Semiotics in film is always an important and perplexing element in any picture. It is the signification and communication of signs and symbols to develop a plot and define certain events that happen within the plot. Popular Films such as “The Sixth Sense” and “The Matrix” have unbelievable amount of reference to aspects previously mentioned. The film “The Sixth Sense” uses great color and different shots to represent and imply meaning and patterns in the story. Where as “The Matrix” is referenced more toward the Bible in this analysis and uses much religious references and color to develop its story and meaning.
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In the supernatural thriller “The Sixth Sense” made by M. Night Shyamalan, extreme symbolism is used to mystify and personify the feeling of fright to the viewer. Each symbol in the picture is an important contribution to the film. In this film, and eight year old boy named Cole is haunted by a gift of seeing ghosts. Cole is terrified by visitations from these ghosts that want him to help them resolve things left undone in their previous lives. Cole, with no one left to turn to, goes to a psychologist named Dr. Malcolm Crowe that helps him though out the movie deal with his haunting gift.
One important symbol in this film is shadows and reflections. Shadows since the beginning of time have been known to symbolize spirits. At various points in the film, the camera reverts to shots of shadows that signify the presence of spirits around Cole. Doors and windows are also extremely important in this film. Dr. Malcolm comes across many locked doors throughout the film. Doors are said to signify entrance into other dimensions and realities. Dr. Malcolm’s encounters with locked doors are a way of clueing the audience in on his severed connection with the real world. At one point in the film Dr. Malcolm is looking through a glass window at his wife with another man. The glass is used to help signify the strain in Malcolm and his wife’s relationship. The church, religious figurines and plastic toy soldiers are all also significant symbols in the film. Cole searches for a place of peace to hide from the ghosts, and Malcolm directs him to the church. Religious figurines such as figures of Jesus and various saints are focused on which all remind the viewer of death.
The cold temperature also signifies the coming of sprits. In each scene the temperature drops, and the characters breath is able to be seen when a ghost is going to approach Cole. Possibly the most reoccurring and important symbol through this film is use of the color red. I have heard various interpretations of red as a symbol in this film. In probably the most semiotic filled scene, Cole is traveling up a spiral staircase following a red balloon. In the shot, you can see Cole’s shadow on the wall of the staircase which we already have established as a symbol of relevant spirits. The spiral staircase is said to symbolize the journey into the afterlife, while the red balloon is supposed to symbolize a spirit as well. Another source of red in the film is the box that a dead girl gives to Cole to deliver to her family that has a video tape in it bound in a red ribbon. We later find out that the video is a tape of her step mother poisoning her and when he delivers it to the family the murderer is dressed in what else but a bright red suit. Cole’s safe place, the tent he built, is also red and also surrounded by figurines. When Cole confides in his mother to tell his secret to, she is also dressed in a red sweater which suggests that she is now Coles safe haven. Also, the church that I have previously spoken about has red doors, and the door knob of the basement that Malcolm is locked out of is red.
A totally different but interesting take on the use of the color red in the film is that in the Catholic religion red is worn on Pentecost. Pentecost is said to be the birth of the church, and a time when Jesus could communicate and pass on his faith with the disciples. Every time there seems to be an important conversation in the movie someone is either wearing red or surrounded by red which could signify important communication as Pentecost does to Catholics. Another movie that holds great semiotic symbolism as “The Sixth Sense” is “The Matrix”.
There are several signs and symbols that occur during the movie that have references to Christianity. An important scene is where Neo is given a choice between two pills: one blue, which would enable him to wake up safe in his bed but never learn the truth about the Matrix; the other red, which would allow him to “see how deep the rabbit-hole goes”. Here the color red could be used to symbolize action. The pill is used to rescue him from the Matrix representing him being saved from the world. Another example is the name Trinity who is one of the main characters. This can be considered as a symbol for the Holy Trinity. The name of Morpheus’ ship is the Nebuchadnezzar. This is a reference to King Nebuchadnezzar mentioned in the book of Daniel in the Bible. In The Matrix, Zion is the underground home of the free humans. Zion is used as a generalized metaphor for a mythical city which could be considered to be the last hope for humanity. It receives mention in the Bible in the book of Revelations. “Zion” is often used metaphorically, to symbolize Jerusalem and the Promised Land to come, in which God dwells among his chosen people.
Neo is “The One”. The Oracle has prophesied that “The One” would hail the destruction of the Matrix, end the war and bring freedom to the people. In short, he is the saviour of the human race. This can be compared to the story of Christ. He was the Saviour who had been prophesied about and would bring about the freedom of mankind. Neo is an icon as he represents the saviour.Christ was betrayed by one of his own disciples, Judas Iscariot. In the film, the role of the betrayer is represented by Cypher. Towards the end of the movie, Neo is killed and comes back to life. This represents the Death and the Resurrection of Christ. Aside from the religious views of the film there is reference to a children’s story.
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There are several references to ” Alice in wonderland” by Lewis Carroll. When Morpheus first contacts Neo, he tells him to “follow the White Rabbit”. According to Lewis Carroll’s book, Alice stumbles into Wonderland because she follows a White Rabbit. When Neo and Morpheus finally meet, Morpheus says “I imagine that right now, you’re feeling a bit like Alice. Hmm? Tumbling down the rabbit hole?” He then gives him a choice between two pills – one blue, which would enable him to wake up safe in his bed but never learn the truth about the Matrix; the other red, which would allow him to “see how deep the rabbit-hole goes”. Here again is a reference to “Alice in Wonderland”. Alice falls down the rabbit-hole into wonderland. It is important to note that Alice’s entire adventure is just a dream. This could have significance in the fact that Neo is right now trapped in a dream from which he has to awaken. The Matrix is not limited to just one philosophical issue alone. There are numerous issues and concepts that can be drawn from the Matrix, including the purpose of life, the existence of a self and personal identity, and the question of the meaning of life
Film makers like M. Night Shyamalan and Andy and Larry Wachowski have made it thrilling to go back to the movies again when it comes to looking for symbolism and meaning in movies. As one watches movies over and over again, some may find that they missed things in the movie they hadn’t noticed before. It is sometimes exciting and fulfilling to find and notice things you never knew were symbols later on. Signifiers and symbols can make a film so much more interesting to watch and figure out, and that’s precisely the function they hold in these movies. Without the sensational symbolism, either film would not hold half the brilliance and genius that they have. Semiotics is so obviously significant to the making of films.
The major fault in semiotic analysis is its complete dependence on societies pre-existing shared knowledge. The media relies on the fact that its viewers already know current background information on their topic of choice. Without this pre defined knowledge, signs and their signifiers mean nothing and are obsolete. However that doesn’t mean one cannot pick up on these signs, it would just be a bit more difficult than it would for a person who has previous knowledge of how and what the creator is using. Semiotics can be used for any type of medium to produce a meaning. It is not limited to just films for which this essay has used but, for radio, television, written text, and illustrated pictures along with text, such as comics. All have semiotics and all have its advantages to display meaning and use symbols best fit for the form.
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