Mean Girls as an Expose on Cliquey High School Culture

The film Mean Girls (2004) is an expose on cliquey high school culture. The opening sequence of the film portrays the protagonist, Cady Heron’s, outsider status to this culture. Cady’s innocence and naivety contrasts the rest of the film’s devious yet amusing characters. This pivotal scene represents Cady’s introduction to the world of mean girls.

The sequence begins with introducing and establishing Cady, her background and the setting of the film. Soft piano, accompanied by sounds of nature, enter the scene; The upward point-of-view shot shows Cady’s parents speaking down to her, emphasizing that Cady still looks up to her parents.

“You can ask one of the big kids” — the dialogue, along with the camera angle, suggests that Cady is a naïve child attending her first day of school. The camera slowly pans up as Cady jumps into the shot with an eager smile. To the audience’s amusement, she is actually 16 years old.

Cady introduces herself to us through her non-diegetic voice-over, giving insight on her backstory. Her narration synchronizes with two clips portraying the stereotypical home-schooled children— she assures her audience that she is not a “religious freak” and instead has a totally normal family. Cady continues to narrate as a relaxed score enters.

Freeze frames portray Cady’s memories from living in Africa, creating the effect that a photo is being taken. Her plain appearance suggests that she cares about more comfort rather than standing out, as she wears little makeup and is covered with baggy, plain clothing. These combined elements illustrate the innocence and steadiness in Cady’s past.

As the last freeze frame depicts Cady waving goodbye to her life in Africa, the scene cuts to present-time where Cady is saying hello to high school.

The steady score is interrupted by a roaring horn of a yellow American school bus, nearly hitting Cady and bringing the audience back to reality. Her parents anxiously watch Cady as she walks into her new, fast-pace chapter of high school A pop song enters the scene— signifying her transition from childhood to pre-adulthood.

As the lyrics read, “Would ya look at that hair?” Cady’s eager expression fades as she anticipates judgement from her fellow high schoolers ahead. The upbeat music along with the sound of conversing students sets the mis-en-scène of the stereotypical high school. This scene alters from point-of-view shots of her walk through the campus and close-up shots of her expressions.

The jolty movements and the fast editing pace emphasize her confusion and anxiety as the world moves around her.

As the school bell rings, Cady takes a deep breathe and struts into her first class. A point-of-view shot shows Cady looking for a seat to sit in— Her expression leaves the audience with anxiety, as she doesn’t feel like she belongs. As an attempt to make a new friend goes horribly, the camera pans to Janis and Damian laughing at her failure.

Janice and Damian are introduced in this scene, showing their importance in the film, as they’re the first to willingly communicate with her. This scene conveys information about the characters’ personalities without dialogue— Janice expresses who she is through her dark wardrobe and gothic makeup. This appearance gives insight into Janice’s rebellious and outsider behavior. Damien sits behind Janice, representing the power she has over him.

Having spent the last twelve years being home schooled in Africa, Cady has had plenty of exposure to jungles; however, none of that prepared her for the jungle that is high school. Walking into class as the “new kid,” Cady’s social status is equivalent to that of weak prey in the jungle. This scene sets up the action for the rest of the film. Like a baby animal who must learn how to survive in the jungle, Cady will have to learn how to survive high school.

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