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Recognizing Symmetry in Film: What is Symmetry & What Does it Mean?

Throughout the world of filmmaking, the use of various forms both of symmetry and balance frequently come up in discussions of composition and how to engage in the art of visual storytelling. The use of symmetry in film composition represents one of various forms of expression that a filmmaker can control. While delivering the desired visual impact of their story. Recognizing the use of symmetry in film and the meaning behind symmetry as a symbolic reference offers the audience a glimpse into the filmmaker’s perspective.

What is Symmetry in Film?

You can define symmetry as the organization of a material. Such that there is a conveyed sense of unity through the use of balanced proportions. And relative positioning of parts or items on opposite sides of a dividing line or axis. 

Various forms of symmetry can have other classifications such as bilateral symmetry. Which references property that is divisible into equally symmetric halves on either side of a plane and radial symmetry. Which references symmetrical features centered around a central (or radial) axis.

Use of Symmetry in Film

Learning how to recognize the use of symmetry as a means of symbolic manifestation in filmmaking represents one of the fundamental elements of composition. The use of classical symmetry represents divine perfection, beauty and virtue.

Some believe symmetry is representative of balance, wholeness, and unity. But, in filmmaking, symmetrical structuring of narrative, framing, and scenes as opposed to an asymmetrical or unbalanced scene can have symbolic reference too.

Many believe that a symmetrical scene shows a functional narrative. In which the story is progressing forward without a major climax. Whereas the use of asymmetrical or unbalanced scenes represents an increased sense of madness or insanity. Such as is seen in A Clockwork Orange. 

Sense of Harmony

The use of symmetry in filmmaking can induce a sense of calm if a scene is in harmony and where symmetrical composition takes place.

Likewise, subsequent asymmetrical framing and the contrasting of images or items within a scene can leave the audience feeling disturbed or otherwise in suspense at what’s to come.

As you can see, the use of symmetry is a recurring element in filmmaking. Frequently coming up in everything from shot composition to scene structure.

The managed use of symmetry in film provides the cinematographer an added point of artistic expression. Upon which they can drive home emotions and feelings that they anticipate for the audience to appreciate.

Film Thought has a compelling video essay to further explain the impact of symmetry in film!