Mise En Scene In Nicholas Ray's Film They Live By Night

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In Nicholas Ray’s film, They live by night, mise en scene is used to contribute to our understanding of the characters and their situations in a multitude of ways. Whether it be through the use of lighting or the framing of particular character in particular scenes, Ray’s auteurship of the film contributes to how we understand the tragic romance of Bowie and Keechie. His defiance of noir tropes in a noir piece, coupled with his refusal to rely on dialogue to give exposition to every scene, allows audiences to interpret his work in their own context and allows for a multitude of understandings to both the characters and the situation. The situation that encompasses the two lead characters throughout the film is a need to escape, both Bowie and…show more content…
The constant noise of a train horn haunts the scene, at first appearing to signify Bowies, presumably temporary, departure from Keechie. Yet, as the scene progresses, the horn begins to signify something deadlier, namely the permanent departure of Bowie from Keechie as though it is a pseudo death knell. The first shot shows Bowie, having just left after a conversation with Mattie, exiting out of the door. He still appears as though he believes there is a future in which he and Keechie can be together and the intimate close up reinforces this as it is synonymous of their world outside of reality where no other force can intrude, despite the fact that he knows there cannot be. This representation of the two lovers attempts at isolation from the dire reality via the use of tight framing has appeared throughout the film contributing an understanding of the private world created by the couple, as noted by Rybin and Scheibel, ‘Bowie and Keechie’s closeness is tangibly strong and establishes an alternate economy of desire that admits only the couple.’ (2014, P. 30). There is a look of longing in Bowie’s eyes that can be seen in many of Ray’s male leads. Hillier makes note of the flattened hero, commenting on Rays affinity to create the traditional athletic male silhouette and have them ‘drawn back into themselves’ (1985, P. 112). The look from Bowie helps our understanding that he has accepted that, despite all of his attempts and planning, they can never be together. Bowie leaves the frame that has been built for him and Keechie to escape reality, this is when Mattie enters the frame and as a result the outside world has now also entered. In shot 2, Bowie is dwarfed by the frame itself and in turn the reality of his situation, the high angle and heavily shadowed location only furthers the reinforcement that the idealistic (but false)

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