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Analysis of “Sleepy Hollow” Film Directed by Tim Burton


Sleepy Hollow is an American film released in 1999 and based on the story The Legend of the Sleepy Hollow written in the early 19th century. The movie features Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci as the main characters and Tim Burton as the writer and director. Unlike most movies which focus on a single genre, Sleepy Hollow integrates horror, science-fiction, and comedy in the narration. The film’s classification can be compared to a modern crime drama but in a different setting because it describes society’s common problems, such as police brutality and technological evolution. Tim Burton is an excellent director, and, as such, he has used a variety of film techniques which messages can be interpreted through analysis.

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First, it is essential to understand the basic elements and the approach taken to present the movie’s plot events. Characters are the driving force of a film’s plot and the director’s choice of actors in the film and their roles is deliberate to convey the superstition, reality, fear, and war themes. For instance, the headless horseman introduces the concept of fiction versus truth (Plate 3). Additionally, Tim Burton chooses the chronological technique to present the order of events. The dead horseman returns from hell as soon as his head is cut off to take the heads of Sleepy Hollow’s residents until he finds his own. Constable Ichabod Crane is then sent to probe the murder case in the town (Darqueling par. 4). The development of characters and the chronological order approach makes it easy for the audience to follow the script.

Most films only have a protagonist as the center of the story but Sleepy Hollow also makes use of an antagonist character to introduce conflict. Ichabod assumes the protagonist’s position and drives the film’s plot from the onset of his investigation to when he locates the stolen skull. He attracts the support and sympathy of the audience in his mission to save Sleepy Hollow. On the other hand, the headless horseman is positioned as an antagonist to create an atmosphere of horror and drama by creating obstacles for Ichabod (Plate 2). He is the source of fear in the entire movie. The director’s choice of a detective as the protagonist and the headless horseman as the antagonist engages the audience’s emotions.

Climax, inciting incidents, and resolution are important components of movie creation that Tim Burton explores in Sleepy Hollow. The hook of the film occurs when the investigation becomes complex because a supernatural being is involved, and Ichabod keeps trying to uncover the person controlling the headless horseman (Sleepy Hollow). The climax, on the other hand, occurs when Lady Van Tassels instructs the headless horseman to kill Katrina. Ichabod does his best to stop this at the tree of the dead by grabbing the skull from Tassel and handing it over to the horseman (Darqueling par. 5). The movie’s resolution is marked by the achievement of safety in Sleepy Hollow again as Ichabod returns to New York.


The film industry has evolved over the years, but the techniques used in writing the stories and directing them is the same. Sleepy Hollow is a 1999 movie that is still used as a reference for horror shows today. Tim Burton, the director, employed creativity in developing the story by improving the plot of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and creating a new one with modified characters. His use of the chronological order makes it easy for the audience to follow the film events to the climax. Even though the movie was shot about 20 years ago, it is still worth watching to date.

Works Cited

Sleepy Hollow. Directed by Tim Burton, perfomance by Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci, Paramount Pictures, 1999.

Darqueling, Phoebe. “Sleepy Hollow (1999) Punks an American Revolution Myth.” Steampunk Journal, 2017, Web.

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Plate, S. Brent. “Sleepy Hollow.” Journal of Religion & Film, vol. 4, no. 1, 2000, 11.

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