Point of View in Film

Point of view (POV) in film can refer to two different things.

Most often, people referring to Point of View are discussing a camera shot known as a POV shot. This shot provides the audience with a view of what a character is seeing, as if they are looking out of a character’s eyes.

For some great examples, check out Jacob T. Swinney’s mashup of POV shots from movies by the Coen Brothers:

While many students are familiar with a POV shot, many are unaware of the idea that point of view in film often refers to something that is far more wide-ranging than simply a shot that reflects a character’s perspective.

At times when watching either whole films or individual scenes, it becomes clear that we are watching a scene that has been constructed to reflect one character’s perspective. A great example of this is from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, when Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) is furious because Juliet’s cousin Tybalt has just murdered Romeo’s best mate…and Romeo seeks immediate, impulsive revenge.

This whole scene, including all of the production elements used in the scene, is presented to us from Romeo’s point of view:

Consider the production elements in each half of the above scene, and how they reflect Romeo’s point of view:

First Half

Romeo is mad with rage, out of control and acting impulsively

The audience sense this through:

  • The loud, intense SOUND. This includes both diegetic sound such as screeching tyres and shouting voices along with the non-diegetic music which is high in intensity.  
  • The CAMERA which is often moving and tracking characters, enhancing the pace of the scene, while it also often utilises tight frames to focus the audience on Romeo’s singular focus in his rival, Tybalt.
  • The EDITING, incorporating very fast visual rhythm which once again enhances the scene’s intensity.

Second Half

Romeo comes to a sudden realisation of the impact of his actions

The audience sense this through:

  • The SOUND, as once Romeo shoots Tybalt, the film descends into silence, until we hear thunder and rain. Despite all of the traffic around Verona and the intensity of the streets, at this moment the audience are just like Romeo – they can’t hear anything.
  • The CAMERA focuses purely on a close-up on Romeo’s face, as it’s his shock and realisation that is most prominent at this moment. The birds-eye-view of Romeo, as if the statue of Christ is looking down at him, also implies how powerless and judged Romeo is feeling.
  • As Romeo kills Tybalt, the EDITING of the scene shows the audience that Romeo’s first thought is of Juliet as we see a cut-away to her. The visual rhythm of the scene then slows down dramatically, as Romeo’s intense impulsiveness disappears and is replaced by his realisation of the impact of his actions.

In this example, the filmmaker has utilised a range of cinematic techniques in combination with each other in order to allow the audience to understand Romeo’s point of view – the audience experience the scene in a similar way to the way Romeo is experiencing the moment.