[watch] Do Not Adjust Your Tracking: Unconventional Framing in ‘MR. ROBOT’

By  · Published on August 3rd, 2016

If you’re watching MR. ROBOT – which you absolutely, totally, 100% should be – you might have noticed how it makes you feel. Not specifically in regards to its story or characters, but more insidious than that: you might have noticed feeling a general sort of unease when all is said and done, a mental “ickiness” so to speak, or a sense that something has been off, kilter, wrong, and its only now that you’re back in the real world that you notice it; before you didn’t, which is even more disconcerting.

This sensation is created in part by the way series creator and director Sam Esmail forms the composition of his scenes. Unlike traditional television, nothing in MR. ROBOT is straight on, everything is off-center, and this jarring rearrangement to symmetry – in most cases a style known as lower-quadrant framing – transmits its clashing connotations into the viewer as well, becoming one more way we can recognize and thus empathize with the discomfort of protagonist Elliot Alderson’s mental state.

Just how Esmail accomplishes this, and more importantly why, are the subjects of a succinct and erudite new video essay from James Manning. This is the second video I’ve seen dedicated to MR. ROBOT – I expect to see tons more, it’s got that kind of layering to it, the kind that demands multiple interpretations from multiple angles – and both have been about the show’s framing. That right there should tell you just how integral this one technical facet is to the show’s narrative atmosphere. While the first video was a montage, Mr. Manning goes deeper into the motivation behind the framing, and thus deeper into the dark heart of MR. ROBOT.

MR. ROBOT airs on Wednesday nights on the USA Network. Check your local listings for times, but most folks get it at 10 pm.

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Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist