Sometimes there are certain visual motifs in film that really stick out and become significant to the viewer. I was rewatching Spectre (2015) the other day, and whilst watching the opening title sequence with its brilliant theme by Sam Smith, I noted a film trope that caught my eye. No pun intended.
What I noticed was a selection of a couple of seconds from the opening title sequence where numerous eyes are overlaid on top of one another, to give off a creepy, all-seeing, inescapable espionage vibe. This small moment caused me to sit in a state of wondering about the other ways that the visual imagery of the eye is used in film, and to what ends. Hence, I’ve selected a couple of eye moments to ponder and I’m wondering if anyone can help me find some other interesting examples!
Hitchcock’s Spellbound is admittedly not one of the best of his extensive and brilliant filmography, but it’s worth watching for some nice performances by Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. Also notable is the strange and surreal dream sequence which was designed by Salvador Dali, and reportedly lasted for a duration of almost 20 minutes before it was cut down to two minutes in order to fit it in the film. The sequence features Dali’s signature eye motif, which is a regular feature throughout his artworks. The dream sequence is filled with other psychoanalytic motifs, but it’s the eyes that give this sequence a special quality – the dreamer being watched, analysed, professionals trying to figure him out. Parallels are drawn between Dali and Buñuel’s eye cutting scene in Un Chien Andalou (1929) as some big scissors cut apart curtains adorned with eyes in the dream sequence. For further reading, I love this article from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Earth Edition, which explores the film’s Freudian themes.
Father of the Bride (1950)
This was one of the later eye motifs I remembered, but it’s no less interesting – another dream sequence heavily featuring eyes, as Spencer Tracy walks down a church aisle towards where his daughter is getting married, being assaulted by the gaze of all the guests at the wedding, slowly sinking into the floor as he walks forward. It’s a very entertaining sequence and can be viewed here. This dream is an interesting example of dread and feelings of judgement and nervousness before having to ‘put on a show’, e.g. walk your daughter down the aisle on one of the most important days of her life.
Polanski’s Repulsion is probably best known for its nightmarish scene where a whole bunch of hands and arms all come out of the walls of an apartment towards their victim, an image brimming with paranoia, fear and threat. But I noted two interesting uses of eye gaze in the film. Firstly, the film’s title is superimposed upon Catherine Deneuve’s character, Carole’s terrified eyes, giving us a taste of the sort of film we’re about to enter into. But the ending arguably also contains one of the film’s more nightmarish moments, linking Carole’s more recent experiences of trauma and questionable mental health with the possibility of earlier traumas in her childhood. Senses of Cinema has written a wonderful essay about the film and the idea of confinement as a key method of storytelling and analysing the film’s themes, if you’re interested in reading more.
Lastly, the moment that inspired this post – the eyes in the opening title sequence of Spectre (seen at approx. 3:11). In this example, the eyes seem to signify the titular secret organisation, Spectre, which has its eyes everywhere and seems to watch and influence all. There’s a particular focus on Bond, who is significant to the head honcho of Spectre, in a plot detail that I won’t spoil just in case someone in the world hasn’t seen the film yet. When I saw the film in the cinema, I immediately spotted the reference to Hitchcock’s Spellbound, as the way the shot is constructed with the eyes is quite similar, and knew that this would be a pretty special couple of seconds that would stick in my mind. You can read more about the general design and intention behind the opening title sequence at Art of the Title – this interview with title designer Daniel Kleinman and VFX supervisor William Bartlett is fantastic.
That’s it for my collection of eyes on film thus far. Are there any examples that you can recall? Let me know in the comments below!