The Lady From Shanghai Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

The Lady From Shanghai Symbols, Allegory and Motifs


The sea can be considered a symbol in the movie. In literature, sea and voyages are associated with the discovery if one’s self. In this movie, Michael doesn’t discover himself in a deeper physiological way, but rather discovers Elsa’s complexity and reaches a deeper understanding of how the world around him works. If in the beginning, Michael could never think that Elsa is capable of horrible thing, he soon learns that in many cases what a person seems to be is not what he or she really is in reality. The voyage on the sea helps Michael grow and become a more mature man who starts using his head more and doesn’t let his feelings control every aspect of his life.

The hall of mirrors

The hall of mirrors that appear at the end of the film is a symbol for all the illusions that appear in the film. Just as reality can become distorted into a hall of mirrors and a person who enters can be fooled by just a reflection, Michael is fooled by Elsa since the beginning. Michael sees what she wants to see and thus he is manipulated to do her bidding. The truth comes to light in the hall of mirrors and Michael is able to see clearly who Elsa is for the first time.

The Park

When Elsa and Michael meet for the first time, the background provides some information about the characters. The meeting takes place during the night, in a dangerous place for a woman to be alone. Even if Elsa dismisses the dangers at first, she is forced to recognize them when she is attacked by a group of thugs. While at a first glance, the viewer may feel inclined to believe that the dangerous park symbolizes Michael, but in reality it symbolizes Elsa. The dangers that lurk in the dark corners of the park are Elsa’s hidden motifs that come to light at the end of the film.


There is a constant feeling that something is missing and these gaps become a recurrent motif in the film. While these gaps may be the result of the shortening of the film, they are also intentional and have the role of creating a sense of mystery in the film. Almost all gaps can be easily filled in at the end of the film when it is revealed who is the real criminal and the motives behind the crime.


The question regarding who has more power and what that power is becomes a recurrent motif from the beginning of the film. A great accent is put on the ’edge’ characters have over the others and what makes them powerful and the film focuses on how wealth, physical power, and manipulation can be considered as being advantages. The idea of ‘edge’ is explained in the beginning of the film and from that point on, the viewer can spot different types of ‘edges’ described in the beginning.

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