I was wondering what is the technical term for the technique relating a physical environment to the mental state.

For example, I am writing about how the dim lighting and cluttered workspace of Deckard in Blade Runner reflects his detached/apathetic nature etc. What is the term used to describe this? (sort of similar to pathetic fallacy...)

  • The closest I can come up with is "pathetic bestowal," but while that is perhaps an improvement over "pathetic fallacy," it still doesn't match either the description or the example you've given.
    – jbelacqua
    Mar 17, 2011 at 1:36

3 Answers 3


It's all just reflection, symbolism, metaphor, whatever. Volume, pitch, tempo, and other audio qualities of a soundtrack usually reflect the current focus in a movie. As do lighting, focal distance, distance, etc. on the video front.

I doubt there's a single academic noun(-phrase) with any particular currency in the world of movie critique, if that's what OP is looking for. Though doubtless there will be the equivalent for various pre-cinema art-forms.

Most of us just say [some characteristic] of a movie reflects or echoes [some other context, either within the movie or out in the "real world" of the audience].

  • this was generally what I was thinking as well. Blah-blah "mirrors" the desperate state of K's mind, etc.. The only qualifier I would add is that there may be some single academic term, but if there is I don't believe it is a widely used and accepted term.
    – jbelacqua
    Mar 17, 2011 at 0:57
  • 1
    @jgbelacqua -- quite so. Sometimes a single academic term is useful for clarifying a difficult concept. In this case the concept is easily-grasped and well covered by many simple words. I for one would avoid this hypothetical term even if it existed and I knew the word, since it would probably be both archaic and pretentious. Mar 20, 2011 at 16:27

I'm thinking, but not sure if allegory is appropriate here, as an adjective allegorical

An Allegory is a form of extended metaphor, in which objects, persons, and actions in a narrative, are equated with the meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. The underlying meaning has moral, social, religious, or political significance, and characters are often personifications of abstract ideas as charity, greed, or envy. Thus an allegory is a story with two meanings, a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning.


The pathetic fallacy is the ascribing of human characteristics to inanimate objects: the cruel sea, malign fate, and so on.

What you are describing is simply imagery that is consonant with mood or mental state. I'm not sure there is a word for this.

  • hmm, I'm sure I've come across a literary term for it, however I have forgotten.
    – user6023
    Mar 15, 2011 at 14:19

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