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Impact of Performance Choices
Non-verbal cues are essential since eighty percent of all conversations rely on these expressions. According to James Naremore, acting is the transfer of everyday habits into the theatrical sphere, which means that non-verbal expressions are equally important in the film industry as in real life (Højbjerg). However, due to differences in acting techniques and skills, utilizing these cues depends on an actor’s performance choices. With this in mind, this paper analyzes the performance choices of the female protagonist, Nora, in the final scene of two “A Doll’s House” performances. The paper seeks to show that utilizing different performance choices leads to varying in film reactions. A center player actress acts as Nora in the first film, whereas Jane Fonda acts as a Nora in the second performance. For easier distinction, this paper identifies the center player actress as Nora 1 and Jane Fonda as Nora 2.
In both performances, the mise en scene is that Nora feels the need to abandon her family due to the realization that she has always been a doll to the husband, Torvald. In this case, a doll means that the husband has always treated her like a tool for excitement. The awakening has influenced Nora to confront the husband and inform him that she is leaving to seek self-actualization. Moreover, Nora has three children with Torvald and has been married for eight years. Apart from the need to seek self-actualization, Nora leaves since she does not love her husband anymore.
Although both actresses represent the same character, using different performance choices leads to unmatched qualities. Concerning Nora 1, the actress utilizes eye contact, voice tone and volume, and gestures and body movement in the final scene. After watching the performance, Nora 1 uses gestures and body movements, such as the “stop” hand gesture, moving across the room, and holding her chest to convey various messages. For instance, Nora 1 uses the “stop” hand gesture to stop her husband from speaking, disagrees with Torvald by moving further from him, and holds her chest while referring to herself (Center Players, 2:00:17-2:00:58). Apart from the three movements and gestures above, Nora 1 also leans forward to show attentiveness in the scene where Torvald agrees that there is some truth in her argument (Center Players, 2:03:50-2:04:04). In other scenes, these body movements and gestures convey a different message; for example, moving further from Torvald while contrasting a held belief such as religion, law, or family duties shows that she is uncertain or ashamed about her conviction.
Another performance choice in the film is voice tone and volume. The reason for this is since Nora 1’s voice volume is unstable throughout the scene since it shifts from low to high within seconds. Using a high volume creates an argumentative tone since Nora 1 continually argues with the husband to express her concerns regarding the marriage. Variations in tone and volume also help in conveying her emotions. For example, the difference in tone and volume after realizing that the children have been her dolls for eight years implies that she is sad (Center Players, 2:03:31-2:03:37).
Lastly, Nora 1 uses eye contact to show firmness in her convictions. The reason for this is since the protagonist maintains eye contact with Torvald while stating her expectations, disappointments, and realizations. On the contrary, she avoids eye contact while conveying uncertainties and changed beliefs. It is also vital to note that Nora 1 stares at the camera in various scenes while speaking to her husband, creating a theatrical feeling (Center Players, 2:10:14-2:10:17). Considering these performance choices, Nora 1 appears jumpy, temperamental, unhappy, troubled, and dissatisfied.
Regarding Nora 2, the actress uses facial expressions, voice tone, and volume to portray the character. The reason for this is since the cinematography employed in the scene focuses on the actress’s face to provide the viewer with a close-up look into micro-expressions used by the actress. In the scene, Nora 2 synchronizes her voice with kinesics portrayed together with her facial expression. As Nora 2 speaks with Torvald, focusing on her face helps show micro-expressions such as raising eyebrows, head movement, and contracted facial muscles. For instance, Nora 2 leans her head forward and raises her eyebrows to sensitize a point. Another example is when she looks away before accepting that she had never been happy with her husband to convey a sad truth (“A Doll’s House Jane Fonda Final Scene,” 1:30-3:05). A notable trait about Nora, in this performance, is that she maintains eye contact with the husband regardless of the response.
The other performance choice utilized by Nora, in the film, is voice tone and volume. In this case, Nora’s volume is stable in almost all parts of the scene. Additionally, the tone of her voice is conservative and conversational regardless of her husband’s shouting. For example, Nora avoids shouting back at her husband when he tells her that leaving would be ignoring her duties to the family. In the scene, Nora explains in a conservative tone and a moderate voice that she has an equally sacred responsibility to herself that she must complete before attending to any other obligation assigned to her (“A Doll’s House Jane Fonda Final Scene,” 3:25-3:50). Apart from these performance choices, Nora’s facial expressions, tone, and volume enhance the impact of her words, thus assisting the viewer in understanding emotions associated with the situation. Due to these performance choices, Nora 2 appears composed, respectful, and caring.
From the above information, each performance is unique due to the use of varying performance choices. Despite the differences, the two performances utilize the same position since all actors either converse while sitting or standing. In a recap, it is vital to note that in the first performance, the actress utilizes three performance choices: eye contact, movements and gestures, and voice tone and volume. Although using many performance choices is effective, Nora 1’s action of staring at the camera while speaking to the husband creates a theatrical feeling that affects the scene’s effectiveness (Center Players, 1:59:00-2:14:00). The reason for this is since Nora’s stare into the camera shifts the focus of the viewer from the scene since the actress seems to be addressing an unseen third party. Moreover, Nora’s movements across the room and gestures such as looking away for long periods align with expressive and exaggerated acting.
Concerning Jane Fonda, the performance is effective since the actress focuses on her conversation with Torvald, thus creating a sense of realism. Furthermore, Fonda portrays balanced actions that create a transparent body expression due to minimal movements, moderate tone and volume, and the correct use of gestures (“A Doll’s House Jane Fonda Final Scene,” 0:00-6:08). A transparent body expression is that which coincides with or portrays real-life reactions. From this perspective, the most impactful performance for me was the second performance due to the portrayal of real-life expressions (Højbjerg). Additionally, focusing on Nora’s facial expression in the second performance is impactful since close-up faces personify the scene and are open to interpretation.
In conclusion, this paper shows that performance choices affect the viewer’s reactions to a film. In this regard, the paper evaluates the performance choices of two actresses depicting the same character in different performances. Concerning the first performance, this paper explains that the actress utilized eye contact, voice tone and volume, and movement and body gestures. Regarding the second performance, this paper states that the actress used facial expressions, voice tone, and voice volume to portray the protagonist. Despite using more performance choices, this paper explains that the first performance is less effective since Nora creates a theatrical feeling by staring at the camera while speaking. Moreover, the paper states that the first performance is not effective since the actress portrays exaggerated and expressive acting by moving across the room and using excessive gestures while communicating.
“A Doll’s House Jane Fonda Final Scene.” YouTube, uploaded by Tony Piazza, 31 May 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtSGp72hoXE.
Center Players. “Center Players Presents: A Doll’s House – Full Play.” YouTube, uploaded by CenterPlayersNJ, 19 September 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=sr3nw7CZvO8.
Højbjerg, Lennard. “The Moving Image: Body Language And Media Context.” Kosmorama.Org, 2014, www.kosmorama.org/en/kosmorama/artikler/moving-image-body-language-and-media-context.