How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis of a Movie

By Arnold Papadopoulos
Rhetorical analysis of a movie is not criticism or review.

A rhetorical analysis does not criticize or summarize a movie. That is the job of movie critics and reviewers. The job of someone writing a rhetorical analysis of a movie is to be like a scientist or objective observer who explains how the movie "moved." What elements did it use to make its point? Why did the movie use these elements? To do this you watch the movie with a notebook and identify the elements of the movie as they are revealed. Then you explain why these elements were used.

Identify the Elements of the Movie and Why the Movie Used Them

Identify the period of the movie. Period is the movie's place in time. Is it in the future, past or present? Why did the movie choose this period? Was it to recollect historical events, reflect modern times or imagine the future?

Identify the duration of the movie. Duration is how much time passes in the movie's story from the beginning to end. This is different from screen time which is usually ninety minutes. Why did the movie choose this duration? Was it to show a day in the life of a character or to show the process of a civilization's rise and fall? Most movies aren't exactly specific about how much time passes but the viewer can gather a general idea which is important to how the movie unfolds.

Identify the location of the movie. Location is the movie's place in space. In what city, country or planet does the movie take place? Why did the movie choose this location? Is it because it focused on historical events of a certain country? Or was it because the characters' actions involved a certain place? Maybe it was to imagine a future world.

Identify the level of conflict of the movie. The level of conflict is where the struggle is taking place. Is man struggling against nature, politics, time, himself, the supernatural, etc.? Why did the movie choose this level of conflict? Was it to show a psychological battle a character most overcome within himself or did the conflict involve outside forces like a natural disaster, monster or a repressive political state?

Identify the genre of the movie. The genre is what type the movie is. Is it drama, comedy, romance, horror, science fiction, documentary, etc.? Why did the movie choose this genre? Did it want the audience to laugh at social conventions (comedy), show the audience the danger of global warming (documentary) or move the audience with the struggle of the characters (drama)?

Identify the main characters in the movie. Main characters are the people who take action in the movie. There is usually a protagonist (the good guy) and antagonist (the bad guy). Why did the movie choose these specific characters? What qualities do they have that help make the movie's point?

Identify the crisis of the movie. The crisis is the big problem that makes the characters act. Why did the movie choose this crisis? Is the viewer supposed to be scared, inspired, instructed, entertained, etc.?

Identify the climax of the movie. The climax is the big moment near the end where the crisis reaches its highest level. Why did the movie choose this climax? What statement is made by showing the protagonist capture the antagonist?

Identify the resolution of the movie. The resolution is the ending where the consequences of all previous actions have their final effect. Why did the movie choose this resolution? What statement does the movie make by showing the cowboy ride off into the sunset?

Identify the main idea of the movie. Answer this question: what was the movie trying to say about life? By identifying all of the elements in the previous steps and analyzing why these elements were used it is now possible discover the main point of the movie. This main idea can usually be expressed in one sentence.

Organize the Elements and Write

Begin your paper by identifying the movie and its main idea or point in a short paragraph. This introduces the reader to the subject of your rhetorical analysis.

Take all of your notes on the elements of the movie and their analysis and turn them into larger paragraphs that connect logically together. You can even title each paragraph "Period," "Duration," "Location," etc. to organize the paper.

Proofread carefully to make sure that you are not summarizing or reviewing the movie. You should describe the movie's elements and why they were used. You should not make value judgements of the movie's quality, the effect it had on you personally or recite the events as they happened.