Opinion: Minimalism in Film

A film earns the title of being minimalist when it uses simple and concise ideas for settings, special effects and plot line. Roman Polanski’s new film Carnage is one of those films.

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In celebration of the DVD & Blu-ray release of Carnage, out on June 18, we take a closer look at one of the foremost themes of the film; minimalism.

A film earns the title of being minimalist when it uses simple and concise ideas for settings, special effects and plot line. Carnage falls into this category, along with various other pieces of work in film history.

Here are the most memorable minimalist films that effectively use this growing trend in cinema.

Carnage (2011)


Set in a New York apartment two couples are brought together to settle a feud between their fighting sons. The Brooklyn apartment acts as the main setting for the film giving it a feeling of claustrophobia for both the characters and the audience. This feeling of confinement turns the simple task of settling a school-yard squabble into a whole new ordeal of issues between the seemingly put-together couples.

Lost In Translation (2003)


A middle-aged movie star (Bill Murray) and a recent college graduate (Scarlett Johansson) are brought together in a Tokyo hotel which leads them to form the most peculiar of bonds. Both characters feel as though their lives are lacking in direction and purpose so they set out to help one another rediscover what is really important to them. Director Sophia Coppola is able to take the chaotic atmosphere of Tokyo and create a quiet and demure film about a forming friendship and the loneliness that each character is feeling even though they are surrounded by thousands of people and attractions.

Cast Away (2000)

Tom Hanks’ character, Chuck Noland, is stranded on a desert island for four years after surviving a plane crash into the South Pacific. While on the island it is up to him to improvise shelter, food and even entertainment. During the four years Noland makes an odd friend; a beach ball named Wilson. It is Wilson that Noland has most of his conversations with throughout the film and in turn Wilson becomes an unconventional, but loved, character.

The Terminal (2004)


The Terminal is focused on Viktor Navorski, a man that is denied entry into the United States but also cannot return home due to an ongoing revolution. Navorski decided to make the JFK international Airport his home until he is able to get an autograph from famous jazz musician Benny Golson, a task that his father was unable to complete before he passed away. To provide for himself, Navorski befriends airport employees and performs small tasks for food money and at the same time falls for a flight attendant. The airport becomes a home for Navorski and a character for the audience.

Before Sunrise (1995)


Before Sunrise is a romantic drama about two people getting to know each other over the course of one night. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) meet one another on a train from Budapest where they decide to embark on a journey in Vienna. The two walk and talk for a majority of the film, discussing life and love and everything in-between. And over the course of the night Jesse and Céline reveal their attraction towards one another but also their fear that they will never meet again. And with this fear they hastily agree to meet in the same spot six months from that point in time.

Dogville (2003)


In desperate need to escape from mobsters Nicole Kidman’s character, Grace Mulligan, seeks refuge in a small Colorado town. The town accepts her at first but soon they are taking advantage of her while she is in a vulnerable situation. The entire film is narrated by John Hut and is set on one stage with the bare minimum of scenery. The minimal staging allows for the audience to concentrate on the characters and the dialogue.

Carnage is released on Blu-ray & DVD 18th June 2012

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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Pete Reply

    Only one I wouldn’t agree was memorable was The Terminal. Unless it’s memorable for being a really below average Spielberg movie! Carnage and Before Sunrise are the standouts for me.

  2. Avatar
    ruth Reply

    The only one I haven’t seen is Dogville but I agree w/ the rest of the list as a good example of minimalist movies. One that comes to mind that I DON’T like though, is Somewhere. Such a disappointment after the great Lost in Translation.

  3. Avatar
    Scott Lawlor Reply

    Nice article Dan!! 😉

    I am with Ruth about Dogville. I really do not know how I would feel about that one

  4. Avatar
    Castor Reply

    Yea I would disagree that The Terminal or even Cast Away are minimalistic movies. I think the notion of minimalistic filmmaking goes well beyond just an unique location or a simple premise.

  5. Avatar
    Fitz Reply

    Dogville. The minimalistic nature of that film makes it even easier to believe that that mindset is everywhere. A very frightening concept.

  6. Avatar
    Raghav Reply

    Besides Carnage and Dogville I have seen the rest and yes they all are exceptional pieces of cinema because besides keeping the extra features like special effects, big settings to the minimal they all are intriguing and entertaining.

    I do have to point out that similar to films the minimalistic poster scene that is happening now is worth a mention. Some of the best posters I have ever seen are minimalistic interpretations of movies both old and new.

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