By Srikanth Kanchinadham. Posted on January 06, 2016
The 180 degree rule is one of the most fundamental rules of filmmaking, something that is (probably) taught on the first day of film school. While most of you would know of it, for those who don't, here's what it means.
The technique is often used in many movies where two characters are conversing; whilst facing each other. It is employed to establish the characters and their emotions for a particular situation or scenario. The image below will give you a clear idea about how the technique is employed. The green region of the image gives us a sense of the regions where the camera can be moved to capture the characters. One can also figure out that any camera movement is restricted in the red region.
Now directors don't usually break this rule; though one notices exceptions from time to time. One such example is where Kubrick breaks the rule in his film The Shining. The following two images will show you exactly how Kubrick did it.
Another iconic scene that breaks the 180 degree rule in style is the interrogation scene in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. We stumbled upon this interesting answer by Magesh Sivasankaran on how & why Nolan cleverly broke the 180 degree rule. Before you immerse yourself in the answer, do have a look at the interrogation scene right below.
The primary goal of breaking the 180 degree rule is to disorient the audience.
However with a simple setup of two people seated across a table, the disorientation doesn't kick in that much when you break the rule.
But that wasn't Nolan's intention to begin with I guess. Here's what I think.
Apart from the obvious fact that they are the main protagonist & the main antagonist facing each other alone, the scene also builds up for the first time as to how these two characters are fundamentally & inexorably tied to each other. Every time the rule is broken, we see the camera moving in a slow & creepy way revealing the opposite character from behind the character close to the lens. In other words, we might be looking at mirror images. Just look at these resounding words.
Batman: Then why do you want to kill me?
Joker (laughing): I don't....I don't want to kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, NO! You...you...complete me.
But the line is crossed so often, that we begin to wonder if they are really mirror images. This sense of uneasiness about who the Joker really is and why he is intent on playing with the Batman plays a huge part in setting up the rivalry.
The jumps in the axis also highlights the non physical battle for power between the two. The scene starts with Batman being the superior of the two. He is the interrogator with the Joker being the subject. But the Joker has a trick up his sleeve. He turns the conversation around and suddenly the Batman looks vulnerable. Who is more superior of the two?
And also the Joker says
"The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules. And tonight you're gonna break your one rule".