It’s important to realise how and why cinematic tools / techniques are used in a visual text. For example, take Warden Norton in The Shawshank Redemption, directed by Frank Darabont. Norton’s power, corruption and development of character aren’t shown through traditional methods like low camera angles, full lighting and reaction shots, but more through what he says and how he says it. Dialogue is pivotal for this character. It is also shown through lack of expression, costume, accompanying sound and body language. The combination of these cinematic techniques is used to establish and develop this character, examine key ideas and create audience antipathy.
Norton’s expressions are minimalist and he conveys meaning through nuance and effective dialogue as opposed to overt, theatrical expression. He is cold, merciless and apparently sociopathic. Norton’s closed stance and lack of gesticulation also help to reinforce these aspects of his character in the film. Whenever he acts, it is tightly controlled and free from emotion – think about the exaggerated way that he smokes. Norton is the bad character, the wicked villain who gets his comeuppance in the end. Darabont often frames him in two or three-shots and rarely uses a close-up on this central character, suggesting a lack of relationship with the audience. If we can’t get to know him, then his actions become all the more atrocious and we can view him from a distance as a monster. The only time he hints at real emotion is after Andy’s escape – he raises his voice, demands answers and starts throwing rocks at Red.
However, the principal cinematic technique used by Darabont to bring this character to life is dialogue and as a result, Norton does not have to act very often. For this most part, everyone in Shawshank is controlled by the Warden’s decrees and fear of repercussion. His words are authoritative, he has a condescending, clipped, monotone voice for most of the film (he talks down to the convicts), he spars with words (fights his battles) and uses them to instil a regime of fear. For this character, the use of dialogue is imperative to show that Norton is God in Shawshank and moreover, that he is sadistic. He pulls no punches from beginning to end and when we and the cons first meet him, his opening words to the prisoners are: “I believe in two things, discipline and the Bible. Put your trust in the Lord, your ass belongs to me”. This is said in a monotone voice and lets us know that Norton is omnipotent and has no compunction about terrorising others into doing his bidding. The threat to the convicts is clear; you have no rights and my word is law.
One of the coldest instances of his lack of compassion and his employment of schadenfreude in The Shawshank Redemption is when he talks to Andy in solitary. After Andy tells him that “Everything stops,” he responses by very calmly and clinically listing all the things he can do to hurt Andy: “I’ll pull you out of that one-bunk Hilton and cast you down with the sodomites . . . And the library? Gone . . . We’ll have us a little book barbecue in the yard”. He is seeking to destroy Andy’s spirit through destroying the things that he loves. This shows us how corrupt he is as a character and how his actions are dictated by his abuse of power. The scene finishes with Norton giving Andy another month in the hole; the