The Killing (1956)

Brief Intro

Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing” (1956) is a classic film noir that follows an elaborate heist plan and its subsequent unraveling. With its intricate plot and multi-layered characters, the film uses a range of literary and cinematic techniques to create a gripping narrative. Let’s dive into the depths of its literary devices, character dynamics, and thematic elements.

Literary Devices Used in The Killing

Below is a detailed examination of 10 literary devices used in the film, highlighting specific scenes where each device is employed.

1. Foreshadowing

Movie SceneDevice Example
Opening sequenceThe narrator hints at the complexity and eventual failure of the heist.
Johnny’s detailed plan explanationSubtle hints suggest that not everything will go as smoothly as planned.

2. Flashback

Movie SceneDevice Example
Different characters recounting their actionsThe use of non-linear storytelling to provide backstory and context.
Johnny’s recollection of the heist planFlashbacks to different stages of planning.

3. Irony

Movie SceneDevice Example
The heist going awryDespite meticulous planning, unforeseen events cause chaos.
Sherry’s manipulationHer scheming ultimately leads to her own downfall.

4. Symbolism

Movie SceneDevice Example
The chess gameSymbolizes the strategic and calculated nature of the heist.
The clown maskRepresents deception and hidden motives.

5. Tension

Movie SceneDevice Example
The race track sceneHigh tension as the heist is executed.
The final airport sceneThe tension reaches its peak with the climactic confrontation.

6. Motif

Movie SceneDevice Example
Money and greedRepeated references to the corrupting influence of money.
BetrayalNumerous instances of betrayal highlight a recurring theme.

7. Suspense

Movie SceneDevice Example
The build-up to the heistGradual increase in suspense as the plan unfolds.
Waiting for the money dropProlonged suspense as characters await their fate.

8. Characterization

Movie SceneDevice Example
Johnny’s interactionsHis dialogues reveal his meticulous and determined nature.
Sherry’s conversationsHer manipulative and deceitful traits are exposed.

9. Dialogue

Movie SceneDevice Example
Johnny’s pep talkReveals his leadership and charisma.
Sherry’s arguments with GeorgeDisplays her manipulative tendencies.

10. Irony

Movie SceneDevice Example
The heist unravelingDespite the flawless plan, minor errors cause major issues.
Johnny’s downfallIrony in his ultimate failure despite his expertise.

Character Analysis Through Literary Devices

Character Studies

  • Johnny Clay
    • Literary Device: Foreshadowing
    • Explanation: Hints about Johnny’s overconfidence and eventual downfall are subtly placed throughout the film.
    • Literary Device: Dialogue
    • Explanation: His precise and confident speech showcases his control and meticulous nature.
  • Sherry Peatty
    • Literary Device: Irony
    • Explanation: Her manipulative nature leads to her own destruction.
    • Literary Device: Symbolism
    • Explanation: Sherry’s interactions with George symbolize the destructive power of greed and betrayal.

Character Dynamics

  • Johnny and George Peatty
    • Literary Device: Irony
    • Explanation: George’s loyalty and trust in Johnny are betrayed by circumstances beyond their control.
    • Literary Device: Dialogue
    • Explanation: Their conversations reveal the power dynamics and underlying tensions in their relationship.

Thematic Analysis

Greed and Corruption

Literary DeviceExplanation
SymbolismThe repeated references to money illustrate the corrupting influence of greed.
DialogueCharacters’ discussions often revolve around financial gain, highlighting their moral decay.

Betrayal and Trust

Literary DeviceExplanation
IronyMany instances of betrayal underscore the theme, as those trusted the most often cause the most harm.
FlashbackRevealing past betrayals helps build the narrative of trust being consistently broken.

Cinematic Techniques That Enhance Literary Devices

Literary DeviceTechniqueExplanation
SuspenseCinematographyClose-ups and slow pacing enhance the tension.
ForeshadowingMusicSubtle musical cues hint at upcoming twists.

Key Scene Analysis

  1. Heist Execution Scene
    • YouTube Link: The Killing – Heist Scene
    • Scene Breakdown: This scene masterfully combines foreshadowing and tension. The precise execution juxtaposed with minor slip-ups foreshadows the impending failure.
  2. Sherry’s Downfall


To wrap up, here’s a fun quiz to test your understanding of the literary devices used in “The Killing.” 😊

Interactive Quiz:

  1. What literary device is used when subtle hints are given about future events?
  2. Which character is most associated with the theme of betrayal?
    • A) Johnny Clay
    • B) George Peatty
    • C) Sherry Peatty
  3. What technique is primarily used to create suspense during the heist?


  1. B) Foreshadowing
  2. C) Sherry Peatty
  3. B) Cinematography