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Magic created on screen when film meets art

Rajesh Kumar

Art has always been a source of inspiration for films or sometimes the whole film. Just like inspiration from a prose or poetry, paintings also become a visual reference point for filmmakers to tell their story and elevate their visual storytelling.

The filmmakers take references from an art piece for the mise en scene and the colour palette of the scenes or shots. In earlier days of cinema, rather than depending on the title cards, the silent film directors wanted to tell stories using images alone. From thereon paintings became a major source of storytelling. There’s no shortage of examples of directors conjuring the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh or Botticelli.

Here we showcase 5 movie scenes inspired from a piece of art.

1. Shutter Island : The Kiss by Gustav Klimt

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Martin Scorsese in his 2010 psychological thriller Shutter Island recreated the artwork of Gustav Klimt, The Kiss. The painting depicts Klimt’s own romantic relationship with Emilie Floge, it captures two loves kissing and blending together in a shimmer of geometric colour. Like the artwork, the scene in the movie shows Leonardo DiCaprio (protagonist) and his wife, played by Michelle Williams, holding the same position as the two lovers in The Kiss. William’s costume bears the same green and yellow flecks that characterise the original painting.

2. The Truman Show : Architecture au Clair de lune by Rene Magritte

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The shot where Truman exits the dome is inspired by the painting Architecture au clair de lune (1956) by Rene Magritte. The painting shows a spherical moon over a white staircase that resembles one of the concluding scenes of The Truman Show. The surrealism painting by Magritte links closely to the surreal, disorienting situation that Truman finds himself in. The art somehow is the theme of the whole film that the world shown to us is completely fake — it is real to the eye, but if you search further, you find that it does not exist.

3. Marie Antoinette : Napoleon crossing the Alps by Jacques Louis David

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During the climax scene of Marie Antoinette when an angry mob crashes the gates of Versailles, an image of Napoleon flashes on screen. The scene is a mirror image of Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1801) by Jacques Louis David. The infamous Frenchman is portrayed by the actor who also plays Antoinette’s lover in the film (Jamie Dorman). As with David’s painting, Napoleon is depicted as an overtly masculine and handsome young man, casting a lustful glance toward the viewer.

4. Pennies from Heaven : Nighthawks by Edward Hopper


The 1981 film Pennies from Heaven features a movie scene that bears a powerfully distinct likeness to Edward Hopper’s 1942 painting Nighthawks. Just as the painting, the movie also depicts four individuals in close proximity but with blank expression specifying an emotional distance between them. The film is based on the struggles the protagonist faces to succeed and connect with those around him during the American Depression era, a period of despair and hardship. Same as Hopper’s intention behind the artwork, the painting’s recreation in the film becomes a symbol of isolation and hopelessness at the forefront.

5. Melancholia : Ophelia

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Ophelia is a character from Shakespeare’s Hamlet which was a favourite character among the Pre-Raphaelite painters. The image used to promote Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, the third film in his ‘Depression Trilogy’ was inspired from the Sir John Everett Millais painting Ophelia. The image features Kirstin Dunst’s character dressed in matrimonial attire, clutching a bunch of flowers and meaning back into a river, clearly referencing Millais depiction of Siddal as the famously melancholy princess.

Dreams (1990) by Akira Kurosawa was a film of eight vignettes. The fifth vignette, ‘Crows’ was full of artworks by Vincent Van Gogh. In the movie an art student finds himself inside the world of Van Gogh\’s artwork, where he meets the artist in a field and converses with him. Van Gogh relates that his left ear gave him problems during a self-portrait, so he cut it off. The student loses track of the artist, and travels through a number of Van Gogh\’s works trying to find him, concluding with Van Gogh\’s Wheat Field with Crows. The whole vignette is somehow inspired from various artworks by Van Gogh.


Paintings in film can influence the visual design and narrative. These artworks situated in films can be extremely powerful visual symbols. Whether it’s through a shot in a film, or a scene inspired by a painting – viewers are still taking in art and enjoying the aesthetic, the interpretations and the talent.

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