The relationship between Film and Architecture has always been symbiotic. Architecture adds layers and quality visuals to the cinematography of a film, while the film itself can capture Architectural Spaces in their best quality. Therefore, some of the most well-known movies directed by Christopher Nolan, Wes Anderson, and Denis Villeneuve have known examples when discussing Architectural Influences in Films. 

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An Architectural Review of In Bruges - Sheet1
In Bruges Film Poster_©https://in.pinterest.com/pin/212795151117074631/

Many films have become renowned due to their usage of Architecture as a thematic element and a driver of plotlines. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a prime example of a film that had its architecture define its flow. Design Dissertations have been undertaken as well, on an academic level, to comprehend and shape cinematic experiences into spatial transitions within built forms; as an attempt to establish a link between the two visually experienced art forms.

An Architectural Review of In Bruges - Sheet2
Film shot showing the two main characters: Ray and Ken_©https://flixchatter.net/tag/in-bruges-cinematography/

One of the most underrated movies of all time, not very well-known but garnering critical appreciation by its viewers is ‘In Bruges’: A dark comedy film with questions on morality and human principle, and set in the historic town of Bruges, Belgium

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‘In Bruges’ (2008) is a movie directed and written by playwright Martin McDonagh, set in the quaint European City of Bruges, and following the story of 2 hitmen Ray and Ken, along with their boss Harry. The story begins with a monologue by Ray and cuts to him and Ken walking around in the city of Bruges, in the aftermath of a job gone wrong; wherein Ray mistakenly shoots a little boy, and both hitmen are told to lay low in the city of Bruges and await further instructions from their boss Harry. The film follows the story of its three main characters, their experiences, and principles that entail their very personality.

Characteristic Comparisons concerning the City

With the movie set in the present day Winter time of the year, the surrounding structures which occupy the background elements of the film are etched in time the same as they were 500 years ago. The beginning of the film and the gradual tempo as it moves forward showcases two perspectives on being in the city. 

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An Architectural Review of In Bruges - Sheet3
Bruges: the name that means Bridges in the Belgian language _©https://flixchatter.net/tag/in-bruges-cinematography/

The first one of Ray, a guilt-ridden man who finds no amusement and feels suffocated by boredom in Bruges, and the second one of Ken, who is enjoying his time in the city, sinking in the sites and spaces that the idyllic town has to offer. 

Harry himself describes the city as a fairy-tale town and feels that it is the best place for individuals to lay low, and not draw too much attention to themselves. Harry provides the grey region of the spectrum, on one hand, he describes Bruges as a fairy-like Utopia, and on the other hand, he treats it like the limbo a person is in before they are punished for the crimes they have committed. 

Bruges as a Purgatory: An Irony of sorts

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The movie sets a very ironic tone concerning its location and its storyline. While Bruges as a city may be representative of all the traits a quaint peaceful European City has to offer; for Ray, its main character, the place is no less than a purgatory, a space of plain existence, before he awaits his final punishment for the inadvertent yet unforgivable actions that he has committed. 

The film is a great comparison between metaphysical and physical spatial perceptions, while to the average visitor, Bruges might be a place to spend a good time in, for Ray, it is just a place that aggravates the unrest and guilt he is experiencing within. 

An Architectural Review of In Bruges - Sheet4
Unruly Weather_©https://flixchatter.net/tag/in-bruges-cinematography/

The picturesque and vintage cityscape in no way aids in reducing Ray’s sadness and guilt, on the contrary; the cold weather of the city aggravates the discomfort that he is already experiencing within. This is showcased a whole lot in a few still shots of the film, wherein Ray is trying to keep himself warm in a way to provide himself a little comfort and solace, to counter the darkness he is experiencing in his mind.

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The Nuances of Human Morality

The theme of the film is heavily based on the scales of Human Morality. With the plot centered around a hitman job gone wrong, irrespective of Ray’s remorse and guilt; Harry’s inflexible moral compass deems death as the aptest. punishment for his sins. This further adds to the spectrum of the nuances in morality, and irony; wherein, the hitman himself is meting out punishment for murder, given the fact that the job of a hitman in and of itself revolves around the murdering of people.

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Shot of the Flashback_©https://twitter.com/oneperfectshot/status/1377431528423092224

Ken displays a far more reasonable and understanding moral compass. His belief lies in second chances and redeeming oneself by good actions that will counter the bad that has been done. Therefore, he does not go through the job Harry gives him, as he holds his metric of human morality in place. 

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Medieval Architecture as Plot Drivers

In Bruges is perhaps one of those few movies which have the city in its title, and a point of plot drive in the story of the film. The Medieval and Gothic Architecture which occupies the background of the shots in the film makes the cinematography rich and transfers the viewer into the city itself. Bruges is perhaps the best-preserved city with medieval imagery, dating back to the 12th Century. 

The empty cobbled stone streets, the Gothic Churches, narrow canals, and small bridges; all act as scenic elements that add value to the opening shots of the film, one which is devoid of any human presence. They set the tone for the background, which is to be present throughout the majority of the film; and give an idea of the location that will further the arcs of its main and supporting characters. 

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They even act as scenic contradictions to the adrenaline-fuelled chase sequences that are put forth in the final stages of the film. The Clock Tower and the scenes it is included in the act as a center of scenes that provide the comic elements, as well as the graphically violent and gory scenes that this dark comedy showcases. 

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Moral Confrontation_©https://metro.co.uk/2018/01/25/in-bruges-is-on-netflix-now-heres-why-you-should-watch-it-this-weekend-7250918/

The top of the clock tower assists in the provision of additional cinematographic elements, by providing a vantage that aids in capturing the view of the entire city. In the latter half of the film, the top of the tower acts as the intellectual and physical confrontation between Ken and Harry; Ken, who believes in redemption and second chances irrespective of the graveness of a crime; but Harry, who has a stringent moral code believes otherwise and is compelled to punish Ken for not following his orders. 

As the film draws to its conclusion, Ray reflects on hell and its nature, comparing it to an eternity in Bruges, wherein he hoped that he wouldn’t die there. A play on the time wherein hoped is past tense, and wouldn’t lie in the future tense, leaving an ambiguous ending to Ray’s life. 

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Thus, the film ends on the viewer’s perception, regarding Ray’s final fate. No one knows whether he survived, or if he is speaking his lines from the afterlife or after being revived. 

References

In Bruges. (2008). [Film]. Directed by Martin McDonagh. U.K: Blueprint Pictures, Film4 Productions, Focus Features, Scion Films.

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Nerdwriter1. (2012). In Bruges: Morality In Dialogue. [YouTube video]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_9mLu1kMA8 [Accessed 29 August 2021].

FOCUS FEATURES (2010). Production Notes – In Bruges. [online]. (Last updated 

19 January 2010). Available at https://www.focusfeatures.com/article/production_notes___in_bruges_ [Accessed 25th August 2021].

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Wael Khairy; Far Flungers (2011). Somewhere between heaven and hell. [online]. (Last updated 31 July 2011). Available at: https://www.rogerebert.com/far-flung-correspondents/somewhere-between-heaven-and-hell [Accessed 25th August 2021].

Debbie Lynn Elias (2013). IN BRUGES. [online]. (Last updated 

13 February 2020). Available at https://behindthelensonline.net/site/reviews/in-bruges/ [Accessed 25th August 2021].

Daniel Portilla; ArchDaily (2013). Films & Architecture: “In Bruges”. [online]. (Last updated 

07 February 2013). Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/327687/films-architecture-in-bruges [Accessed 25th August 2021].

Phillip Bess (2015) “IN BRUGES” IN BRUGES. [online]. (Last updated 4 August 2015). Available at: https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2015/07/in-bruges-in-bruges [Accessed 25th August 2021].

Tarun Bhasin; India Architecture News (2020). Remembering ‘In Bruges’. [online]. (Last updated 

13 February 2020). Available at: https://worldarchitecture.org/architecture-news/eeghc/remembering-in-bruges-.html [Accessed 25th August 2021].

Author

A final year architecture student, currently studying in SVKM-NMIMS Balwant Sheth School of Architecture, Mumbai, he has allied interests towards architectural photography and writing. Having a penchant for films and philosophy as well, he is of the belief that architecture and design have the ability to capture the most pivotal moments in life itself.

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