Art & Design

9 Movie Scenes Inspired by Fine Art

They say life imitates art, so does film.
Reading time 5 minutes

Leonardo DiCaprio and Michelle Williams in "Shutter Island"

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© Paramount Pictures - GraphicaArtis / Getty Images

It's hard to not see a direct reference to one of the most famous paintings of all time: Gustav Klimt's The Kiss (1908-1909), present in a scene from Martin Scorsese's film Shutter Island. Gustav Klimt's The Kiss is a deceptively simple portrait of lust and love. From Michelle Williams' choice of dress, to the contrasting colours of the stage, down to the melancholy character of Leonardo DiCaprio, the main elements of the work are present in the highly-acclaimed film. 

Kirsten Dunst in "Melancholia"

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© The Losange Films - DeAgostini / Getty Images

In Melancholia, directed by Lars von Trier, a bride played by Kirsten Dunst lies afloat in a river bed. Inspired by the famous painting Ophelia (1851-1852) by John Everett Millais, it depicts Ophelia-a character from William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, singing before she drowns in a river in Denmark. With the sound of tragedy by Richard Wagner (the film takes place just before the end of the world), the actress holds a bouquet of flowers: a sheaf of lilies, probably a subtle nod to the "rose of the month of May", a Shakespearian expression used by Laertes to describe his sister Ophelia. 

Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight, The Black Knight"

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© Warner Bros.

In 2008, Heath Ledger amazed moviegoers with his breathtaking rendition of The Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. Ledger perfectly embodied the unpredictability and frenzy of the super-villian and we owe his performance to the director. Inspired by his favourite artist, Francis Bacon, Nolan retains the portrait Head VI (1949) and its colour palette, translating the vision of the artwork through the Joker's chaotic and iconic makeup with precise accuracy. 

Max von Sydow in "The Exorcist"

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© Warner Bros.

William Friedkin set the scene in 1973, unveiling the poster of the cult horror film, The Exorcist. And if the latter has now entered pop culture as a true symbol of fear, it is mainly because it was inspired by the painting Empire Des Lumières (1954) of the Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte . Retro floor lamp, lights coming from the house, blue shadows and stunning darkness ... everything is there.

The house in "Psychosis"

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© Universal Pictures

This painting begins the long trend of Hopper’s subtly creepy artwork by emphasizing the tension between traditional and twentieth-century culture. In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock revolutionized horror films by presenting Psychose, where motel manager Norman Bates, assassinates the heroine of the film before visiting the bones of his mother. This resulted in Bates keeping the bones in the cellar of his huge house, akin to displaying trophies. However, before being associated with the creepy house, the latter was imagined by Edward Hopper, who painted it in 1925 on a canvas titled as House By The Railroad.

Scarlett Johansson in "The Girl with the Pearl"

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© Pathé - VCG Wilson / Corbis via Getty Images

More than just an inspiration, Peter Webber gave life to Vermeer's The Girl with Pearl (1665) in his 2004 film with the same name. The feature film traces the story of the young and charming Griet, engaged as a servant in the house of the painter. She takes care of the household and the six children of Vermeer while trying to coax the wife, the mother-in-law and the governess, each one of them jealous of her prerogatives. The painting that inspired the film is still an enigma, as the profile of the girl is still unknown.  

Owen Wilson in "Inherent Vice"

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© Warner Bros. - DEA / M. RANZANI

Turning Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting The Last Supper (1495-1498) into a pizza party. In 2014, the ambitious director Paul Thomas Anderson unveiled Inherent Vice and its reinterpreted scene of the last meal of Jesus. Incarnated by Owen Wilson, Judas, grabbing a piece of pizza, summarizes the main moral of this feature film. Adapted from author Thomas Pynchon, the "inherent vice" is, in fact, a commentary on the greed of the American capitalist society.

The monster in "The Labyrinth of Pan"

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© Wild Bunch Distribution - DeAgostini / Getty Images

Devoid of his head and right arm, the son of Saturn in the painting of Francisco de Goya, Saturn devouring one of his sons (1821-1823) inspired Guillermo del Toro to give birth to "the pale man" in The Labyrinth of Pan. With his eyes on the palms of his hands, this frightening, thin creature crunches the fairies' heads flying around him. The parallel is both artistic and historical in this case. In 1823, at the time of the artist, Spain "ingested" its own children with the lives lost during the civil war; in 1944, in the film of Guillermo del Toro, a young girl tries to flee the tyranny of a captain of the Francoist army - depicting the influence of the artwork. 

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