Film - Themes

Every story draws on a particular idea or conflict, which expresses itself through language – in filmic terms, the film form and the filmic means. What are the turning points? And why is the camera angled in a specific way? The narrative is conveyed through dialogue or the characters’ interactions, but the theme is formed through the connection between the visual story and the accompanying mood, setting, and soundscape.

Film - Themes

Freeze Frame

Here you will investigate what thematics a film is working with, but also how the film presents and explores its theme.
'Edge of Seventeen' portrays a 17-year old teenage girl who has just returned home from school wearing her characteristic school uniform.


Watch the short film. The player will pause when it reaches a hotspot. Read the analysis for that frame and press play again to continue. You can also click on the hotspots directly after the initial play.

The setting

The silence is deafening in the apartment complex where she lives, and she appears both lonely and isolated in the film’s depopulated universe. The feeling of isolation doesn’t lessen when the elevator arrives, humming threateningly.

Just like the girl, we sense that there’s something ominous about the elevator cabin, but the protagonist still enters the mirrored space in order to avoid the stairs up to the 17th floor. Something or someone is keeping an eye on her.

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The claustrophobic effect of the setting isn’t accidental. ‘Isolation’ is a fundamental theme of ’Edge of Seventeen’ and therefore influences the staging of the story from the beginning to the end of the film. It is the director’s intention to show the girl as being on the outside of society.

Being a girl in South Korea means being born to be “set aside” and being at the bottom of the hierarchy. The struggle to succeed in this society is therefore much harder for women than for men – and calls for a showdown with the oppressive social norms.

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Metaphorical journey

Thematically, the story can be viewed as the girl’s psychological journey in an oppressive system.

We could say it’s a metaphorical journey from the ground floor to the 17th floor, mirroring our traditional development within the educational system.

For that reason, the main character is a schoolgirl who rebels against female oppression, symbolized, among other things, by the school uniform and her tightly gathered hairstyle.

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Extreme close-up

An extreme close-up of the girl’s eye tells us that we’re in the main character’s consciousness, and when she immediately leaves the elevator, and someone (or something) rips the elastic bands from her hair, we get the sense that she wants to free herself.

She turns - now with her hair loose - but is then again confronted with the choir of voices who knows who she is: ”She’s the girl on the 17th floor”. In other words, a conflict is playing out between various forces, presumably within the girl.

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Whether or not the girl succeeds in freeing herself is up for discussion, as the social control appears to weigh heavily on her, but the assertion is that pressure from society will release forces that cannot be stymied.

The line "Stop acting like you can’t hear us" may not only be her conscience speaking, but could also be the voices that long to be free and no longer quelled - all women’s voices.

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The 17th floor

Finally, the 17-year old girl reaches the building’s (or society’s) 17th floor. In other words, she balances on the edge of what she can do and what she’s allowed to be, as a woman in South Korea: the edge of seventeen.

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In this task we ask you to think about a film of your own to work with. It’s important to have a good understanding of narrative and thematics in order to work with a film’s aesthetic system. The work with your own films therefore ought to begin with tasks that guide the students towards the narrative. Use the Notepad facility to record your answers.

  • For your own film, think of questions that will guide students to the ‘who’ (character), ‘what’ (narrative) and ‘where’ (the film’s setting).
  • Then ask questions that bring out the synergy between the three analytical areas: how the characters interact with one another, their surroundings – and why.
  • shorts are more easily cleared for copyright;
  • Also, consider a task or question having to do with the context of the film: e.g. social conditions, history or other points.

My Notepad

Use this notepad feature to write down answers and your thoughts to questions posed throughout this resource.

Open Notepad

Use the Tag option to insert the name of this section as a reference before typing your notes.

You can Copy, Download or Email yourself these notes for future reference.