I was so excited to tackle STR 5.D (the function of imagery) at first, and then I became completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of imagery. It wasn’t that I couldn’t find an idea, I had way too many ideas. Finally, I decided to go to my comfort zone, which is film analysis. Also, the good folks in the AP* Lit Facebook group gave me so many good poem ideas that I chose to analyze three poems instead of just one for this lesson!
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Teaching Imagery with Film Clips
Because imagery is basically everywhere, it was hard to settle on the best clips or images to use. In the end, I picked some that invite a sensory experience. These three movie clips heighten the sense of sight, sound, and taste.
Sight – 1917 (dir. Sam Mendes, 2019)
Mendes’ film about World War I is one of the most visually spectacular experiences I’ve ever had at the theater. Mendes partnered with Roger Deakins for the film’s stunning cinematography, creating a “one-shot” experience. The premise of this clip is that lance corporals William Schofield and Tom Blake are given a letter to take to Colonel Mackenzie. Inside the letter are orders to call off a planned attack, one which command has learned would kill all 1600 men, including Blake’s brother. The two men carry the letter through endless trials, during which Blake is killed. Lance corporal Schofield arrives at the front as the attack begins, and this clip shows him attempting to reach Col. Mackenzie at literally any risk.
Sound – Apocalypse Now (dir. Francis Coppola, 1979)
Coppola’s famous film, Apocalypse Now, is based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. This clip, the film’s opener, begins with Sgt. Kilgor inserting Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” cassette into a tape deck. He proclaims, “We’ll come in low, out of the rising sun and about a mile out we’ll put on the music… My boys love it!” This iconic song, paired with the sounds of the helicopter and eventual machine gun fire, create a sensory explosion, of which sound is the primary element.
Taste – Ratatouille (dir. Brad Bird, 2007)
Ratatouille is about a food-obsessed rat named Remy who lives in Paris. While other rats eat whatever they can get their paws on (including garbage), Remy is particular about his meals. I actually have two scenes for this movie, the first is when Remy explains how eating is a sensory experience for him. He’s literally describing synesthesia, a literary element but also a real and rare condition in humans (and rats, apparently). The clip that I love even more, however, is at the end. Food critic Ego is visiting Gustov’s, the famous restaurant in which Remy has been cooking, under the chef hat of his friend, Alfredo. Ego has always hated Gustov’s, giving them low ratings with his picky, snobbish reviews. In this climactic scene, Remy serves Ego ratatouille, a common French “peasant dish.” This clip shows how the taste experience of Remy’s food connects Ego with his childhood, so much so that he drops his pen.
Imagery is used to create a sensory experience in a work, whether it be in a film, song, or text. How does imagery enhance each of these films, bring it alive and creating a viewing experience?
Focus Poems and Questions
To focus on imagery, I chose three iconic AP® Lit poems that match well with the three film clips above. Using this graphic organizer, students can record their thoughts on the imagery in each film. They can also compare them to imagery in similar sense experiences in the following poems:
- “Blackberry-Picking” by Seamus Heaney
- “Dulce Et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen
- “I Hear an Army” by James Joyce
The student graphic organizer can be accessed by the link above (for virtual and hybrid learners) or click on the image for a printable file. The activity concludes with a writing prompt, asking students to analyze one of the three poems for imagery. Students should connect imagery with meaning, analyzing how the imagery illuminates deeper meaning or significance in the poem.
Suggested Poems for Studying Imagery
Thanks to the educators on the AP® Lit Facebook group for all of the great suggestions for poems with imagery!
- “The Lake of Innisfree” by William Butler Yeats
- “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden
- “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley
- “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins
- “There Will Come Soft Rains” or “Barter” by Sara Teasdale
- “Living in Sin” by Adrienne Rich
- “After Apple Picking,” “Nothing Gold Can Stay” or “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost
- “I Go Back to May 1937” by Sharon Olds
- “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke
- “A Poem That Starts Out Wrong” by Landis Everson
- “Pigeon Women” by May Swenson
- “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning
- “For That He Looked Not Upon Her” by George Gascoigne
- “The Death of Santa Clause” by Charles Harper Webb
- “Self Portrait by Someone Else” by Courtney Kampa
- “Heat” by H. D.
- “The Chamberet Nautilus” by Oliver Wendell
- “Kubla Kahn” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- “A Late Aubade” by Richard Wilbur
- “Deer Hit” by Jon Loomis
- “February” by Margaret Atwood
- “The Fly” by Karl Shapiro
- “The Sound of Night” by Maxine Kumin
- “Thistles” by Ted Hughes