13 Ways In Which Movies Break The Fourth Wall

5) Creating Character To Audience Secrecy: Amélie (2001) and Superman (1978)


For many fans of fourth wall breakage, Amélie occupies the top spot. This is not only because Amélie is one of the most impossibly gorgeous films of all time, but also because – of all the fourth wall breaks in the world – this one probably makes the most integral sense to the movie.

As effective as the device is, it can often be uncomfortable when movies break the fourth wall. The lack of detachment between audience and film, even if it is only brief, will usually alter a film entirely and whereas this is most often a very good thing, it is still not something that we generally expect. We expect movies to be independent of us – it can sometimes feel overconfident, or even intrusive somehow, when a film breaches that relationship.

In the case of Amélie however, the audience are immediately given a sense of total belonging, right here in her world that is so beautifully and sadly created from the film’s very beginning.

Much of Amélie’s lonely young life has been imagined, and as an adult she has become eccentric, creative and playful – but also introverted, and isolated. Her interaction with the people around her, and her inability to connect fully with even the people she likes, is limited. We, the audience, however, do not pose the same sort of threat of intimacy.

Amélie whispers to us in the cinema partly because she does not really have anyone else, but also partly because here in the darkened theatre, we can easily be kept as just another little part of her secretive life. There are a few other moments in which Amélie looks directly at the camera, and these are almost always moments in which she is doing something covertly, such as subtly sabotaging Mr Collignon’s apartment, or making an important reply letter to Nino. The only exception to that rule is when she is enjoying the small pleasure of cracking the top of a creme brûlée – and even this is done in private. We are with her in these clandestine moments, the only people in the world to be fully sharing in her experiences.

amelie-creme brule

There is, however, one point at which Amélie glances into the camera when she is not on her own. This is during the final sequence, which follows her and Nino on Nino’s bike, as they fly around the streets of Paris, full of joy and newfound love. But here, the communication feels different: Amélie is acknowledging our presence, but not with the same openness and familiarity as before. She has found love, and is no longer alone. She simply doesn’t need us anymore.

Although there is no doubt that Amélie is the only film that can make this sort of connection between the audience and the character feel completely natural, there is another contender for the category of character-to-audience secrecy, and it is so obvious that it cannot possibly be ignored. This is the original Superman films, in which the final shot always features Superman smiling into the camera as he flies away, with who he really is still unknown to the rest of the [fictional] world. It might not have the sophistication (or the anything, in fact) of Amélie, but it is a welcome nod to Superman’s popularity in the world, and to what has now become a long-running fact of life that even if you are an alien with superpowers hiding out on earth after the destruction of your home planet, all you need as a disguise is a pair of glasses.

Superman and Amélie sharing a list entry….could there be any better evidence of the diversity of the fourth wall??