Mirrors in the Movies
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Mar 6, 2012

Mirrors in the Movies

In cinema, the mirror has been used as an integral story telling device. Often used as a metaphor for a character's honesty, or showing another side of their nature, mirrors add an extra dimension to a film's narrative. Here are 10 films that use mirrors in remarkable ways, either as the foundation for the film, or as an insight into their protagonists.

Black Swan

Black Swan follows the story of ballerina, Nina Sayers, played powerfully by Natalie Portman. Sayer's rigidity and perfectionism leads her into something of a personality disorder, coping with the attitudes and pressures of being a young women and a ballerina. In this world, and the world of dance in general, mirrors play an integral role, and are designed as tools to constantly improve skills. Director Darren Aronofsy used effects shots for many of the mirror scenes to create a change in perception between the performer and their reflection, to eerie effect.


Mirrors is a remake of the Korean film Into The Mirror, in which people's reflections behave differently. This supernatural thriller plays with the ideas that mirrors show another side to ourselves, or rather more accurately, that our reflections are being used by something else to do its work. This stylishly shot film was directed by Alexandre Aja, how brought us the chilling The Hills Have Eyes.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

For orphaned Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), his first visit to Hogwarts is overwhelming but exciting. While exploring Hogwarts, he uncovers the Mirror of Erised, which reveals the deepest desires of those who look into it. Someone who is happy with their lot would see themselves as they are. For Harry, he sees his parents. Dumbledore explains that it can be dangerous, as people have spent their whole lives gazing into it, wasting time looking at an idea of life instead of living it.

Raging Bull

The fortunes of boxer Jake La Motta, Raging Bull shows that while we can become successful in our public lives, our private lives tell a different story. De Niro's performance of La Motta doesn't have the same intensity of his monologue in Taxi Driver, but the reasons are very different. The successful boxer is almost numbed, quoting On The Waterfront, a film that inspired him. He talks to his own reflection, but the words don't have the impact anymore, and the fighter isn't the man that he was.


The use of mirrors are a mainstay in horror, with good reason. The genre plays around with the concept of things we see in the corner of our eyes, as well as legends about the soul. In Candyman, local legends and urban myths are the subject, as this story by horror master Clive Barker tells the story of a man brutally murdered, with a hook for a hand. Say 'Candyman' five times in front of a mirror and he will appear. Grad student Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) ignores all of the warnings about the Candyman, unintentionally causing a killing spree. Even when you know it's just a story, it's really hard to say 'Candyman' for those five times in the mirror.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

The Magic Mirror is a key player in the Grimm's fairytale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In Disney's first feature length, the tale is given a glorious look, filled with incredible energy and true innovation. The Magic Mirror is the ultimate gossip columnist, fawning over the evil Queen, then changing its mind when Snow White appears on the scene. There's a lesson there for all of us – don't rely on the opinion of someone based on appearance alone!

The Shining

Mirrors, perhaps unsurprisingly, appear a lot in the horror genre. Stanley Kubrick's horror masterpiece The Shining features mirrors in many key scenes. Many of these scenes also include Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) and his encounters with the ghosts in the hotel in which he, and his family, are staying. While many fans of the film have surmised that the ghost tend to appear only around mirrors, they are not real, and merely projections of Torrence's own psychosis. Kubrick, however, maintains that the appearances are 'real', but the mirror theory adds to the film's own mythology.

Wild Strawberries

Igmar Bergman is a director who, like Martin Scorsese, is fascinated by the use of mirrors as a device to tell a story. It's almost a re-interpretation of A Christmas Carol, as Dr Isak Borg (Victor Sjostrom) has turned his back on the people around him, developing a cold, unapproachable attitude. As he comes to the end of his life and looks back to find it was an empty existence. The key scene in Wild Strawberries involves a young woman named Sara (Bibi Andersson), the image of Borg's old love, who holds a mirror up to him; in it he sees the truth of the joyless man he has become.


Throughout Alfred Hitchcock's thriller Psycho, mirrors are firm players in the story. A mirror is part of the scene when Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals £40,000, showing the duality of her character. This duality is a regular motif, with Norman Bates' reflection that indicates the complex conflict between morality and the monstrous things he is capable of. In Hitchcock's hands, he constantly gives you clues, yes surprises you at every turn.

Taxi Driver

Perhaps the most famous scene in this list is Robert De Niro's monolgue as Travis Bickle in Martin Scorcsse's Taxi Driver. A Vietnam veteran, Bickle becomes a vigilante on the streets of New York. We watch as the character imagines himself talking to an imaginary combatant, and asks, “you talkin' to me?” Film critic Roger Ebert has drawn spoken about the loneliness of the character, and the fact that any human interaction is impossible for Bickle, reducing him to a desperate loner.

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