The Eisensteinian montage

A montage is the juxtaposition or combination of multiple shots edited and put together to convey an idea, advance the narrative, evoke emotions, or establish the theme.

Juxtaposition, in editing juxtaposition, is the technique in which two or more shots are placed side by side to convey an idea, emotion, or theme.

Eisensteinian montage, also known as Soviet montage theory, is a film editing technique developed by the Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein during the early 20th century. It is based on the idea that the juxtaposition of individual shots creates new meanings, emotions, and ideas that go beyond what each shot conveys independently. Eisenstein stressed the importance of editing in filmmaking, making it as significant as shooting a film, where shots could be combined in a way to change the narrative structure and can intensify the emotional impact on the audience.

He presented five different montage techniques that can be used to provide different types of emotional connection

Metric Montage is an editing technique inspired by the pacing of musical scores, known as meter. Just as musical meter provides a regular rhythm in music, Metric Montage creates a regular visual pace by placing the next shot after a fixed number of frames. That means, in the metric montage, every shot is carefully measured, and after the precise timing and duration, the next shot appears, and so on. Cuts are not driven by on-screen content but by the fixed number of frames. This regular pattern of shots appearing after a set interval creates a rhythmic flow in the film, similar to the rhythmic flow you hear in music. This technique can heighten tension, and urgency, or contribute to the scene’s atmosphere. It is usually combined with sound effects like of clock or music.

In the real world, this metric montage technique is not used too often because it relies on symmetry rather than feeling.


  • Requiem for a Dream montage measures each shot 9 frames accompanied by the dramatic sound effect.
  • Northwest by Northwest, The scene follows the film’s protagonist, Roger Thornhill (played by Cary Grant), as he finds himself stranded in the middle of nowhere near a vast, empty field. Suddenly, he becomes the target of an unknown enemy, and a mysterious airplane begins to fly menacingly low over him.

Hitchcock’s metric montage in this scene involves precise and rhythmic editing of shots to intensify the suspense. The cutting rhythm, combined with the eerie silence on the soundtrack, enhances the tension and anticipation as the airplane circles above Thornhill. The shots of the airplane swooping down towards Thornhill are timed with metronomic precision, heightening the scene’s sense of danger and impending threat.

Rhythmic Montage:

Rhythmic Montage without a doubt is the most fun type of montage to work with. Unlike a Metric montage, a Rhythmic montage is built on rhythm and feeling. Here, every shot is cut and put together based on how it feels like it should connect with the next shot. There is no fixed time for any shot.

It often uses fast cuts to create movement and excitement in the sequence. Additionally, Rhythmic Montage is often synchronized with music or sound effects to further immerse the audience in the experience.

It is mostly used in action movies that involve fast-paced and intense action sequences.

Example: Baby Driver

  • In the opening scene of the film, director Edgar Wright employs rhythmic montage during a car chase sequence. The editing is fast-paced and dynamic, skillfully matching the movement of the cars, the beats of the music, and the actions of the characters. The shots are assembled in a way to create a sense of excitement and energy, setting the mood for the film. In this example, rhythmic montage is used to create a visually dynamic and energetic sequence, enhancing the thrilling nature of the car chase.

Intellectual montage: To simply put, an Intellectual montage is when you edit two shots together to connect them to an intellectual concept. 

The purpose of intellectual montage is to engage the audience intellectually and emotionally, encouraging them to draw connections and interpret the deeper meaning of the scene or sequence.

Unlike narrative continuity editing, which aims to create a seamless flow of events, intellectual montage deliberately disrupts the linear progression of the story. It aims to create symbolic, metaphorical, or abstract meanings. Thereby inviting debate and provoking active response from the audience, making them active participants of the story.


  • Towards the beginning of the film, there is a sequence where a primitive ape-man discovers the use of a bone as a tool and weapon. As he triumphantly throws the bone into the air, it morphs into a spaceship, transitioning from the prehistoric era to the future in a single cut.

Tonal Montage :

The tonal montage is a sequence of shots that help to connect a viewer to one specific feeling. The objective is to establish or set a tone for the movie and cuts are focused on making the viewer feel a certain emotion.

It’s not just the cuts of the shots at work, Tonal montages make good use of sound as well as shot composition and mise-en-scene to convey the feeling it wants to deliver.


  • “Apocalypse Now” (1979), directed by Francis Ford Coppola. In the opening sequence of the film, there is a mesmerizing and visually striking tonal montage that sets the surreal and ominous mood for the rest of the movie.

During the opening sequence, the film cuts between shots of Captain Willard (played by Martin Sheen) in a hotel room, his ceiling fan spinning overhead, and scenes of the Vietnam War. The montage blends images of war, helicopters, explosions, and napalm-drenched jungles with Willard’s reflection and the whirling fan. The combination of these shots creates a dreamlike and nightmarish atmosphere, setting the tone for the intense and surreal journey that follows.

Overtonal Montage:

As the name suggests, overtonal montage is not focused on one feeling, it can be described as a sequence of shots edited together to provide more than just a feeling or tone.

This montage type involves layering different emotional tones, creating a more complex and multi-layered emotional experience for the audience. Overtonal montage seeks to deepen the emotional impact by combining shots with different emotional qualities.


  • An example of an overtonal montage can be found in the closing sequence of the film “Requiem for a Dream” (2000), directed by Darren Aronofsky. This emotionally intense film tells the story of four individuals and their descent into drug addiction.

In the closing sequence, Aronofsky uses an overtonal montage to intercut the final moments of the four main characters’ lives, highlighting the devastating consequences of their drug addiction. The sequence is a rapid succession of shots, featuring each character experiencing the culmination of their personal struggles and addictions.

The montage combines shots of their physical deterioration, their emotional despair, and the consequences of their actions, all set to a haunting and emotionally charged score.

An Overtonal montage is often used to convey complex emotions, themes, or layers of meaning that go beyond the straightforward narrative. It involves combining shots with different emotional tones to create a multi-dimensional emotional experience for the audience.

These are some Eisenstein techniques we just talked about. What is important to know is that filmmakers often blend these techniques with other editing tools and creative approaches to push their narrative ahead and convey their ideas and emotions. For instance, the use of flashbacks to delve into the past. In the movie “Titanic,” the character of Kate Winslet reflects on her childhood memories, providing background information and emotional depth to the story. And, in “The Godfather,” director Francis Ford Coppola used two parallel narratives in the famous baptism scene to show the conflict within the story and its characters. In the film “Run Lola Run,” montages are coupled with fast-speed editing to convey urgency and intensity as the protagonist, Lola, searches for her boyfriend. The fast-paced sequence adds to the suspense and engages the audience. And in “The Matrix,” the director used slow motion during the bullet-time sequence. The slow-motion effect heightens the drama.

While the concept of montage has evolved over time and filmmakers have developed their own styles, Eisenstein’s montage techniques, including metric, rhythmic, tonal, overtonal, and intellectual montages, provide a foundation for filmmakers allowing them to create compelling narratives and engage audiences on an intellectual and emotional level.

Montages can be utilized in various situations, such as conflict, action sequences, flashbacks, fast-forwarding the narrative, and more. When combined with different editing techniques like slow speed and fast speed, they have the ability to generate drama, style, and tension.