Peter Howitt’s Sliding Doors (1998) is a film that explores the events that unfold in Helen’s (Gwyneth Paltrow) life after she simultaneously makes and misses her train. Throughout the film, sliding doors appear as a motif and signify that an important event is about to occur or has occurred in Helen’s life. By manipulating the range of story information and mise-en-scene, Howitt is able to juxtapose Helen and James (John Hannah) with Gerry (John Lynch) and Lydia (Jeanne Tripplehorn) to ultimately create a stronger allegiance between the audience and Helen and James.
Each of the four central characters, Helen, James, Gerry, and Lydia, can be recognized by individual and distinct traits that differentiate them from each other. The protagonist, Helen, is a hardworking woman with relatively low self-confidence who is often skeptical of people and good news that comes into her life. After losing her job, Helen works many part-time jobs in order to make ends meet and, in a parallel time line, starts up her own PR company. James is a nice, successful man who tries very hard to cheer up Helen and also has his own company. However, James isn’t entirely honest with Helen, because he hides the fact that he is married to Claudia. Gerry, in contrast to James, can be characterized as a fickle man who is both dependent on Helen for support and deceitful. Gerry’s inability to choose between Helen and Lydia, persistent lying to Helen and even Russell, and lack of income are all factors that contribute to his characterization. Lydia is the polar opposite of Helen. She is an aggressive and conniving woman who is emotionally dependent on Gerry. Her constant phone calls, plots to inform Helen of the affair, and stalker tendencies all add to her “live-wire” status. While we can become aligned with each of these characters, their actions all ultimately lead us to only become allied with Helen and James.
Howitt utilizes a sound bridge to connect the shot of Gerry helping a drunk Helen into bed with the next shot, in which Gerry is chastising himself for nearly getting caught cheating. At this point, the audience is made to feel disgusted by Gerry’s lies. He should feel bad for lying, not for nearly getting caught. While talking to himself in the mirror, Gerry states, “you’re taking to yourself in the mirror again” and calls this a “head problem.” The use of “again” indicates that this is not the first time Gerry has talked to himself and proves that he has a habit of getting himself into troublesome situations. By this time, the audience knows that Gerry is torn between Helen and Lydia and has deduced that he is a coward because he cannot stand to face the consequences of his actions (Helen’s fury and inevitable rejection of him). Therefore, the audience has become aligned with Gerry by understanding the motivation for his actions, but cannot agree with them and so cannot have allegiance with him.
Howitt manipulates the mise-en-scene here in order to reinforce...