© 2015 ellathompson


Something that I’ve always been interested in is the split screen technique. Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours (2010) deepened this fascination tenfold.

There’s something about the split screen technique that is just so engrossing. There’s greater rhythm because you have movement of various sorts operating within two (or more) frames. There’s risk associated because of the viewer’s increased autonomy. What will the viewer choose to watch at what moment? When will dealing with the increased rhythm/pace and involvement and decision-making become too exhausting for the viewer? What’s the viewer’s limit?


Split screens / triptychs are used exquisitely in 127 Hours. They helped turn what would have probably been a slow-moving film – one character stuck in one location for 99% of the movie – into a riveting, dynamic, sensational viewing experience.

… all the ideas are designed to prevent the film from ever becoming inert. He’s very still but the film is constantly moving.

Personally, the most powerful viewing experience I’ve ever had was when I first watched this film.

And I have so much respect for the editors involved. They weren’t just concerned with pacing shot after shot – they had to meticulously refine the comparative rhythm/pace among screen fragments.


Split screens and triptychs of simultaneous action – sometimes requiring multi-camera setups – are particularly fascinating to me. These are also prevalent in 127 Hours, but I’m not sure if each shot was filmed individually or if they were filmed using multi-cam setups. There are even a couple of moments in the film where it looks like edited versions of the same shot have been planted adjacently – an enlarged (CU) version of a shot paired with its original shot size in a split screen.

There are two particular split-screen/triptych segments that stand out for me in 127 Hours. There’s the opening sequence with shots of crowds and more crowds and more crowds and movement and colours and patterns, all of which becomes gradually interrupted by various screen fragments of Aron packing for his solo trip. This sequence underscores movement – everything is in motion; everything is rhythmic and kinetic and dynamic. There are patterns of crowds which intensify this movement. (Why have one person perform a movement when you can get a whole crowd to do it at the same time? The effect is a hundred times greater.) It’s all a spectacle of energy. This sequence builds a momentum that persists throughout the rest of the film.

Then there’s the sequence near the end where Aron is mentally and physically and emotionally at his endpoint – facial and bodily expression / movement is again accentuated (particularly since any such movement is a big deal, as it takes so much effort on behalf of Aron’s deteriorated mind and body), and we spiral through his hallucinations and thoughts and memories. This split-screen sequence is intimate. We’re shown alternating angles of ECUs. We’re shown simultaneous action. We’re shown memory/hallucination/thought next to the body doing this thinking. We’re handed everything in too-close and too-fast fragments and the result is a consuming, visceral, affective whole.

0:00:00 – 0:03:00 (opening split screen sequence)

1:06:55 – 01:11:30 (split screen sequence near end)


Split screens / triptychs are very montage-like. Boyle’s use of them in 127 Hours is extremely similar to Darren Aronofsky and Matthew Libatique’s signature quick-cut ECU montage. Both 127 Hours and Requiem for a Dream (2000) also use extreme close ups to reveal more about the body than we’d normally be able to see – knife going into arm, pupil dilating etc. Split screen is also used brilliantly in the opening sequence of Requiem for a Dream – the simultaneous action of Harry trying to take the television and Sara protesting inside her locked cupboard. I think a multi-cam setup might possibly have been used for some of the shots of Harry alongside Sara’s POV shot through the keyhole, because the action is remarkably synchronised.

The film actually experiments with split screen and simultaneous action later on when Harry and Marion are lying next to each other; actions often occur on one side of the screen and then recur on the other side – movements are repeated because the shots are out of sync.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Skip to toolbar