Mixed Emotions

The last blog entry discussed how emotions are visualized in movie posters, and we used Plutchick’s wheel of emotion to look at the primary emotion of joy and its three levels of intensity. Now, let’s look at a couple of additional movie posters and explore how often movie posters—or any image—can include multiple emotions. For this discussion, I chose two of my favorite movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Fargo.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)


The poster for Raiders of the Lost Ark screams adventure! But adventure is not an emotion. Plutchick’s wheel contains eight primary emotions, and one could argue that this poster includes seven of the eight emotions. Sadness is the only emotion I don’t see.


The entry point for this poster is Indiana swinging his whip.  He’s smiling—he’s having the time of his life. There’s nothing he’d rather be doing.  The color scheme also gives us a fun feeling. It uses oranges, yellows, and reds. Despite the action, the warm colors make it feel like by the end everything will be okay, and the audience will be treated to a fun time. Orange is associated with friendliness and energy (great for adventures). Yellow is a happy, enthusiastic color. Yellow is sunshine.


The illustration of the second man from the top on the right shows surprise. He’s grabbing his face with a look of bewilderment. He’s stunned and can’t believe his eyes.

Disgust and Anger

The man on the bottom left—which thanks to Gestalts principle of proximity we group with the illustration of Indiana and Marion tied to the post—has his gun trained on Indiana and Marion. He has a look of either loathing or cold fury on his face.


Indiana and Marion are being burned at a stake with a skull situated at their feet. Also, on the top left of the poster, a snake is about to strike Indiana, and behind him, a boulder is primed to flatten him.


This poster is full of anticipation and energy. As mentioned before, viewers anticipate a snake bite, a boulder chase, and the prospect of Indiana and Marion being shot or burned to death. The focal point of the poster is Indiana swinging his whip—we anticipate its crack because we’re sure it will save the day somehow.


The illustration of Marion visualizes trust. The Gestalt principle of continuity explains why our eyes follow her gaze to Indiana. Marion looks a little apprehensive but, like the audience, she believes that Indiana will save the day. She trusts him.

Fargo (1996)


The poster for Fargo sends conflicting emotional messages. Using Pultchik’s wheel, it includes joy and fear.


The poster was created to resemble a holiday needlepoint. It has a textured feel, and the use of red gives the impression of holiday time – Christmas time—which most people associate with family and cheer. The dead body is made to look like a spool of thread looped through the needle next to it.


Despite the holiday-like border and needlepoint this poster portrays terror. There’s an overturned car in the background and a dead body in the foreground. A pool of blood seeps from the body—the brownish color looks like the color of dried blood.  It’s clear to viewers that a grisly murder has taken place even without reading the text.


Bonner, C. (2014, September 15). Using gestalt principles for natural interactions. Retrieved from https://thoughtbot.com/blog/gestalt-principles

Cao, J. (2015, April 7). Web design color theory: How to create the right emotions with color in web design. Retrieved from https://thenextweb.com/dd/2015/04/07/how-to-create-the-right-emotions-with-color-in-web-design/

Hagen, R., & Golombisky, K. (2017). Mini arts school. White space is not your enemy: A beginner’s guide to communicating visually through graphic, web & multimedia design (Third ed., pp. 46-64). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Lidwell, W., Holden, K., & Bulter, J. (2015). The pocket universal principles of design (1st ed.). Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers Inc.

Lupton, E. (2017). Design is storytelling. New York, NY: Cooper Hewitt.

Norman, D. A. (2004). Designers and users: Two perspectives on emotions and design. Paper presented at the Foundations of Interaction Design, Ivrea, Italy.