Paper 3: Films and Themes


One Theme, Three Films

Throughout the class, we've used film as a way to explore and discuss a number of different "themes" related to cities. Some films (and some students) have been concerned primarily with physical aspects of the urban environment: The iconic landmarks; the legibility of the landscape; the glitz and the grime; the role of transportation; the importance of neighborhoods and "local turf;" or the general look and feel of the buildings, the street, and the crowd. Others have emphasized social, cultural, or even personal aspects: The perception of safety in the city; the relative importance of close and distant social ties; issues raised by race, class, sex, gender, language, and ethnic diversity; or broad themes of freedom, control, opportunity, modernity, isolation, and social mobility. Sometimes the films we've seen may have echoed each other in regards to these themes, but other times they have presented contrasting or changing perspectives, or raised new wrinkles or additional complications. This has given us a lot to think about and a lot to sort out as we make sense of the city in film. For your third paper, you are asked to pick one theme and trace it through three different films—and then also add some new observations to extend beyond the films (see "Epilogue" below). You may (read: will) find it helpful (read: necessary) to re-watch your chosen scenes a few times, stopping the film as necessary to make notes and capture all the relevant details. It will also be important to look back over the syllabus and pull in the readings as they related to your chosen topic.


Once you've written a nice tight essay, you have one remaining task: Connecting the topics of the course to the world around us today. In a one-page "epilogue," briefly describe an event or story in the news and connect it to your theme. Discuss how the ideas presented in the films help you to think more deeply about events, policies, people, and places in the city, and vice versa. (Please also include a copy of the news story you used as an addendum.)



This is a short paper, but slightly longer than the first two—please aim for a target of 4–5 pages, including the one-page "epilogue." The goal is to present, analyze, and support a few keen, focused observations, not a comprehensive analysis of everything about the films you discuss. Decide what you want to say in advance, strive for tight writing, muster your evidence and weave it in to support your argument, and revise as necessary to make every word count.

Other Things to Include

  • Be sure you give your paper a title.
  • Number your pages and include your name on each one.
  • You don't need to include photos or diagrams, but you can if you want; both words and pictures can be useful when observing and describing cities (and films). For this particular assignment, you may find that including still images from the film can really help illustrate your points.
  • When referring to specific scenes, please indicate (in parenthesis) the time in the film where I can find the part you are writing about—for example, "at the start of the next sequence (36m:20s), we see the city turn from working to eating—it's lunchtime in the Great City."

Deadline & Submission

This paper is due at the beginning of Week 11. 

Student Examples

The examples below appear courtesy of MIT students and are used with permission. Examples are published anonymously unless otherwise requested.

"Meet Cute" and Impossible Love in the City (PDF)

Heaven and "El": The Depiction of the City Apartment (PDF)

Culture Within the Modern City (PDF)