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  • Marc Primo Warren


Updated: Mar 12, 2021

This is an article “These Films Were Inspired by Art Pieces” by Marc Primo Warren

There is always that interesting interaction between visual art and filmmaking that captivates audiences. Such famed directors as Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock, among many others, have habitually showcased paintings and visual art in their films and anchored entire storylines on these.

More recently, directors including Lars Von Trier and Quentin Tarantino took to classical arts in portraying their main leads in films Melancholia (where Kirsten Dunst is presented as John Everett Millais’s Ophelia in the film’s poster), and Django Unchained (where Jamie Foxx donned the attire of Thomas Gainsbourough’s classic oil painting Boy in Blue).

To further explore this marriage between film and art, here are five films that took their inspiration from visual artworks and presented compelling stories on film out of them for wider audiences.

Lost in Translation

Audiences fell in love with the simplicity yet profound manner by which director Sofia Copolla presented this beautiful film. To scholarly art critics, the entire character of Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) reflects the perfect subject based on the works of John Kacere. Coppola was undoubtedly inspired by the artist’s paintings that one shows up on the film during a hotel scene.

Kacere’s photorealistic style is especially evident during the 36-second opening scene of Charlotte’s backside in pink panties which was an exact mirror image of the artists’ works Maude or Cynthia or Reina. These visual cues added to the film’s sensual and care-free ambience, which dictated most of its narrative.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro is one of the most visually-striking directors today and we have seen his flair in such films as the Oscar award-winning The Shape Of Water, and the horrifying The Devil’s Backbone, among others. However, audiences will always remember how del Toro’s modern fairy tale masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth reminded us of Francisco Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son when we finally see the creepy Pale Man biting off the heads of fairies.

As for how the painting depicts Greek Titan Cronus eating his children for fear that his power will be relinquished, del Toro used the same simile to present the Pale Man’s greed and avarice, much to the character’s effectiveness in the film.


Another director who resorts to visually-striking images on film is Christopher Nolan, and the mind-bending Inception is an artwork on its own even if we can see some clear inspiration from the works of Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher. Combining math, surreal imagery, and geometric elements, both artworks and film showcase optical illusions that bring out a dreamy sequence that challenges viewers.

Escher’s infinite staircase can be seen in the film where action-packed sequences were mostly shot for a very impressive effect and to further push Nolan’s homage for Escher, one character is named Maurice Fischer which closely resembles the artist’s full name Maurits Cornelis Escher.

The Exorcist

Audiences were terrified when William Friedkin showed his 1973 film in cinemas. The thought of how morality and spirituality can forge a supernatural battle with demons is simply disturbing, which makes the film more effective in terms of psychological horror.

In the film’s poster, Max Von Sydow’s Father Lankerster Merrin is shown in a very similar manner as how René Magritte painted his Empire of Lights complete with its ominous atmosphere and eerie image.

One humorous fact about this though is how Magritte was also inspired by Victorian Era painter John Atkinson Grimshaw’s works on urban sunsets in a simple case of ‘art imitating reality-imitating art’.

Inherent Vice

Lastly and most recently, this Paul Thomas Anderson’s crime caper uses Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Last Supper as a come on to audiences on how hippies take the sanctity of their cult. The image was used in posters for the film’s promotion to give viewers a teaser of the film’s convoluted plot.

However, this one image inspired from da Vinci was able to present the relationships of the film’s major characters and how they evolve throughout the entire narrative.

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