Narrative Theories In Films TzvetanTodorov: Equilibrium Disruption of Equilibrium Reordered Equilibrium Vladimir Propp: 8 Character Types. Roland Barthes, 5 Codes: Enigma Action Semantic Symbolic Cultural. Claude Levi-Strauss: Binary Oppositions. Chris Vogler: The 12 ‘stages’ of the hero’s journey. Many films portray these narrative theories very clearly in just the opening...
Tzvetan Todorov Todorov stated that all narratives have a basic structure: 1. Films start with a stable equilibrium which is calm. 2. An event then occurs which disrupts the equilibrium. 3. Something/somebody then fixes the disruption and re-orders the equilibrium.
Vladimir Propp He established 8 character types: 1. The hero (who is usually motivated by a lack of a particular something) 2. The villain (who struggles against the hero) 3. The donor (prepares the hero by usually giving him a special quality) 4. The dispatcher (sends the hero on his quest) 5. The helper (helps the hero) 6. The princess (the hero wants her but some sort of evilness such as the villain is in the way. The narrative usually ends with the princess and hero marrying though) 7. The false hero (who tries to marry the princess or takes credit for hero’s actions) 8. The princess’s father These roles could be spread amongst characters and one character could take on more than one role. This theory can be applied to SHREK. Shrek is the hero who is rewarded with Princess Fiona. The helper is Donkey. The dispatcher and donor is King Farquaad. The false hero is prince charming.
Roland Barthes He established 5 codes: 1. Enigma code – This refers to an element of a narrative which is not explained and raises questions amongst the audience. For example, in the opening of American Beauty the girl wishes death upon her father which makes the audience wonder why? 2. Action code - This refers to an action which implies a further action, and therefore, it gets the audience guessing what is going to happen next. The enigma and action codes work together to build suspense and tension to keep the audience interested. 3. Semantic code – This refers to the connotations in the narrative which give additional meaning to the actual basic meaning of a particular shot/scene of a narrative. 4. Symbolic code – This code is similar to the semantic code. However, it acts on a more broader level. It refers to how it organises semantic meanings. It refers to when two elements with connotations are placed in opposition/brought together. 5. Cultural code – This refers to anything in the text which refers to an external body of knowledge such as historical, religious or scientific knowledge.
Chris Vogler He establishes 12 stages of the hero’s journey: 1. Ordinary world 2. Call to adventure 3. Refusal 4. Meeting with mentor 5. Crossing the threshold 6. Tests, allies and enemies 7. Approach to the inmost cave 8. Supreme ordeal 9. Reward 10. Road back 11. Resurrection 12. Return with elixir
He looked upon narrative structure in terms of arrangement of themes; binary oppositions. He established binary oppositions as elements with opposite values which reveal the structure of media texts. Some examples of binary oppositions are:
Terminator 2 In the opening scene, there are many uses of binary oppositions, from Levi Strauss’s theory. For example, it sets a sense of ‘good VS evil’. This is shown through the use of sound, and the use of fighting in the opening scene. It also uses ‘human VS machinery’. There are humans fighting against machinery. There is a sense of “peace VS war” because there is clearly conflict. It also uses enigma codes which is part of Barthes’s theory The opening scene sets an enigma code because it makes the audience want to know how and why they died?
American Beauty This film opens with the use of various enigma codes (Roland Barthes theory). Firstly, the girl character wishes death upon her father. This makes the audience think ‘why does she have so much hatred for her father?’ Then, the voice-over of a male character stating he will die. This makes the audience think ‘why and how is he going to die?’ There are also various binary oppositions in the opening (Claude Levi-Strauss theory). Some include: