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Surveillance in Panic Room and Enemy of the State

Over the last decade, surveillance technologies have become increasingly common in the society. Most people find the development of surveillance practices to be undesirable, and many are truly afraid of them. People experience the pressure of control of every their action no matter where they go or what they do. Accordingly, a large number of films deal with the issue of surveillance not only thematically but use it as the structure of the narration itself. A thriller film Panic Room produced by David Fincher in 2002 illustrates the doubtfulness and limitations of surveillance practices and the harm they can bring to people. It tells a story of a mother and a daughter who move into an old house with one specific room called “panic room” that has been made of steel and concrete in order to protect the house owners from intruders. Numerous static cameras around their house symbolize an all-seeing eye that, ironically, cannot see everything. The family is attacked by three bandits and finds that the house’s system of security is not perfect. In general, Panic Room uses video surveillance to show that most people use video surveillance practices as a form of oppression of each other. A 1998 spy-thriller Enemy of the State produced by Tony Scott in 1998 tells a story of the violent invasion into an individual’s privacy by the state with the use of different surveillance technologies. The main character, Robert Clayton Dean (Will Smith), is an innocent man who becomes a victim of political corruption and tries to run from the all-seeing eye of the government. The film communicates a George Orwell’s theme of big brother in its own manner. Enemy of the State bases its narrative on the surveillance technologies and practices, while Panic Room uses the technologies of surveillance as a stylistic device.

In Panic Room, the scene in which Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) talk to the robbers through a loudspeaker for the first time is a great example of using a video surveillance technology as a stylistic device of a thriller film. Locked in the panic room, the family can see what happens in the house on multiple screens and talk to the robbers, however, cannot hear their replies. Thus, in this scene, Meg and Sarah have a higher status over the violators since they see the strangers and know their location. The only way they can talk to each other is the use of body language, for instance, Burnham’s imitation of the telephone with his fingers, and writing on the paper in the shot when Junior writes about their purpose of arrival and shows it to the owners of the house. Thus, Fincher shows the limitations of surveillance technology and its incapability of providing full security.

The director makes the difference between the violators and victims most explicit through their clothes. In general, the offenders are dressed better than their victims, as Junior, Burnham, and Raoul are in warm coats, pants, and shoes, while Mag and Sarah are in their pajamas. Additionally, all the strangers are wearing gloves. In its turn, it makes the audience feel suspicious about them as it means they do not want to leave fingerprints, and thus their actions were planned in advance. One of the robbers wears a black ski mask that hides his face throughout the scene. Thus, costuming of the film says a lot about the characters and demonstrates the differences between them.

In general, Panic Room is characterized by many people as a very interesting film in terms of editing and music, however, the depicted scene lacks the outstanding use of these devices if compare to other scenes of the film. The scene can be characterized by the use of such editing techniques as cutting on action and cross-frame movement cutting among others. There is no music used in order to make the scene look most natural. The panic room itself is not a completely silent place as it is full of the noises from different devices. In general, the absence of music creates an atmosphere of isolation, tension, and uncertainty about the possible outcome of the situation.

The scene is distinct for its use of different camera angles in the shots and lighting for the creation of a disturbing and isolated atmosphere of Panic Room. Throughout the scene, the violators are standing in the hall that lacks lighting, which makes it harder for the victims to see their faces and understand what they are planning to do. The robbers are shown in low angle when they are listening to Meg’s words in order to make the audience see their reactions well. On the other hand, the director lets the audience see them like Meg and Sarah do – on a small screen, filmed in a high angle shot that makes the robbers look smaller. Furthermore, the video is black and white and filmed in low-key lightning that makes it harder to see what the bandits are doing. The other shots are filmed in a cold color pallet in the high-contrast lightning scheme to present the difference between the reality and limited pseudo-reality on the screen that can be easily manipulated by the offenders. The violators stand not far from the central door of the house, and the fact that they look small makes the audience feel that these strangers might not be very dangerous and can be scared by the presence of the house owner, and therefore, might still leave without committing a crime. The director also uses eye-level shots when showing the robbers discussing their strategy. The shots of Meg and Sarah are high-angle and eye-level until they get to know that the violators want to enter the panic room. From then on, the operator films them from low and eye-level angles. The director uses medium close-up when filming Meg and Sarah to increase the feeling of claustrophobia, to concentrate on the women’s reactions, and to point out the small size of the panic room. On the other hand, Fincher uses long and medium long shots when showing the bandits, in order to make the sitting and their full body actions visible to the audience. Thus, the choices of the lighting and angles of shooting serve the purpose of creating the atmosphere of a thriller.

In Enemy of the State, the scene in elevator, in which Edward (Gene Hackman) follows Robert and takes various tracking devices out of his clothes, is a perfect example of the director’s use of surveillance technologies that resulted in “surveillant narration.” The scene is depicted in low-key lighting. Scott uses an eye-level angle when showing Edward and Robert as they stand with other people in the elevator; however, when the others go out and Edward presses the stop button and pushes Robert on the floor, the camera angle changes into high and low ones. Therefore, by the use of point-of-view shots, the director lets the audience see the characters as they see each other and aggrandizes Edward’s figure over Robert’s one at the same time. These shots are interrupted by the shots of video surveillance of the National Security Agency (NSA). Scott also uses close-ups and extreme close-ups when showing the tracking devices and the reactions to them on the character’s faces. Of course, such shots are showy, however, they also serve a purpose. Thus, the director points out the small size of the elevator, creates the atmosphere of that there are only Edward and Robert in the world in that very moment and in general, works in the style of a spy movie. However, there are some shots taken from the above that show Robert lying on the floor and thus, create an impression of them being watched after. The whole scene is taken with a handheld camera. The editing is highly kinetic and includes an eye line match, a match on action and cheat and jump cuts. Parallel editing is also used as the director shows how the NSA spies on and how they prepare their operation at the time. The scene is accompanied by a quiet music that creates a dramatic atmosphere. Thus, the director perfectly uses “surveillant narration” in the depicted scene with the help of various elements of “film language.”

Enemy of the State constructs its narrative on the surveillance practices and technologies, while Panic Room uses the technologies of surveillance as a stylistic device. Both directors use various elements of “film language” in order to create the atmosphere of isolation and worry related to invasion of these technologies in an individual’s life. Both films focus on the negative consequences of implementation of surveillance technologies and their incapability of providing full safety to innocent people. The directors present the paradox of surveillance, which consists in the fact that people want to watch the other people and are afraid of being watched by the others. However, instead of giving answers to the audience, the main characters of both Enemy of the State and Panic Room embody the enduring ethical dilemma of surveillance. Thus, the films present the position of cinema in the world of surveillance at the same time.

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