Theater and cinema are very powerful devices for conveying a wide range of emotions and messages to an extremely wide and diverse audience. While these messages are often rather overt with main characters and other actors conveying their messages through dialog or action, in many cases, the filmmaker’s message requires a closer inspection to effectively ascertain. In these situations, the audience must consider the power of symbolism as it relates to the general theme of the movie or play.
Symbolism is a popular tool in theater and cinema since it can convey certain messages, ideas, or emotions that would be impossible to convey due to production limitations or other realities related to popular media. In addition, symbolism has the power to elicit very strong emotions that may not be possible when relying solely on more explicit expressions of ideas. By acknowledging the importance that the audience may place on particular colors, rituals, items of clothing, flags, and other items that are normally used to express something deeper than face value, writers’ and directors’ creative horizons are greatly expanded.
When studying the use of symbolism in theater and cinema (or when casually viewing a movie or play), being aware of the use of cinema is the first step towards recognizing symbolic significance. Students and casual observers alike should consider symbols that are of significance to them and try to understand how a writer or director could incorporate them into the studied production. In addition, being mindful of symbols that are significant to certain groups of people can also be helpful to determining the importance of symbols incorporated, especially if the movie or play focuses on a select population. Finally, being cognizant of the fact that symbolism may not always be present is especially important to putting actual symbolism into proper context. A symbolism “overload” or an attempt to be symbolic when it is unnecessary can weaken actual symbolism when it does occur in the appropriate context. Understanding that “less” can often be “more” is vital for ensuring that symbolism is only incorporated when it can be used to strengthen some aspect of the film or play.
The merits of those who can properly incorporate symbolism into theater and cinema cannot be overstated while recognition of well-placed symbolism is also commendable. Such understanding in both regards strengthens the story-telling experience.