How to Analyze Movies Like a Boss: Mise-en-Scène & Editing

Let’s discuss signs, conventions and codes.


Everything visible in a movie or TV episode is designed to fit in the screen. The creators think on each element in that scene, nothing is accidental (generally, of course, then there are genuine mistakes).  By deciding what is visible in the boundaries of the screen, the creator maintains control over the perception of the audience. All that information the director puts in a scene is what is known as the “mise-en-scène”. To help you analyze as well as understand a scene, you have to ask who and what is in the scene and consider their relative position – also think of make-up, expressions, costume, scenery, appearance, props, sounds and lighting.


Questions you have to ask yourself:

  • What effects are created in a mise-en-scène?
  • What meaning do they have (connotation and denotation – link)?
  • How were they created?
  • Why were they created in that way -what is the director’s purpose? (e.g. to build up a character, establish a mood, increase realism, to explore the deeper ideas in the plot and theme)

You could try this out with the image of Bane, above.


Editing is a way to compress time and space into one coherent, natural-looking sequence of shots. It’s usually seamless. It consists out of cutting and joining pieces (shots) of recorded film together, while still maintaining a sense of continuity and connectedness. Usually, shots are edited to suggest a realistic flow of what’s happening.

A montage is a series of edited shots that works as a cohesive unit, which has greater meaning than the individual mise-en-scènes.

There are different kinds of editing techniques:

  • Continuity editing: with this technique, the editor tries to keep the sense of realistic flow of events and to create a coherent sequence of shots. It is the most common editing technique.
  • Jump-cut: this is a dramatic cut in the flow of events, which breaks the time/space continuum (which is why it’s considered a violation of continuity editing), yet it still feels natural. Quick jumps between camera positions that differ only very little is an example. It can also give the sense of jumping forward in time. This technique is used in creating music videos (to increase dynamischheid), and it was also used famously in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. (Video example)
  • Cross-cut: in this editing technique, two action scenes quickly succeed each other to create a sense of two scenes happening at the same moment in time, but in a different place. The complete sequence of these kinds of scenes is called parallel action. Christoper Nolan is famous for using this technique a lot, it’s used extensively in The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, as well as Inception. (video example)
  • Follow-cut: in a follow-cut, the action is followed to its consequence. An example is when you see a character look out over a certain view, and the next shot shows the actual view.
Here you’re shown the perspective of Mr Bennet: his wife and daughters (Pride & Prejudice, 2005)
  • Fades and dissolves: this type of editing promotes the sense of scenes (and time) moving forward. It’s usually a gradual transition from one image to another. Fades fade to or from a blank image and can fade-in, fade-out, or fade to black. Dissolves are a transition between two shots.
  • Sound-bridge: this entails the carrying of sound between two shots

Understanding the different kinds of shots also leads to a deepened understanding of the purpose of the director and the meaning he or she is trying to present.

Next time you watch a movie, make some notes on what you see in the mise-en-scène and consider why it was put there, and also look at the way the movie was edited. What does it do with the meaning of the film?

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