The Oxford English Dictionary defines anagnorisis as “recognition; the dénouement in a drama.” More generally, Wikipedia says, anagnorisis is:

A moment in a play or other work when a character makes a critical discovery. Anagnorisis was the hero’s sudden awareness of a real situation, the realisation of things as they stood, and finally, the hero’s insight into a relationship with an often antagonistic character in Aristotelian tragedy.

Or, as I would say, anagnorisis is the Hitchcock dolly zoom.

You know what I’m talking about? It’s that cinematic technique, where the camera is pulled away from a subject while the lens zooms in – creating a disturbing visual effect where the background appears to change size in relation to subject in the foreground.

Hitchcock made the effect famous with its use in Vertigo (it was originally developed by Irmin Roberts), and it’s often used when lead characters make a startling and grave realization. It’s that moment when the world drops away and your mind grasps futilely for some possibility beyond the horrible, undeniable truth. Anagnorisis.

Consider, for example, its use in Jaws when Brody realizes the shark just attacked a child and many more are in danger:

I’ve had this feeling a few times before, but I never knew what to call it. I always just called it the Hitchcock dolly zoom, which isn’t great for conversational purposes.
But now I know there is a word for this feeling.


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