The Symbolic Use of Doors in Film

Passing from one place, realm, or room to another requires a passageway that often resembles a door, and the use of doors to illustrate a wide variety of human interactions such as passage, adventure, magic, mystery, or barriers is very present in many epic films. Doors can be used to portray both positive or negative emotions and can potentially communicate in-depth information about characters or the story.

There are many scenarios where doors can invoke a very noticeable emotional reaction in films. Some of these key climatic themes include the Character Entrance, Separation and Contrast, Emotional Barriers, and the Unknown.

The Character Entrance

John Ford’s 1956 western “The Searchers” takes the cake when it comes to door shots. The film opens and closes with this widely recognized door frame view, and in the last scene, John Wayne walks away from his family’s homestead, where he just returned his long lost niece to her home. The scene closes as the cabin door shuts slowly while John Wayne stumbles away, partially injured.

The doorway introduces the character in a way that doesn’t require many words and embodies the wandering spirit of Civil War veteran Ethan Edwards (John Wayne). It also serves as a passageway for the audience that arrives on the scene to witness the story as it unfolds when John Wayne returns home from war. 

Separation and Contrast

The first movie in The Matrix series emphasizes the door like never before. Although the scene between Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) and Neo (Keanu Reeves) takes place in front of a door, the beat here signifies a very dramatic turning point for Neo that will redefine his entire existence.

In “The Matrix,” the outside of the door before entry is very different from what’s on the other side. In other scenarios, we are able to see both sides of the door, such as in the 2004 film, “Kill Bill Volume 2.” The dark interior and light exterior reveal two worlds and two sides of Uma Thurman’s character that is both an assassin and a mother to be.

Emotional Barriers

Closed doors carry a powerful message of separation between not only characters but also emotional barriers in a character’s own thinking. The 2000 horror film, “The Cell” starring Jennifer Lopez used doors to portray the nuances of the mind and the psychological makeup of Carl Rudolph Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio), who is also a serial killer that uses doors as a trap to lock victims in glass boxes that slowly fill with water.

The movie is constantly moving, and the use of psychological doorways have multiple entrances and exits for both Carl Rudolph Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio) and child Psychologist, Catherine Deane, who is played by Jennifer Lopez.

The Unknown

The Walls of Moria in the 2001 film “The Lord of the Rings” are one of the most mysterious doors that signify the beginning of the unknown in movie history. The entire fellowship of the ring stands before the great doors as the suspense builds for quite some time. Although the Dwarf Lord, Gimli exudes confidence in his memory of the ancient city, Gandalf and others find the unknown to be far too riddled with hidden danger.

The door to the unknown may not always be a dangerous path. In the film “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,” the movie is based on the C.S. Lewis’ series reveals a door that opens to the then unknown world of Narnia. Discovery is one of the most compelling essences of the door that leads to the unknown, and audiences always enjoy witnessing the story that unfolds after the door is open.


Doors represent many things to many people. They can be the very thing that protects from harm, and regardless of what role they play in film, they are above all necessary in any movie. Opening a door in a film is a visual cue for audiences to open their minds to new experiences. Doorways are the core of human existence from birth to death, and these heavily rooted principles engage audiences and inspire the masses to explore other places, thoughts, dreams, concepts, and realities.

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