Choose one of the following three prompts for your paper.
Reveal to your readers one theme that the film develops—or “argues.” Provide in the body of your paper lots of evidence for your chosen theme.
In academic writing, an argument is a claim, backed by supporting evidence, that aims to persuade the readers to accept a certain idea.
(I say this because some students assume the word argument simply means a shouting match, such as when your parents have an argument.)
Your job is to clarify for film-goers an idea that the film tries to convince us to believe.
Another word for such an idea is a theme. Think of a theme as a message, opinion, or observation that the director communicates through his or her story. Of course, some themes are unintentional, meaning the director unconsciously/accidentally creates a message. Such unintentional themes can be the most interesting to discuss.
To generate an idea, ask yourself, what is an opinion the movie strongly suggests about our world now or when the movie was released.
You do not have to agree with the film’s idea. That is, you’re not writing down what your opinion is about parenting, schooling, or whatever. Rather, your main job is to describe what the film’s opinion seems to be.
Here are some common, good topics to explore, but don’t feel limited to them.
What does the film say about the effectiveness of harsh punishment in raising a child?
What does the film say about juvenile delinquency and how best to handle it?
What does the film suggest about parenting?
What does the film suggest about how teaching and schooling?
What does the film suggest about economic class and children?
What does this film suggest about freedom and children? (Is Antoine’s freedom at the end of the film something we celebrate or is it tragic?
By the way, you don’t have to focus on an obvious topic, nor need you choose a MAIN idea of the film’s. Feel free to point out small, surprising, or unusual ideas. For example, some students have written about how the movie portrays women. Maybe you can contrast assumptions the film makes that our current culture does not. Perhaps the film reveals something about race or economic class. Or perhaps it reveals something about France (and not the United States) that you can clarify for us.
Optionally, your essay might briefly evaluate or challenge the film’s argument. For example, maybe you think the film tries to convince us of an idea but fails because it ignores some other truths or oversimplifies things. Even in this kind of essay, the BULK of your paper should focus on revealing the film’s thinking, and maybe a paragraph of your critique of its thinking.
A good rule for everyone is this: Don’t write multiple paragraphs about anything other than the film.
Prompt #2: What ideas does a particular scene or group of scenes suggest to the viewer?
Basically, this prompt is the same as #1, except you can dive deep into one or more key scenes. Your intro and conclusion might talk about the film overall, but the body paragraphs will show how some important scenes fit into the larger whole.
For example, could you write a whole paper about the carnival ride scene? The puppet show scene? A combination of both?
Maybe you could write a paper that focuses only on long, silent moments in the film. What effect do these long silent scenes have?
A paper such as this is good for those of you who have lots and lots to say or enjoy analyzing something very carefully.
Prompt #3: Propose to me a different idea not covered by the prompts above.
Propose your idea to me early on. Your idea needs to somehow involve identifying ideas the films suggests.
100 points total.
Your grade will reflect the following, pretty much in order of importance:
The quality of your insight into the film and your use of evidence to support your insights.
Your essay composition: it’s organization and coherence (flow of ideas)
Your language, especially its clarity and effectiveness.
(to a lesser degree) the formatting (including the Works Cited), timeliness, and length. Essays short of the 1,000-word minimum cannot receive a passing score!
You can see details on how I grade by reviewing the Grading Rubric for Essay #1. You can preview the rubric by going to M01 Final Draft of Essay #1 (Film Analysis) (the place where you turn in the final draft of the essay at the end of the module).
Plan to spend several hours on this paper! Do not crank it out last-minute!
Give yourself lots of time to keep language clear and concise. You do not have to write “impressively.”
Ideas are more important than grammar! But try to write clearly enough so that we don’t stumble over your meaning. I know; that’s easy for me to say!)
Proofread the paper meticulously before turning it in.
Use the class discussions to come up with and refine your ideas. Do NOT copy another writer’s plan for a paper, however.
Honestly, I think it takes eight hours or more to write a good essay, when you count all the brainstorming, outlining, drafts, workshopping, and revising!
Nuts and Bolts of the Essay—a sort of “checklist” for the paper
This section gives you some advice and steers you to some resources. You might use it as a checklist before submitting your final draft.
General Guidelines for ALL the essays this semester
See: How to Write a Literary analysis.
Use MLA formatting
See “How to Format All Papers in this Class.”
You will submit a Word document of your paper for both the draft workshop and the final submission to me.
Give your paper a smart title.
Do not use a title page.
For thorough advice, see the handout “How to Title Your Essay and Style Your Hair at the Same Time.”
Unify your paper with a clear thesis
See my handout “Introductory Paragraphs and the Thesis” for thorough advice.
You’ll also find great advice in How to Write a Literary analysis.
Compose at least two to four body paragraphs.
See “Hints for Writing Effective Body Paragraphs in Literary Analyses by Dr. Jones” as well as my notes below.
Here are my basic guidelines for essay paragraphs:
Each paragraph should focus on one focused claim, probably stated in the first sentence. (We call this the paragraph’s topic sentence.) This claim, if true, supports your thesis. And it needs evidence to be proven.
No paragraph should primarily summarize the plot. That is, every paragraph must be analytical. It should observe something about the film—not just retell the story!
Aim for at least 8 to 12 sentences. A good paragraph claim usually needs lots of evidence and explanation. (I like “fat” paragraphs. Short ones almost never work well.)
Back up your claims with details—lots of details—from the film. You “prove” your essay’s claims with facts from the film. But never fall into long retellings of the story.
Formula for a Body Paragraph
If you need a little “formula” for a body paragraph, I hope this helps:
(For any body paragraph other than the first) Consider starting with a transition that moves us on from the last paragraph and/or that reminds us of your overall thesis.
State your paragraph’s main idea–a claim/opinion that needs proof
Elaborate, clarify, or explain the main idea, if necessary.
Define any terms that need defining.
Identify an example of / evidence for the main idea. Often this includes summing up briefly a moment from the film.
Explain the example. (Assume your reader doesn’t get it at first.) This might take a few sentences or just one.
Move onto another example of / evidence for the paragraph’s main idea. Using a transition here often is important. (“Another example of blah blah comes later in the film when blah blah….”)
Explain this example / evidence
Keep providing examples / explanation until your idea is very clear. If your paragraphs are short, you probably need to provide more examples!
Conclude the paragraph with a little conclusion statement, perhaps tying back to your topic sentence.
(Please don’t provide at the end of a paragraph a “transition” sentence that leads to your next paragraph. Despite what previous teachers may have told you, this often creates more confusion than good. No “end of paragraph” transitions.)
Include a Conclusion Paragraph in your essay
End your essay with a paragraph that reminds us of your main points and helps us understand what’s significant about the observations you’ve made. For example, what might we learn about our lives now that we better understand the film? Do your insights on your topic shed light on other debates/issues with the film that future film reviewers might discuss?
Stay “Academic” throughout the essay
See my handout “Our Job as Literary Critics” for details.
The paper is not a personal response to the movie. I encourage you to never use “I” in the paper.
Rather, try to characterize what MOST VIEWERS think or feel when watching it.
I recommend you say “we” instead of “you” or “I”: We see Antoine… or The film challenges viewers to think…
“You” is a little too chummy for academic papers.
You do NOT have to use time signatures in this essay.
A time signature identifies when a certain scene happens in the film like this (1:20:03). In hardcore MLA papers, you should use them. But who wants to be hardcore? Not me.
Remember to summarize plot using present tense
We use present tense to help distinguish between actual, real-life events and events that happen in a story. It’s an odd but useful convention!
Whenever you describe a scene from a book or movie, use present tense.
Past tense (wrong): In one scene, Antoine cleaned his hands on the curtains.
Present tense (correct): In one scene, Antoine cleans his hands on the curtains.
See “Present tense vs. Present Progressive” for details.
The Works Cited Page
You must cite the film (the primary source) in a Works Cited page. You also should include any other sources you might optionally use.
See my handout “Citing The 400 Blows” for exactly how to prepare the Works Cited!
Research for this paper is completely optional. In fact, I discourage it. However, if you borrow any ideas or words from any source, you MUST cite those sources using MLA format or commit plagiarism (an automatic zero).
Ask me well before the paper is due if you need help citing sources.
What Your Essay Should Not be…
This essay should not be about your personal journey with the film. Let’s talk about what EVERYONE can see in the film. (We love you, of course, but let’s shoot for some “objective” truth.)
This essay need not be a research paper.
This essay should not focus on evaluating the film. While you might praise or criticize the film at times, don’t let the whole paper argue that it’s a “good” or “bad” film.
The essay should not be a biography of the director or a history of the film:
This paper cannot focus primarily on the life of the author or director, nor should it focus primarily on background information. (For example, do not write a history of how The 400 Blows was received by the public and critics. Nor should you write a paper entirely about the French New Wave).
In other words, your essay should not spend much time telling stories about the director and the film’s history in general.
Instead, your job is to analyze what the film means and/or how it achieves its effects. While you may find it helpful to include some biographical or historical information, your paper must not spend more than a paragraph on this kind of information. Again, your focus should be analyzing the content.
For example, it might be worth researching what the French New Wave was all about and then show how the film exemplifies the ideas of the French New Wave. This way, you’re still focusing primarily on the film, not on something bigger.
Choose one of the following three prompts for your paper.