Film studies takes various theoretical, historical, and critical approaches to films by exploring the narrative, artistic, cultural, economic, and political implications of the cinema. Film studies may also take a critical approach that analyzes the ways that production, theoretical framework, context, and creation embed messages and meanings in cinema.

Lesson Objectives

  • Identify the relationship between film and culture
  • Describe how filmmakers communicate ideas, messages and meanings to viewers through the screen
  • Interpret messages and meanings embedded in film through analysis.

There are three fundamental approaches to Film Studies know as the ‘three Cs”: critical, creative, and cultural. The three Cs provide a framework for approaching film studies in the Humanities.

Critical Film Studies

Critical Film Studies aims to understand and explore films of all variety and to question the ways film can affect, move, challenge and confront people. It involves an awareness of other art forms which affect, influence and enhance the enjoyment that we experience in viewing a film. Through critical analysis, the viewer can consider how films present arguments and viewpoints on the world. Analytical approaches ask questions about  characters and narrative, issues relating to themes and values, and about the aesthetic aspects of film. The analyst identifies the elements of film, sometimes through repeated viewings, to consider the intention of the filmmaker. In critical analysis the analyst also positions the film in relation to their own personal experiences, and this reveals the subjective lens in which the audience experiences the film. This places the audience as a participant in film by playing the viewer role, and the experiences of film watching are mediated through the viewers personal perspective.

Creative Film Studies 

Creative film studies involves filmmaking through investigative, analytical, experimental, practical, technical and expressive skills to develop an understanding of the inter-relationships between the moving image and other art forms, disciplines and practices. Filmmaking requires knowledge and understanding of the place of film in contemporary society; and an
awareness of the context in which film production and reception takes place. Through creativity, filmmakers experiment with  new digital technologies and the creative learning possibilities to communicate messages and meanings in a variety of ways. Creative filmmaking provides avenues for self-expression and independence in the exploration of thoughts, ideas and creative practices.

Cultural Film Studies

Cultural Film Analysis helps us develop an understanding of ourselves, our
cultural and national identities, and historical experiences. Cultural analysis also enables people to understand other cultures, times, ideas and values. Analysis looks into the ways films ‘speak’ to the audience in the form of influence,
quotation, and allusion is an important dimension of film culture.

We looked at Black Swan in the previous weblesson on Dance. Lets look at Black Swan from a film studies perspective.

Film Analysis

Analyzing film is a means of extracting messages and meanings from the screen. Analysis places an emphasis on time period, the culture in which the film was produced, the genre the film belongs, and the creators  of the film. This type of analysis aims to deconstruct the lens in which the film was created. Analysis consider a film like a “text” that relies on visual imagery to tell specific stories or present a specific ideologies. Yet film stories are not static like text, because it is more complex with various layers; plot, character, them etc but also lighting, cinematography, etc. Therefore, analyzing a film requires you to take a careful look at the setting, plot, characters, dialogue, symbols, metaphors, archetypes, etc., as well as those factors that have an influence on the film, such as the social, historical, and political context in which the film was created.

For discussion, you will choose a film to analyze, and follow these steps to conduct your own analysis:

  1. Watch the film once to get a general feel, and then watch it again to dissect the parts. 
  2. Identify a single thematic concept or message related to the film. Consider how the film is photographed. Does the film relate to an historical event (ie a battle in World War II) or a common experience among humans (ie heartbreak, bravery, etc.) ? Is there a single scene in the film, dialogue or situation that relates to or epitomizes a larger idea? 
  3. Investigate the participants in the film; producer, actors, cinematographer, costume designer, etc. that is relevant to your focus. Who are they and what role did they play in influencing the film?  
  4. Provide a brief overview of the storyline. Avoid an extensive play by play description, and go into greater detail about the overall plot, message, and ending.
  5. Interrogate techniques used to convey emotional meanings such as symbolism, irony, humor, sarcasm, etc.
  6. Provide your overall evaluation of the film that is not based on its entertainment effect but on its success is achieving its message.

The quick video below produced by a film studies student provides a handy guide to analysis.

If you are really into film and philosophy, watch this video presenting famous Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek on cultural film analysis.


For Discussion: Select a film and conduct an analysis using the tools presented in this lesson. Make an effort to watch a film you have not seen before and go outside your comfort zone such as a foreign film or a genre you usually do not seek out. Be sure to read and respond to at least two other student posts.

Resources for Foreign Online Films:

For your expression: Develop your own idea for a movie, and write a script for a scene in the film. Begin by providing a description of the film to give context for the scene (you can use the elements of fiction; what is the film about, what is the time, setting, characters, etc.) In addition to writing the dialogue between characters (if any), include the setting, mood-inducing music, angle, coloration of the film (black and white, retro vintage, etc.) Upload a video of the scene to the discussion – this is a great  opportunity to recruit your friends.

*If the thought of acting in front of a camera feels mortifying, consider alternatives such as cartoon characters or voicing the thoughts of a pet or an inanimate object, etc.

When you complete the discussion, move on to the Religion lesson.