Film Theory: Self-Reflexivity–Definition, Sample of Films


A reflexive film is a feature that makes the audience aware of the filmmaking process itself.

Reflexivity is defined by such devices as looking into the camera, taking advantage of two-dimensionality of the screen, or simply making a film about making a film.
A self-reflexive film is a film with self-awareness.
There are several types of reflexivity:

1. Films about the world of cinema.

In Federico Fellini`s “8½” (1963), Spike Joneze`s “Adaptation” (2002), Charlie Kaufman`s “Synecdoche, New York” (2008), Jean-Luc Godard`s “Le mépris” (1963, “Contempt” in english), Joel Coen and Ethan Coen`s “Barton Fink” (1991), Billy Wilder`s “Sunset Blvd.” (1950), Robert Altman`s “The Player” (1992), Nicolas Winding Refn`s “Drive” (2011), David Lynch`s “Mulholland Drive” (2001), Tom DiCillo`s “Living in Oblivion” (1995), Woody Allen`s “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989), “Hollywood Ending” (2002) and “Annie Hall” (1977), Richard Attenborough`s “Chaplin” (1992), Frank Darabont`s “Majestic” (2001), Martin McDonagh`s “Seven Psychopaths” (2012), Atom Egoyan`s “Ararat” (2002), Giuseppe Tornatore`s “L’uomo delle stelle” (1995, “The Star Maker” in english) and “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso” (1988, “Cinema Paradiso” in english) and David Mamet`s “State and Main” (2000), the film is film on filmmaking: Director and screenwriter, movie driver and producer – they all partners to the process of making a film. For me, The best tormented artist character is Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character in “Synecdoche, New York” and Nicolas Cage`s character in “Adaptation”.

Tormented artist. Michel Piccoli as Paul Javal in “Le mépris”.

2. Parodies about the conventional system.
In Mel Brooks`s “Blazing Saddles” (1974), Tom McGrath’s “MegaMind” (2010), Edgar Wright`s “Hot Fuzz” (2007), Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker`s “Airplane!” (1980), Martin McDonagh`s “Seven Psychopaths” (2012), Quentin Tarantino`s “Reservoir Dogs” (1992) and “Pulp Fiction” (1994) and Wes Craven`s “Scream” (1996), the film laugh about the “rules” and the conventional system. For example: In “Reservoir Dogs”, The inferior character is a cop. In All of the Hollywood movies, the cop always win.

Scary flight. “Airplane!”.

3. Storyteller Reference to the artificiality of the story. The narrator shares with viewers his thoughts.

In David Fincher`s “Fight Club” (1999), Joel Coen and Ethan Coen`s “The Man Who Wasn`t There” (2001), Martin Scorsese`s “Taxi Driver” (1976), “Casino” (1995) and “GoodfellAs” (1990), “Stanley Kubrick`s “A Clockwork Orange” (1971), George Cloony`s “Confessions of A Dangerous Mind” (2002) and Jason Reitman`s “Thank You for Smoking” (2005) we are actually partners to the character’s thoughts.

Malcolm McDowell in “A Clockwork Orange”.

4. Actors: reference to other role the actor played, which makes us understand that we are watching in a fake system.

In Quentin Tarantino`s “Pulp Fiction” (1994) and Guy Ritchie`s “Snatch” (2000), there is a reference to other role of Brad Pitt and John Travolta: In “Pulp Fiction”, John Travolta dancing with Uma Thurman and that what remind us “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever.”

In “Snatch”, Brad Pitt is a pugilist, and that what remind us Brad Pitt`s character in David Fincher`s “Fight Club”, Tyler Durden.

5. Reference to cinematic apparatus

Soundtrack (sometimes directors use sound to attract the viewer attention to the existence of sound or its manipulation) and the location of the camera (sometimes, the target of the perspective and the distance of the camera are to make viewers understand that the system is fake, usually scenes in which the hero trapped.).

In Woody Allen`s “Bananas” (1971), Allen opens the closet and see man playing the soundtrack of the scene.

In Mike Nichols`s “The Graduate” (1967), Dustin Hoffman “trapped” betweenMrs. Robinson`s legs in the shot, which meant that he is in danger.

In Bernardo Bertolucci`s “Il Conformista” (1970, “The Conformist” in english) the main character, Marcello Clerici, can`t manage “Normal Life” and this is reflected in the un-normal perspective of the camera. In one of the scenes in Joel Coen and Ethan Coen`s “The Man Who Wasn`t There” (2001), Birdy playing on the piano the music of the scene.

Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate”. The hero “trapped” between her legs, which meant that he is in danger.


8½: Fellini, 1963


ADAPTATION. Spike Jones, 2002

Synecdoche, New York

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK, Charlie Kaufman, 2008


CONTEMPT, Jean-Luc Godard, 1963

  • Barton Fink

    BARTON FINK, Joel and Ethan Coen, 1991

  • Sunset Blvd.

    SUNSET BLVD, Billy Wilder, 1950

  • The Player

    THE PLAYER, Robert Altman, 1992

  • Living in Oblivion

    LIVING IN OBLIVION, Tom Dicillo, 1995

    Crimes and Misdemeanors

    CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, Woody Allen, 1989


    CHAPLIN, Richard Attenborough, 1992

  • Ararat

    ARARAT, Atom Egoyan, 2002

    The Star Maker

    THE STAR MAKER, Giuseppe Tornatore, 1995

    State and Main

    STATE AND MAIN, David Mamet, 2000

    Mighty Aphrodite

    MIGHTY APHRODITE, Woody Allen, 1995

    Cinema Paradiso

    CINEMA PARADISO, Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988

    The Majestic

    THE MAJESTIC, Frank Darabont, 2001

  • Annie Hall

    ANNIE HALL, Woody Allen, 1977

    Blazing Saddles

    BLAZING SADDLES, Mel Brooks, 1974


    AIRPLANE! Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, 1980

    A Clockwork Orange

    A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, Kubrick, 1971

    Fight Club

    FIGHT CLUB, David Fincher, 1999

  • Scream

    SCREAM, Wes Craven, 1996

  • Reservoir Dogs