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    Withnail & I – Screen Analysis Essay

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    Withnail & I is a film about the journey of Withnail and Marwood, as they travel to a country town to get away from the city, and keep their minds off their boring lives. Both their lives were dull and unbearable as they spent all there money on alcohol and drugs to escape their reality. All they both thought about was when there next high was, and to try not stay sober for as long as they could. Withnail and Marwood both were working as actors however were struggling to get jobs; this caused a problem, as they could not pay there bills and were too lazy to get another job.

    Marwood is a quiet, intelligent, nice man who tries to not offend people’s feelings. Withnail is a selfish alcoholic, strong drug addicted man who is not used to the normal life/poor life as he grew up in a wealthy family getting many luxuries. I have chosen to analyse a shot from one of the first scenes of the film, only seven minutes into the film and lasting for 45 seconds. It is the scene set in Withnail and Marwood’s apartment, where they are both hangover. Withnail begins the shot smoking a cigarette while Marwood is drinking a bowl of coffee with a spoon.

    They start arguing with each other until Withnail decides to adventure into the kitchen, which is so messy, and smells of ‘rats’. The shot is constructed for approximately 45 seconds, and is filmed from the neck level of Withnial and Marwood. The reason the shot is constructed at neck level I believe is so we can see the emotions of the characters face. In the first few seconds of the shot we see Withnial and Marwood’s frustrated emotions as both of them are hangover and not in the mood to argue let alone do anything. The shot is constructed from a side on view only seeing the side half of both Withnial and Marwood’s body.

    This is done because both men have their hands gripped on each other’s clothes ready to get physical. The shot is framed perfectly having both men in the middle of the frame, leaving an equal and comfortable feeling on the audience, as apposed to if they were placed to one side of the frame the audience would feel unbalanced and uncomfortable. The use of this shot having both men viewed on the side grabbing each other explains the frustration and anger drugs gives you and how through out the movie both characters continued to be frustrated and angry wether it be they don’t have a place to stay in the country or they feel unsafe.

    In the background of the shot there is empty wine bottles and junk lying around the shelves of the apartment. This shows that they don’t care about their living environment; they just want something to get them on a high. They both want to escape their reality, which is actors without a job, by taking drugs and alcohol. The shot of both men together holding each others jacket in a physically manor ready to start fighting is extremely well compassioned, because it shows Withnail looking down on Marwood as he is small; it also contradicts that Marwood is the weaker man, less opinionated and at the beginning a less successful actor.

    Withnail being taller looking down expressed that he is of higher class as he came from a rich family, smarter, and more courageous. The men begin to wrestle into the kitchen as Withnial wants to do the ‘cleaning up’, however Marwood is frightened that there are rats in the dishes so he jumps on his back and tries to stop him. The camera is hand help as it shakes a little bit while it moves from the living room to the kitchen. As the men both quickly walk into the kitchen the camera follows, however not at the same speed as Withnail and Marwood.

    This creates suspense for the audience as we see both men in shock as they are standing by the dishes and the camera has not arrived there yet. This sets the audience up for the rest of the film as there is a lot of moments where suspense and tension take over, leaving the audience not being able to know what happens next. This is what makes this film entertained and enjoyable to watch. Towards the end of the shot it shows the back of both Withnail and Marwood’s upper bodies and the massive pile of dishes waiting for someone to clean them.

    They both stand there in fear of the smell and that a rat might come out. The shot is composed having Withnails upper back on the left and Marwood’s upper back on the right, not being able to see any facial expressions, however we can hear dialogue, leaving in between both men a disgusting pile of messy/unclean dishes. The messy dishes not only show that Withnial and Marwood are lazy, disgusting men who don’t look after themselves, however also represents their lives. Both men don’t have any work for their acting career, and are too lazy to get a part time job until they get their big break.

    Both their lives are scheduled around drugs and alcohol, as they have nothing else to do or look forward to in live. The shot having both men surrounded by the messy dishes shows the audience that they’re the dishes, dirty, lazy, unfocused, and just waiting for something to happen for them. This continues later on in the film when them both get into an uncomfortable situation they call Monte for help. They both act like children, as they don’t know how to look after themselves. The natural lighting at the start of the shot was darker than the second part of the shot.

    While they were in the living room the lighting was darker as they both were hangover and depressed. The second part of the shot in the kitchen was brighter as the window was open and because both men have decided to actually clean the kitchen. The audience would feel that the characters are indecisive, going from hangover to motivated in a matter of seconds. This continues throughout the film as they go up and down on thee journey to the country. Overall the shot was very effective and powerful as it explained to the audience the characters lifestyle and habits, and then set the film up for the later occurrences with the same issues.


    Withnail & I 1987 [DVD], HandMade Films, United Kingdom. Distributed in Australia by Umbrella Entertainment

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