In X-Men: First Class, the typical rookie training montage has an added stylistic element: the spilt screen. Normally, the montage is used to condense the weeks of training in “real” time into minutes in film time. While a montage alone can be used to show multiple characters training at the same time, the split screen depicts this more effectively. So we see Beast trying to outrun Professor X on one side of the screen while we see Banshee trying to use his supersonic voice to propel himself to fly on the other side of the screen. Not only does the split screen effect gives the training montage a fresh visual perspective but also gives a nod to the comic book layout.
Other films have used split screens to give the audience the experience of viewing simultaneous events. Here are my favorite uses of the split screen:
The split screens used in this film visually depict Brad Allen (Rock Hudson) and Jan Morrow (Doris Day) sharing their telephone line. Jan hates the fact that she has to share a telephone line with a womanizer like Brad. In this still image, she interrupts one of the many calls that Brad makes to one of his many lovers. Note that Jan Morrow is at the center of the frame placing her in the dominant position as the main female protagonist as well as Brad Allen’s main love interest.
(For the Da Vinci Code fans out there, notice that Jan’s section is in the shape of the chalice which further suggests that she is the dominant female in the film.)
Down With Love
This film is a tribute to the Doris Day/Rock Hudson sex comedies. However, the film puts a modern-day twist by making the sexual innuendos more overt. Here the split screen takes two innocuous activities, Catcher (Ewan McGregor) drying himself with a towel and Barbara (Renee Zellweger) cleaning her sunglasses, and puts them together to make it look like she is giving him a blow job while they are discussing their date plans.
(500) Days of Summer
This film uses the split screen effect towards the end of the film. The left side of the screen shows what Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) expects to happen when he arrives at Summer’s (Zooey Deschanel) apartment while the right side shows what actually happens. Sometimes the expectations and the reality are the same but other times they differ. In the still image, we see Tom expecting that he and Summer will blissfully reunite and we see him alone in reality. Then reality literally wipes away the fantasy when Tom discovers that Summer is now engaged.
At first I was confused by the placement of the expectation side. I remembered that the left side of the brain is the logical side while the right side is the creative side, so I would think that Tom would be creating the expectations. However, upon further reflection, in Tom’s mind, the expectations follow a linear logic that is associated with the left side of the brain. He feels that he and Summer reignited a spark at Millie’s wedding. When Summer invites him to her place for a party, Tom logically expects that Summer is single and feels that spark as well.
Run Lola Run
The split screen reminds us that Lola is racing against the clock as she tries to get the money in order to save her boyfriend, Manny. When I studied this film in film theory class, I learned to think of it as a video game in which Lola learns from her previous experiences what she has to do in order to rescue Manny. Most video games have a timer somewhere on the screen. Also, most video games show multiple characters doing different things simultaneously on the same screen. This split screen show that Lola and Manny will not be defeated by time with the clock at the bottom of the frame.
These are my favorite uses of the split screen effect in films. Are there other films that use the split screen that you like? If so, feel free to share in the comments section. Also, check out Split Screen: a weblog dedicated to the art of the split screen and multi-layered visuals to see more media that uses the split screen.