catty” and, in essence, mean. By playing off the social ideologies of our culture, they were able to create a successful comedic film. For instance, if people perceived teenage girls as kind and innocent, the comedic element may have been lost. However, although this film portrays teenage girls negatively, the film also carries implicit meaning and is open for interpretation. One interpretation of this film may be that girls are mean and they need something bad to happen to them in order to change their ways. Towards the end of the movie, it takes Regina George, the meanest girl, to get hit by a bus for the characters to change the way that they behaved. However, if you look deeper into the meaning of the film, there are more positive interpretations. One positive interpretation of the film is that there is possibility for change in the way that high school girls treat each other. If the cliques fade away and everybody is nice to each other, the environment for teenagers will be a more peaceful one and self-esteem may increase in young women.

One theme in this film is a self-versus-self theme.  Cady Herron, played by Lindsay Lohan, has to struggle to balance between what she considers her actual self and her persona that she is portraying to the plastics. Throughout the whole film, we see her transform from an innocent transfer student, to a “mean” popular girl, and then at the end she is a balance of the both. By witnessing the struggle of finding who she is, we see how it is difficult to conform to high school expectations. Another theme present in this film is self-versus-society. In this case, the society would be high school and the cliques that are present in them. After Cady becomes popular, she finally has the feeling of being well liked. However, after Regina gets hit by a bus many of her classmates assume that Cady pushed Regina in front of the bus. She has to struggle to go to school after that although her society is mad at her. She also ends up apologizing to her classmates publically, which shows her overcoming her struggle between herself and her society.

One vehicle that is predominant in this film are the shots when her classmates start acting like the animals Cady used to encounter in Africa.  These shots infer that high school teenagers have the same qualities as animals in the wild; uncontrollable and vicious. This helps to reinforce the ideas and attitudes about high school girls and how barbaric they can be. The idea behind this movie is to encourage teenagers to be more civilized towards one another. By showing those acting like animals and taking away their human qualities, it helps portray the message that teenagers need to behave more like humans.  However, although there is a serious message behind this movie, it uses comedic elements to convey the message. This all goes back to the idea of realism, which was previously explained as something that cinematic film is turning to for success.  While the film is intended to be entertaining and humorous, the sense of realism attempts to influence audience members, particularly young girls, to stop using petty rudeness with one another and their world will be much easier to live.

In conclusion, Mean Girls is a great example of how a comedic film can have a lot of success but also have a positive interpretation behind all of the laughs. The meaning behind comedic films does not always have to be solely comedy, but can have a serious message that audience members should interpret and reflect for themselves. By making fun of the plastics throughout the film, it insinuates that they are people audience’s should not act like. At the end of the film, they show all of the characters who used to be part of separate cliques all hanging out together and getting along. Although the movie portrays a particular message, the story leaves the audience’s perception open for interpretation. The audience member can either look at the movie simply as a movie making fun of teenage girls, or they can look at the movie as a positive message to young girls to behave more civilized towards one another.

Judith, P. (1976).  S/Z and Film Criticism. Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, no. 12/13. Retrieved from http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/jc12-13folder/mayne.sz.html.

Hess, J. (1978). Film and Ideology. Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary media, no. 17. Retrieved from http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC17folder/FilmAndIdeololgy.html.


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