Breaking the forth wall: looking back through the frame

Written by Mengqi Zhang

Elsaesser and Hagener begin to analyse the differences between window and frame with the preposition in front of these two words:

 One looks through a window but one looks at a frame.[…] On the one hand, the window as a medium effaces itself completely and becomes invisible, and on the other, the frame exhibits the medium in its material specificity. (Elsaesser, T and Hagener, M. 2010. P15)

However, breaking the forth wall, (“a dramatic technique in a work of fiction”, a formal definition given by the moving images below) challenges this comparison from the basic notion, as for the most of the time it achieves its purpose by the character looking back through a window—the frame.


Here, cinema as a frame shares the feature of that as a window. It is a specific material where neither the characters nor the audience can cross over, but also an invisible glass through which both of the characters and the audience is looking at each other, although this is in some way an illusion made by the audience. Besides, considering that audience is looking at and meanwhile being looked at, audience is both a victim as in closed films, and a guest as in open films.

There is a sequence in Blazing Saddles, in which the characters destroy the settings and drive away, as this video suggests, reminding us that “film as an art form has its limitations at portraying reality”. We can see that  breaking the forth wall is so interesting that it stands for not only that film creates a world viewed by Arnheim and Eiseinstein, but also Bazin’s point of view which is that ontological presence of the things themselves are the meaning of a film, because you, as an audience, when encountering this dramatic technique, is aware of both the artificial aspect of the film and the real feeling that someone from that frame is looking at you. Or should we say someone is looking at you through that invisible window?


Elsaesser, T. and Hagener, M. (2010). Film Theory: An Introduction through the Senses. New York.

Ting, J. (2016). 400 Fourth Wall Breaking Films Supercut. Available from: [Accessed 27 March 2017].

Now You See It. (2015). How to Break the Fourth Wall. Available from: [Accessed 27 March 2017].

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