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  • MLA format, about 750-1000 words (3-4 pages).

In a clearly written, thesis-driven essay, analyze how an element or a particular scene in the film Ready Player One (2018) directed by Steven Spielberg, or an element or a particular chapter in the novel by Ernest Cline (2011) brings out an important theme or take-away message. Offer an interpretation of how specific moments in 1-3 scenes (or chapters) encourage us to consider a major issue or concern in a new way. Your task is to analyze (take apart and examine) how a particular character, setting, conversation, plot twist, the tone and style, or a significant symbol functions to emphasize and clarify an important issue. Analyze just the novel or just the film.

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Alternatively, you may do a formal analysis of the film. (You’ll need some background in Film Studies to do this well – it has its own language.) Analyze the way its formal components – scene-setting, camera angles, close-ups, special effects, music, sound, etc.—combine to underline an important theme and impact us as a work of art. 

  • BEST BET is to select a particular literary element – a character, a symbol, or the setting – and to explore how it enables your interpretation to come into focus by offering examples of how it works across several scenes.
  • You might prefer to offer an interpretation based on the impact of a particular chapter or scene that captures your interest, one with a clear message or insight. Watch that part of the film or read through the chapter you want to focus on several times, making note of key passages. Analyze (take apart and examine separately) several of the elements at work in the scene or chapter, putting it all together to draw out what it means, to your way of thinking.
  • Use 3-5 specific quotes from the chapter(s) you focus on or describe the scene(s) you analyze in great detail and then explain how these illustrate your interpretation.

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Tips:  The following ‘brainstorm’ suggestions can be altered as you see fit – just be sure to narrow your focus and use specific quotes. Explore these ideas, locating specific evidence to develop an argument that supports your interpretation, or construct a focus of your own.

  • How do the settings in the opening scenes of the film set up an implicit critique of social inequality? Examine the setting of the Stacks and explore how they represent the current state of “awful” affairs in the world of the film in order to explore the inherent social critique that is often a part of good science fiction. How does a setting described in a particular scene serve as a critique of contemporary social issues of gender, wage or lifestyle inequalities?
  • How does the narrative pov influence the impact of the story? Both the narrator of the novel and the voice-over commentary of the film (choose one), comment about the (quasi-fictional) Global Energy Crisis and the many unintended side effects of science and technology. How do these serve as warnings? Quote or describe the story-teller and his comments on the energy crisis and global warming, analyzing how his perspective inspires, makes us laugh at, or in some way influences the audience to more carefully consider the social impact of climate change. Is the voice at times satiric? If so, do you find a note of ‘black humor’ or ‘hip indifference’ in it? What impact does that have?
  • How does gaming and the seductive power of the virtual world of the OASIS cause us to consider the theme of the dangers of science, the addictive appeal of technology and/or the power and influence our devices have over our lives?
  • Find a particular symbol (a specific concrete object) for the seductive appeal of ‘virtual reality.’  How does this symbol resonate across scenes in the film or novel to make us think more clearly about the dangers of gaming and ‘virtual’ reality?
  • How do the regular shifts from the ‘real’ world to the ‘virtual’ OASIS make us reflect on the theme of appearances versus reality? What twists are present in this theme, particularly at the climax of the story? And how does “saving” the OASIS become ironic as a ‘happy ending’?
  • Consider the film as a critique of an American industry which attempts to “monetize” everything by examining Nolan and the Sixers. Locate specific examples of how their goals and strategies are inhumane, uncovering a critique of the goals and strategies of business, technology and industry in America today.
  • Consider the theme gender equality. How does the power of several of the female characters in the film serve to restore the balance between masculine and feminine power?  For example, Art3mis, the female protagonist, is often well ahead of Z in the contest, and it is Art3mis who fires the take-down shot at Godzilla/Nolan in the final battle for the OASIS. That’s female power! And isn’t it ironic that the antagonist Nolan Sorrento’s female sidekick is smarter and has more power than he does? Explore the way normal gender roles are toyed with or even flipped upside down.
  • How is the theme of history’s importance used in the film/novel? Does it expand or telescope our current sense of what we believe to be important in the world today? For example, analyze the impact of the ‘play-within-the play’ device of the life-like experiences of an 80’s Atari game, The Shining horror film scene, or one of the 1980’s ‘dance’ scenes in the film or novel. Construct an argument about how the film’s self-conscious use of 1980s history informs the meaning of the film. Does it help to reframe the story of the evolution of technology? What’s up with that? Analyze a particular scene to make an interpretive point.
  • Consider how a minor character complements or reinforces a major theme. For example, who is the curator, and how does his mastery of history influence the resolution of the game? What does this say about the theme of the importance of history? Or examine Z’s best buddy ‘Aech’ – how does he/she represent the theme gender neutral identity, suggesting it is not only possible but powerful and respected? Examine a scene or two where H makes a difference to argue that neutral gender identities are represented in a positive light in the film.
  • DO NOT SUMMARIZE THE PLOT. Your analysis should open with a BRIEF synopsis of the story in not more than 1-5 sentences. Think “book jacket” or Fandango blurb. This information should be presented in the very opening lines of your essay, leading up to your thesis. Essays relying on plot summary earn a C or lower. Essays that merely re-tell the story and interpret it without evidence are not using the critical thinking that is at the core of analysis and the purpose of writing the essay.
  • Use topic sentences to introduce the specific evidence from a particular chapter or scene as you build your argument to support your thesis. How do the events, dialogue, settings and/or the behavior of the characters you’re analyzing in the chapter(s) or scene clarify the issue? Analyze a significant or climactic chapter or scene in depth, explaining how it represents or clarifies what the novel or film is about as it unfolds.

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