Editing is a key stage in the post-production effort of a film. One of the more interesting aspects of editing that I had never considered was the 180 degree rule. This is a law of continuity editing that states the camera needs to stay on one side of the action line. I had trouble imagining how a scene that breaks this rule would appear on screen, so I found a couple examples to analyze below. The video embedded below is an excerpt from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
Kubrick crosses the line three times over the course of a single scene in the bathroom. These cuts serve to exacerbate the suspenseful atmosphere that the film heavily employs. Each reverse cut temporarily disorients the viewer; a feeling that is in line with the strange and unsettling conversation that takes place inside the bathroom.
Another example of the 180 degree rule being broken is in Quentin Tarantino’s classic, Pulp Fiction. The scene in the video below takes place in a diner with Jules, played by Samuel L. Jackson, attempting to retrieve his stolen items. While this scene is also tense, it does have an air of supernatural suspense like the scene above from The Shining. The camera crosses the 180 degree line near the end of the clip, as all the characters start yelling and tension skyrockets. Tarantino’s decision to break the 180 degree rule has an important effect on the viewer. Since the rise of continuity editing in the 1950’s, the viewer now expects scenes to follow that accepted archetype. Because it is so unexpected, when the camera angle is suddenly reversed, it serves to impress upon the viewer that anything can and will happen. This editing decision elevates the tension of the scene above what simply the acting and sound can achieve on their own because the audience now believes an outbreak of violence is more likely.