Hildegard of Bingen: the Opening Shot

Many film critics believe there is a strong importance in the opening shot of a film; that unbeknownst to the audience, it tells them everything they need to know about what they are about to see. Good film openings are rich in symbolism and set the mood and tone of the plot of the film. For example, the first seconds of the Disney classic The Lion King are iconic for the perfect portrayal of the circle of life- the sun rising over the savanna, representing the new age, just as Simba overcomes his uncle and begins the new era of balance and prosperity. This theory of the opening shot is also applicable to the beginning of the film Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen. If you can’t remember exactly how the film starts, I’ll play it out for you.

A large, bright, full moon is takes up most of the screen and is surrounded by nothing but black sky. Below, a skyline of trees and houses are outlined by the moon’s light, which extends to illuminate all that is below it. Subtle and eerie night-time sounds can be softly heard in the distance.

This all takes place in about the first 5 seconds, but nevertheless, is very important to the film. My interpretation of this sequence is that Hildegard is represented here as the moon. It isn’t radiant and in-your-face like the sun is; it has much more humble. I find that suits Hildegard very well. Also, the moon in this shot isn’t shown to be surrounded by any stars, which is the representation of Hildegard’s unique visions. She is the only person she knows who has experienced anything like them, and her relationship with God is special and separate from others. Also, she is female, which is isolating enough in her time as it is. The presence of the skyline is because of the light from the moon shining on it – which I believe is an obvious metaphor for Hildegard’s publishing of her visions, her preaching travels, and everything else she has done to share and spread her visions. Her teachings have illuminated many, in a literal sense. Lastly, I would say the lack of music and eeriness was to make the audience feel mystified, and to set up the tone for the first scene. I do believe Hildegard was sort of enigmatic and secretive herself as well.

When we first watched the film I was sure to write down my take on the opening shot, and I have written in my notes: “Loneliness. Isolation. Kind of mysterious.” It’s interesting how I had these fairly accurate descriptions of Hildegard before the film had really even started. I hope this will give you a new perspective on the beginnings of any films and movies you watch – don’t take even the first couple seconds for granted!

2 thoughts on “Hildegard of Bingen: the Opening Shot”

  1. Good to point out the importance of opening shots! I don’t remember this one, so I can’t comment much on it. But I agree that it’s useful to pay attention to these things in films.

    One thing that mystified me a bit was the very first scene after this shot, where people think it’s the end of the world and then they wake up and the world continues on. Were we supposed to take that as an indication of why Hildegard’s family gave her to the church, because they were saved from the end of the world?

    On another note, can you activate a plugin that allows those who make comments to check a box to get an email if anyone responds to their comments? Otherwise, the commentator would have to remember to check back to your blog to see if you or anyone else responded (and most of us aren’t going to remember to do that!). When you’re logged into your site, go to the dashboard and find “plugins” on the left menu. Then find one called something like “subscribe to comments,” click “activate,” and you should be good to go!

  2. I think you made a great point about how important an opening shot is in film! I wasn’t there to see the first 10 minutes of the film, but you vividly described the opening scene, so thank you!

    I agree that an opening shot can illustrate the film’s main ideas, intentions, thoughts, moods, character arcs, and possibly even the plot of the film itself in just a scene. The opening shot for a film works exactly in the same way as an establishing shot for a scene does.

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