Subjective plan (cinema)

In cinema, a shot is said subjective shot when the camera replaces the look of a character and shows what he sees, which makes her a subjective camera . The viewer, by the grace of the subjective camera, borrows the look of the character and tentatively identified him 1 .


One would be tempted to affirm that the “paintings” of the first films made by Georges Méliès , as he called his various shots, are the first subjective shots of cinema. Indeed, for Méliès, the camera is likened to human eyes, those of the spectators. He was on this point faithful to the only aesthetics he recommended: the vision of a theater scene ( music hall ) by his audience. Logically, sometimes a curtain rose in front of the camera, the characters in representation (Méliès himself and his companions) greeted the camera at their entry field , and also greeted after their performance, before a curtain closure 2. The difference with a real subjective plan is obviously that the public is not a character of the story. Often an accomplice in the living scene, the cinema audience can not be a movie star, since the comedians / audiences report is broken by a long technical process and therefore does not exist.

The reconstruction of the scene with the winks addressed to the public is part of a technique of direction of actors that is called “gaze-camera”, and which is still used in the contemporary cinema, as well in the comedy (those of a Jim Abrahams ) than in tragedy (the late look of Patricia- Jean Seberg in Breathless ). But the camera-eye does not make the shot a subjective plan. On the other hand, in Shining , the most horrible vision of Danny, the young son of Jack Nicholson , shows him”Fixed eye lens, so the viewer, stared at by the ghost of the two murdered girls who also plunge their gaze into the lens, so in our own eyes viewer 3 . ” This is not no camera but looks-real POV shots (respectively seen by the boy and girls ghosts) whose purpose is to terrify the viewer by forcing it to adopt the look of the young medium and two zombies .

The first subjective shots, as the original expression of the cinema, are the creation of the British filmmakers of the Brighton School , and more particularly of George Albert Smith . From 1900 , with What we see in a telescope , the filmmaker introduces a close-upin the traditional course of action in the middle plan (characters seen in foot) or in half-set plan (characters in foot and part of decor). In this film, a voyeur watches his surroundings with a telescope and focuses on a cyclist that a young man helps to install his feet on the pedal, taking advantage of him to stroke his calf. Also contains in the middle a close-up of the caress, surrounded by a black circular cache, supposed to represent what the indiscreet sees through its telescope, so a subjective plan. This is the first time that a plan is interposed inside another. “This alternation of close-up and general shots in the same scene is the principle of cutting. By this, Smith creates the first real editing 4 . ”

Always on the principle of “seen through”, George Albert Smith turns a fundamental film for the language of the cinema: The magnifying glass of Grandma , which understands, for a duration of 57 seconds, not less than 10 plansmounted, which had never been done at that time. The subject is very futile, as are the majority of the film subjects at the time: we see a grandmother, bent over an embroidery work, with by her side her grandson who uses the magnifying glass of his grandmother to observe the objects that surround her, newspaper, watch, bird in her cage, kitten in her basket, and even the eye of her grandmother who comically ribbles. The film is structured by an American plan(squared to mid-thighs), showing side by side the boy and his grandmother. This shot is interrupted 4 times (the first close-up opens the film) to give way to so many subjective close-ups, which represent what the child sees with the aid of the magnifying glass 5 .

The discoveries of George Albert Smith did not go unnoticed in the small world of cinema at the turn of the xix th  century and the xx th  century.

In France, director Ferdinand Zecca understands the logical principle of the illustration of voyeurism. This time, in 1901 , it is an indelicate valet who spies his customers through the keyhole , with a cut to the proper shape. A beautiful to her toilet, a couple who sand champagne in the premisses of other pleasures, an aging transvestite, each time, in camera, the valet reacts to the show and communicates to the public his admiration, his desire and finally his disappointment 6 .

In the United States , it was not until 1903 that the influence of the Brighton School was felt. Thus, the American Mutoscope & Biograph Company , Product A Search for Evidence ( Looking for proof ) that features a scene where the woman deceived, accompanied by a detective, looking for evidence of the duplicity of the husband and observed, again through the hole of the lock, the head-to-head couple the master and its lover 7 .

In 1903 , in The Gay Shoe Clerk ( Merry shoe salesman ), starring the director of the Edison Manufacturing Company , Edwin S. Porter , very attentive to English films, understands that it can do without the “seen through” and includes in a wide shot showing the customers of a shoe dealer, directly a close-up (“seen by the character”) of the hand of the seller who caresses the pretty calf of the girl trying shoes, accompanied by his mother who chaps her badly and does not notice anything 8

In 1904 , the Biograph produces a film with the skilful scenario, The Story the Biograph Told ( Seen in the cinema). The boss of a film production company is very familiar with his secretary who does it well. The young courier company enjoys watching them and the idea of ​​turning the handle of a camera placed on the other side of the office, when the boss and his employee kiss. Later, the director’s wife goes to the cinema to see her husband’s films and discovers with amazement the spectacle of the kiss filmed by the kid. Is she angry? Yes, she dashes into the office of the company, sends the secretary and hires … a young man. The plan of the filmed kiss is a subjective plan, since this is what the courier accidentally discovers, and which he immortalizes thanks to the cinema 9 .

Technique and manipulation

“When we watch, we only see what is possible to see. Thus, the subjective plane often uses the cutting of a magnifying glass, that of a telescope, a lock, the opening of a door, a window and its curtains, a corner of a wall, or the presence of others. characters who intervene between the one who looks and the one who is looked at … the possibilities are numerous 6 . ” A tree trunk, branches, car windshields, are commonly used to indicate that the well filmed plan is a plan that borrows the look of a third party, voyeur good or malicious, criminal or predator bloodhound lawful, anyway a character who does not want to be noticed.

A subjective shot can be terrifying for the viewer because he is able to force him to share the look of an evil character, particularly unpleasant contact when this character is targeting the hero of the film to which the audience identifies. Marie-France Briselance and Jean-Claude Morin would even argue that the subjective level is “rape by looking 9 . ”

It is important and even fundamental, according to these authors, that the character whose eyes are revealed, be at one moment or another seen by the viewer. When it comes to the main character, placed in a surveillance position in the story, the presence of the other shots unambiguously indicates that he is the one who is watching, and the identification with the main character is all the more stronger. In 1947 , American actor Robert Montgomery attempted to build a film, The Lady of the Lake , in 90% subjective shots. Every episode of the investigation is seen by the eyes of the famous detective Philipp Marlow, created by the novelist Raymond Chandler .”The ritual is always the same, when Marlow enters a place, the camera comes in its place in tracking shot. When Marlow turns his head to greet or follow another character, the camera pans back and forth, when he sits, she performs a slight vertical bending, a crane movement on a “dolly”. When he talks to the witness who looks straight into the lens and stares at the audience, his voice is heard off. When he wants to smoke, his host gives the camera a cigarette lighter, and smoke curls come out at the bottom of the framing. When it receives a blow, the camera switches, and when it moves, it starts driving his car 10 . ” The screenwriter Steve Fisherunderstood that the narrative in pure subjective camera would meet with impossible explanations and each episode is launched, in the manner of a television program presenter, by Robert Montgomery himself, supposed to embody Philipp Marlow, who addresses himself directly to the camera (camera -look ) to evoke a part of the investigation, whose following sequence , in subjective camera, is the story in flashback .

Unfortunately, this presentation of Philipp Marlow in the form of a camera-look, has difficulty in authenticating the subjective plans, as being seen by the detective. These plans could have been interrupted by plans showing Robert Montgomery in action, and this recognition would have identified the subjective camera with regard to Philipp Marlow, a role that does not fill the role of the impassive presenter gazing at us. Both processes act in all likelihood as two antithetical processes, destroying each other. The wanderings of the subjective camera do not bring us the quality of the look of Philipp Marlow, but the aspect of a heavy displacement (the camera on his dolly ) that accumulates time without analyzing the space, the height of the inefficiency for a detective!

In 1997 , The Defended Woman of Philippe Harel takes the same principle.

Contemporary cinema

It is rare that a subjective plan is the “seen by” of an object, but this approach is possible, provided you take extra precautions for its construction. “In Christine , the film directed by John Carpenter in 1983 after Stephen King , an abandoned car, battered and battered, falls in love with the young man who restores it. She became jealous and possessive to the point of wanting to kill her rival, a girl too pretty and too human 11 . “When Christine is seized with the desire to kill, the engine starts and roars while the cockpit is empty, and the headlights light up because the murderous car wakes up in the night to commit his crimes. Engine and lighthouses are seen from the outside, the subjective plans occur later, authenticated by the outer plans as being the proof that Christine is alive, animated by human feelings – love and jealousy – and a will of her own, a satanic creature.

A subjective shot, “seen by” an object, serves as a backdrop for the film Lord of War , directed by Andrew Niccol . “Our gaze becomes that of a bullet at every job in its production, from stamping to crimping and crating. When a worker responsible for the quality control checks if the ball is good, it takes the camera frame in his hands and looks at us straight in the eye and we reject in the chain 12 . ” For us” identify “the ball, which may seem an impossible task, the director made sure to always show the ball itself, seen from behind, as if it were our nose, a sort of nose of Pinocchio. And the effect, intriguing and disturbing, takes us to Africa where, in the arm of a mercenary, we are “pulled” and our eyes, projected forward at high speed, is responsible for the death of a young black . A way to rebel us from the beginning of the film against the trafficking of arms, defended by a very nice seller, embodied by Nicolas Cage .

In 1960 , the British film The Voyeur , directed by Michael Powell , encountered many difficulties in its release because it tells the tragic destiny of a cameraman serial killer, who films his assassinations with a 16 mm camera whose end of A branch of his tripod is armed with a sharp stylus that allows him to slaughter his victims by recording the image of their agony. Unmasked, he films his suicide. “At the time, the film had caused controversy based on the fact that there is an underground market of films representing real murders 13 . ” The possible identification with the murderer is disturbing and harmful.

In 1981 , The Evil Dead of Sam Raimi operates subjectively to represent the invisible, the demon, the demon of the film being invisible and can go everywhere in the air, the subjective camera gives its path in the forest beside a very anxiety and panting, atmosphere enhanced by close-ups and absurd camera movements when left.

In 1991 , ”  The Silence of the Lambs , from Jonathan Demme , avoids the trap of uncontrolled identification. It is the construction model of a subjective level, which can avoid the viewer any temptation to identify with the monster 14 . ” When the character of Clarice, played by Jodie Foster , is immersed in the darkness of the basement of the house of the murderer psychopath plans appear greenish colors that are all subjective shots: the monster follows, fitted with glasses in infrared, enjoying the panic of the young woman whose breath becomes panting, waiting a few moments before wanting to kill her. These plans are a real torture for the public, tormented by a suspense that makes him feel for Clarice a horrible imminent death. But the scenario allowed the spectators to identify, not with the murderer, but with Clarice, and the subjective plans only increase their fear for their heroine.

In 2006 , The Diving Bell and the Butterfly , of Julian Schnabel , works on POV shots for much of the duration of the film. We are thus immersed in the immobilized body of Jean-Dominique, played by Mathieu Amalric . Subjective plans force the viewer to see the world only from the patient’s eye. The viewer becomes paralyzed as is the patient suffering from locked-in syndrome .


  1. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  75
  2. ↑ Sadoul 1968 , p.  30
  3. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  429
  4. ↑ Sadoul 1968 , p.  43
  5. ↑ Sadoul 1968 , p.  42
  6. ↑ a and b Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  76
  7. ↑ Musser 1990 , p.  345-346
  8. ↑ The Invention of the Movies (140 Edison films, from 1891 to 1918) Box MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art, New York) and King Video, 333 39th Street, New York 10018
  9. ↑ a and b Musser 1990 , p.  356-357
  10. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  425-426
  11. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  419
  12. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  424-425
  13. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  420
  14. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  421

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