On The Waterfront Essay, Research Paper
While watching the movie On the Waterfront directed by Elia Kazan, I was bombarded by many timeless topics about the human condition. The most striking of which was the struggle for power. Throughout the movie, the desire to be in control was the underlying motivation for the violence witnessed. It was the foundation to the falling out between family members and the basis for which lives were taken. Kazan brings the classic gangster story to a new level with the characters depicting a modern rags to riches theme. Unfortunately, this rise to power left the lives of many forever changed. Kazan thoughtfully describes this struggle through the use of several artistic techniques, but none as significant as the use of lighting.
One scene in particular that demonstrated Kazan’s creativity with lighting techniques was when Johnny told nephew Terry about his childhood. Johnny elaborated how, at 16, he was forced to work at the docks, but worked his way up and took over the whole operation. As Johnny spoke, he and his men were emphasized by bright lighting. Terry on the other hand was sitting down and his face was in shadows. The lighting was supplied by overhead, hanging lights that were visible in the scene. This lighting is distinctly different from the rest of the film and can be described as low key due to the shadow that fell over Terry, which left us unable to read his facial expression. The scene was also high contrast because there was little discrepancy between light and dark. All the men were brightly lit while only Terry was in silhouette. The lighting suggests that Johnny is powerful, bold, and important; while Terry is a weak follower who is unknowledgeable about Johnny’s true line of work and the trouble it causes.
The above scene varies drastically from a scene occurring much later, aside from the fact that it too is low key and high contrast. After Terry underwent a personal metamorphosis, he gained enough enlightenment to confront Johnny about killing innocent people, embezzling money, and taking advantage of his workers for the sole purpose of staying in power. As Terry stood on a platform yelling for Johnny, a ray of sunlight accentuated him from the chest up. This technique showed that now he was the one with the knowledge about all Johnny’s deceptions and thus, now he held the power. The lighting was a subtle way of showing that Terry was virtuous and ethical, and suggested that his being in power would benefit others. Johnny, who was not as highlighted, wanted power for only personal benefits. These two scenes obviously show that Kazan incorporate lighting to display the struggle for power and the trouble it brings if abused.