An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge – An Analysis

Almost all the films that I watch, I make it a point to watch it again some other time, to categorically assess the images and scenes that I have already implanted in my mind. It helps in taking in the essence of what I just watched. That remains unchanged when Neelan sir, my Visual Language teacher, played a short film ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’, a short film by Robert Enrico. The film, which was based on Ambrose Bierce’s short story, is truly stunning and clearly involved in changing my perspectives about how I watch a film. The fact that the film came out in 1964 and the story even before that, shows how much advanced the filmmakers were during that age.

The film kicks off with a frozen image of a poster that says that any civilians interfering with the rail bridge would be hanged. This acts as the precursor because the next scenes show the army bringing a man, Peyton Farquhar, to be met with that fate. The first few minutes are used to show the preparations made by the army for the hanging process. The tense moments are more tense when the camera focuses on the man. He had the most talked about ‘seeing your life flashing before you’ moment when the deed was about to commence, or rather his end was about to start. He visualizes his wife and children and he is visibly stressed and scared after that. The first action of the film was when the hanging was done, but the noose broke and the man managed to escape by untangling himself. He swam to his freedom, the army hot on his trail.

The flair of the director is shown in how he put together the scenes, not one of them felt out of order. The main feeling that the director evoked in me is empathy. I felt for the man when he was staring at his death in point-blank. One other thing that is notable is how Enrico shot the underwater shots. Honestly, it is one of the most well shot underwater sequences I have ever watched. And to think that this was made in 1964!

After gaining his freedom, Farquhar is shown to be appreciating the nature and its beauty. There were some well shot scenes that highlighted the beauty in black and white. The turning point of the film comes when he spots his wife afar. With all the love and longing, he is running towards her, momentarily making the viewer happy with the emotional satisfaction. However, that was a false hope and the scene cuts immediately to the shot where he is left hanging. The entire film was his dream. The film was way ahead of its time. Presenting a dream sequence is quite common nowadays and to use them in ’64 is surely mind-blowing. 

When staring at death, time goes slow and everything happens in a slow pace and your mind wanders to your most important faces and cherished moments. Maybe this aspect made the scenes move slower since the film is from his point of view until his death.

By: Chithra R

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