This short video essay by Tony Zhou explores the relationship between lateral movement within a frame and the visual construction of choice in film narrative. Zhou argues that in Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-Ho, 2013), movement leftwards and rightwards onscreen is given a powerful symbolic dimension. While lateral movement can impart some unconscious ideas, when contextualized by narrative it can become a compelling force within a film. Snowpiercer takes place on a train, and the goal of the protagonist (played by Chris Evans) is to make his way from the rear of the train to the front. Along his journey—a more dangerous one that that plot summary suggests—he is visually shown to be moving from left to right, even as he is often pulled back towards the left, where live those for whom he is struggling. Zhou notes that this right-left balance—between a goal and the things that anchor and contextualize that goal—allows the director to show Chris Evans making important, irreversible binary choices. These are choices between left and right, and between the different outcomes those directions are made to symbolize through the design of the film. This is a much more effective means of displaying the struggle of a difficult choice than using dialogue alone, both because it draws on film’s particular visual strength, and because it gives the audience a chance to experience the feeling of responsibility and indecision with which a character may be faced.


As a piece of videographic criticism, I think this video shows how to effectively use a brief runtime. Its brevity gives it a sense of momentum and focus. The fact that this video isn’t even three minutes means that a substantial majority of it can be filled with exactly the right images—in this case, shots that show the right-left dichotomy Zhou puts under the microscope. It allows this particular visual trick to stand out prominently and engagingly, without having to repeat images or resort to “filler” footage. It also means that Zhou doesn’t have time to use voiceover alone to make his point. He relies on voiceover to shade and focus the audience’s interpretation of his chosen images. This makes the video very focused. This focus makes it memorable and clear—it may lose the ability to look at the issue more deeply or with more substantial sophistication, but that’s an intentional tradeoff, not a weakness.