THE CONCEPT OF NARRATIVE
Narrative is defined as “a chain of events in a cause-effect relationship
occurring in time” (Bordwell & Thompson, Film Art, 1980)
Media texts present versions of the world through the 'packaging' of events and
characters into stories. Such narratives may be extended and developed, as in film
dramas or documentary programmes where the whole 'story' is told. They may also be
continuous or serial narratives, such as television news broadcasts or soap operas. They
may also be mini-narratives, or narrative 'snapshots', limited or single narrative events
which leave the viewer to complete the narrative, a technique which is used in many
magazine or television advertisements). Narrative Flow is important because it keeps the
reader engrossed in the story being told and assists in building and maintaining a "willing
suspension of disbelief". Diegesis is the internal world created by the story that the
characters themselves experience and encounter.
A story is all events referenced both explicitly in a narrative and inferred (including back-story
as well as those projected beyond the action) whilst a plot is the events directly incorporated
into the action of the text and the order in which they are presented.
In terms of narrative range, unrestricted narration is a narrative which has no limits to the
information that is presented, whereas a restricted narration only offers minimal information
regarding the narrative. In terms of narrative depth, subjective character identification is
where the viewer is given unique access to what a range of characters see and do and
objective character identification is where the viewer is given unique access to a characters
point of view, such as seeing things from the character‟s mind etc..
MODULAR NARRATIVES IN CONTEMPORARY CINEMA
- ALLAN CAMERON
Modular narratives “articulate a sense of time as divisible and subject to manipulation”,
there are 4 different types that have been identified:
1) ANACHRONIC – Involves the use of flashbacks and/or flash forwards, with no clear
dominance between any of the narrative threads. These narratives also repeat
scenes directly or via a different perspective.
2) FORKING-PATH – Narratives juxtapose alternate versions of a story, showing the
possible outcomes that might result from small changes in a single event or group of
events. It offers a number of plot lines that usually contradict one another.
3) EPISODIC – Narratives are organised as an abstract series or narrative anthology.
Abstract series type of modular is characterised by the operation of a non-narrative
formal system which appears to dictate the organisation of narrative elements such
as a sequence of numbers or the alphabet.
4) SPLIT SCREEN – Different from other types of modular narratives, their modularity is
articulated along spatial rather than temporal lines. These films divide the screen into
two or more frames, juxtaposing events in the same visual field, in a sustained fashion,
BARTHES‟ 5 codes: The Hermeneutic Code, The Proairectic Code, The
Semantic Code, The Symbolic Code and The Cultural Code.
TZVETAN TODOROV’S NARRATIVE THEORY
There is the initial concept of applying 3 acts to every narrative, EQUILLIBRIUM,
DISRUPTION/DIS-EQUILLIBIRUM, EQUILLIBIRUM. Equilibrium, disequilibrium and new
equilibrium are the three main driving points of a movie. Within most movies at the start,
equilibrium exists (this means there an existing state of harmony at the beginning of the
movie. Later on in the movie, there is a disequilibrium which is when the equilibrium is
disrupted by an unfortunate event or evil character that would then lead to a chain of
events involving conflict. At the end of most if movies there is then a new equilibrium,
involving the evil forces being defeated, the conflict being resolved and harmony
existing once more.
Todorov suggested that conventional narratives are structured in 5 stages:
1) A state of equilibrium at the outset;
2) A disruption of the equilibrium by some action;
3) A recognition that there has been a disruption;
4) An attempt to repair the disruption;
5) A reinstatement of the equilibirum.
APPLYING TO FILM NARRATIVE
The Hangover is a 2009 American comedy film, co-produced
and directed by Todd Philips and written by Jon Lucas and
Scott Moore. It is the first film of The Hangover franchise. It
tells the story of Phil Wenneck, Stu Price and Alan Garner,
who travel to Las Vegas for a bachelor party to celebrate
their friend Doug‟s impending marriage. However, Phil, Stu
and Alan have no memory of the previous night's events
and must find Doug before the wedding can take place; it is
known for being the best comedy of this time.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzhlV6Dzvus < TRAILER
In terms of Todorov‟s narrative structure, the equilibrium to begin with is portrayed by the friends
relaxing and enjoying the preparation for Doug‟s bachelor party by having a costly suite and
letting the night unfold with shots on the roof. The disruption however is what seems a number
of things to start, a tiger in the bathroom, complete memory loss of the previous night and
finding a baby in the closet. The most important and dawned on fact though is that they have
lost their due-to-be wed friend Doug and have no recollection of where he is. The plot unfolds
by finding clues and tracing their steps (or what they can remember) of what on earth
happened while they were mistakenly drugged by comical Alan. They come closer to finding
new equilibrium as the plot continues and finally near the end find Doug sunburnt and badly
dehydrated on the roof with his mattress, and at that moment up to the wedding, equilibrium is
VLADIMIR PROPP’S NARRATIVE THEORY
Vladimir Propp was a Soviet formalist scholar who analysed the basic plot components of
Russian folk tales to identify their simplest irreducible narrative elements. He broke up fairy tales
into sections and through these sections he was able to define the tale into a series of
sequences that occurred within the Russian fairytale. He also concluded that all characters
could be resolved into 7 broad character functions in the 100 tales he analysed. He
suggested that characters took on the role of narrative „spheres of action‟ or functions. From
a comprehensive study or folktales Propp came up with seven different character types:
1) THE HERO – usually male, the agent who restores the narrative equilibrium often by
embarking on a quest or search.
2) THE VILLIAN – Usually creates the narrative disruption
3) THE DONOR – Gives the hero something, It may be an object, information or advice.
Which helps in resolution of the narrative.
4) THE HELPER – Aids the hero in the task of restoring equilibrium
5) THE PRINCESS – The victim, usually the character most threatened by
the villain and has to be saved, at the climax, by the hero.
6) THE DISPACHER – Sends the hero on his/her task
7) THE FALSE HERO – Appears to be good but is revealed,
at the narratives end, to have been bad.
APPLYING PROPP TO FILM - (THE HANGOVER)
The main protagonist Phil
would be the hero and who
saves the day by finding
Doug. He is conventionally
the most attractive,
intelligent and leader of the
Alan, the man comical
character, would be the
helper as he aids Phil. He
could also be the false hero
as he turns out to be the one
that drugged the wolf pack,
causing severe memory loss
Stu would be another
helper, the story is based
around him, Alan and Phil
trying to restore the
equilibrium that was
disrupted by one night out
Doug would most likely take
the role of The Princess.. well,
the victim. We think Mr Chow is
going to kill him so Phil, Stu and
Alan have to make money to
save him. Their initial mission
was to find him in time for his
Mr Chow would in these
circumstances be The Villain.
We think he puts Doug in
danger by threatening to kill
him, which causes more
disruption to the narrative.
This Doctor would be
seen as The Donor as he
gives Phil evidence
about the previous night
to lead him on the right
trail, helping restore
Mike Tyson would also be
a donor, he shows the
boys video footage
which reinforces the idea
that Doug is alive,
helping them on their
Stu‟s Vegas wife, Jade,
could take multiple roles
such as The Donor and The
Helper as she gives them
information but also helps
them in winning money to
help save Doug
In conclusion, narrative theorists including Todorov and Propp have
made roles and functions that could apply to any narrative to help
tell a particular story. In many cases, narratives follow conventions
to make climaxes and resolutions, as well as the main character
taking the role of what predominantly could be seen as the Hero
with many other character types fitting in successfully. However,
some modern day narratives have progressed further than what
Propp originally identified in regards to character type, for example
what at first could be seen as the Hero could in fact all along be
the Villain. Character roles can subvert and change depending on
the narrative‟s circumstances and that is what help create original
and interesting narratives, not following a specific structure. In
many cases though, the stable structure of narrative is evident
through many immensely successful films and so this is down to the
3 stage structure involving the reinstatement of equilibrium.
A particular slide catching your eye?
Clipping is a handy way to collect important slides you want to go back to later.