The Eye in the Sky: DePalma from Above

By  · Published on March 23rd, 2017

How the director’s use of god’s-eye view heightens tension.

We’ve talked before in these virtual pages about the bird’s-eye or god’s-eye view in cinema, that shot that takes place above a scene, independent of any participating perspective, and as such serves as a visual, omnipotent narrator revealing to us in the audience things the characters on screen could never see.

Tarantino employs this shot often, as do other directors like David Fincher and Paul Thomas Anderson, but perhaps no contemporary director is a bigger proponent of the god’s-eye view than Brian DePalma, who utilizes the shot in his various thrillers to heighten both the tension and the conflicting moralities his films often depict. DePalma’s is a cinema of subjectivity, it deals with what the world sees versus reality: Carrie as a mousy nerd worthy of ridicule versus Carrie as a victim of abuse worthy of sympathy; Eliot Ness as a stalwart of justice versus Eliot Ness as an uncertain neophyte. DePalma deals with shifting or hidden identities, ulterior motives, and other such intentionally-deceitful narrative facets, and one way he winks to us in the audience is through the god’s-eye view, which knows all but reveals only what the director chooses to let it.

Furthermore, DePalma’s use of this shot is intended to position those of us watching his work as voyeurs, people peeking in on slices of life we perhaps shouldn’t see, it makes us complicit in the secrets he’s revealing and thus instills a spectrum of emotions from guilt to guilty pleasure.

In the following supercut from La Cinematheque francaise, most-all the god’s-eye view shots from DePalma’s filmography have been assembled to reveal the various impacts the shot has on his particular brand of storytelling.

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