13 Ways In Which Movies Break The Fourth Wall

9) Creating A Shock Factor: Lord Of War (2005)


Lord of War is an immensely affecting film. Following two decades of the life of Yuri Orlov, a Ukrainan-American private arms dealer who specializes in supplying both sides of any conflict (and in being paid in copious amounts of cocaine and diamonds), Lord of War is a disturbing comment not just on the prolific nature of arms trafficking, but also on the uncomfortable fact that arms breed arms, and that this spread is almost impossible to stop. In fact, the film concludes with Yuri’s cynical but alarmingly accurate view that private arms traffickers are perhaps necessary, in that they allow major international governments to deny involvement in the buying and selling of this hugely profitable but morally ambiguous commodity.

Despite conforming to what was once described on SNL (when Nicholas Cage appeared on “Get in the Cage” with Andy Samberg, who of course also plays – Nicholas Cage) as being the two key qualities of a Nicholas Cage action film (“all the dialogue is either whispered or screamed….and everything in the movie is on fire”), Lord of War is highly intelligent, and –as proof – features an extremely unusual use of breaking the fourth wall. There is no meta-humour here – nothing even meta-fictional. It is not a bid for audience involvement or sympathy, and it doesn’t have an artistic quality. In this film, breaking the fourth wall is used purely and simply to enhance a basic shock factor.

There are two connected breaks in the film- one which opens it, and one to close. The opening sequence follows a camera shot as it fades in, panning up and over a sea of thousands upon thousands of spent bullets. The shot slowly tracks up to find Orlov, standing on this ocean of metal with his back to the camera, the backdrop a smoking pyre of war-torn ruins. He turns to face the camera and informs the viewer that there are over 550,000,000 fire arms in worldwide circulation, and that that is one firearm for every 12 people on the planet. The question is, he says, “how do we arm the other 11?” The movie rolls.

The final sequence is the exact same shot as the opening, only this time it begins at the opposite end, with Orlov telling us that those who are going to inherit the earth will be the arms dealers, because everyone else will be too busy killing each other. “That’s the secret to survival,” he says, directly into the camera. “Never go to war….especially with yourself.”

The camera then tracks away, back over the sea of bullets in reverse. This time, however, three subtitles appear on the screen. The first states that the film is based on real events. The second, that while private gunrunners continue to thrive, the world’s biggest arms suppliers are the U.S., U.K, Russia, France and China. The third – that those countries are also the five permanent members of the U.N Security Council.

The first thing to be said about this is that it is extremely uncommon to only be informed at the end of a film that it is based on actual events. This is normally stated at the beginning, to engage attention. The reason that it is only included now, at the end of Yuri’s final speech, is so that the audience will have watched the film while under the impression that the story has been exaggerated, or even invented. The discovery that individuals like Yuri Orlov exist, and run these sorts of businesses, is immediately extremely sobering.

Secondly, Yuri’s personal communication with the camera stands in sharp contrast to the subtitles that follow, which draw attention to the shocking fact that actually, there is far more to fear from the world’s real superpowers than from individuals such as Orlov, dangerous as he and his occupation might be. Yuri’s statement to the audience, aligned with the sheer weight of this information, combine to produce an effect that is humbling, thought-provoking…and absolutely terrifying.