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Alienation effect


Alienation effect

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The alienation effect (from the German Verfremdungseffekt) is a theatrical and cinematic device by which the audience is "alienated" from a play or film. It is the desired effect of playwright Bertolt Brecht's aesthetics, which he termed "epic theatre".


The term of Verfremdungseffekt is rooted in the Russian Formalist notion of defamiliarization or ostranenie, which literary critic Viktor Shklovsky claims is the essence of all art. Not long after visiting Russia, Brecht coined the German term to label an approach to theater that discouraged involving the audience in an illusory narrative world and in the emotions of the characters. Brecht thought the audience required an emotional distance to reflect on what is being presented in critical and objective ways, rather than being taken out of themselves as conventional entertainment attempts to do.

The best English translation of Verfremdungseffekt is a matter of controversy. The word is sometimes rendered as "defamiliarization effect", "estrangement effect", "distancing effect" or "alienation effect" (probably the most common translation). Fredric Jameson, in his book Brecht and Method, translates it as "the V-effect," and many scholars simply leave the word untranslated.

The alienation effect aims to make the familiar seem strange, to show everything in a fresh and unfamiliar light. This enables the spectator to be brought to look critically at everything even if they have already taken something for granted.


Brecht's techniques included the direct address by actors to the audience, exaggerated, unnatural stage lighting, the disruptive use of song, and explanatory placards. For example, in Die Mutter the actor must stand between the audience and the part.


The alienation effect can also be found in the cinema. Several filmmakers influenced by Brecht have used the effect often in their films. Some of the more influential filmmakers include Jean-Luc Godard and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. These filmmakers have used several "unconventional" film techniques to alienate the viewer. Godard's Breathless (1960) uses jump cuts and asynchronous sound to remind the viewer of the mode of production. Fassbinder's Katzelmacher (1969) uses long still shots in which the characters stand against blank backgrounds motionless and utter simple everyday dialogue. This film obeys no film conventions and has no regard for the viewer’s expectations. A scene in the climax of V for Vendetta (2006) can be arguably be said to use the alienation effect, in which dead characters are shown standing amongst a crowd. Most notably, Ingmar Bergman's film Persona (1966) utilizes the verfremdungseffekt throughout.

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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.