Research Investigation          Sample C             A comparison of traditional and alternate narrative systems in film  ...
Research Investigation            Sample Cwhich explains characters’ motivation as the ‘back story’8. This can be applied ...
Research Investigation            Sample Ctemporal verisimilitude as the basic idea of time is challenged with the flashba...
Research Investigation               Sample Caudience from being completely shattered, we still sympathise with Leonard, e...
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Research investigation c

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Research investigation c

  1. 1. Research Investigation Sample C A comparison of traditional and alternate narrative systems in film As Thompson and Bordwell say, ‘Perhaps narrative is a fundamental way that humansmake sense of the world’1. This can be applied to a movie as audiences go to see a narrativeunfold and also according to them ‘We make sense of a narrative, then, by identifying its eventsand linking them by cause and effect, time and space’. This essay will analyse the differencesbetween traditional and alternate narrative systems in film, with particular focus on ‘Memento’,concentrating on these aspects of narrative. Regarding the aspect of time in film, Nick Lacey says ‘In conventional narrative, storiesmust always be chronologically constructed otherwise they would be judged to violate the rulesof our universe; they would destroy the rules of logical casuality which define narrative’2. In‘Memento’, Christopher Nolan works on the assumption that the audience have expectations ofhow a narrative works through temporal order and frequency, then he challenges theseexpectations so much that perhaps this challenging becomes the main attraction for a nicheaudience and exemplifies an alternate narrative system. The importance of time for narrativecan be emphasised by the view that ‘Time can be so central as to be almost incorporated as acharacter itself, or it can be subverted, altering the story and its effect on the viewer’3 This canbe applied to ‘Memento’ as time is the most enigmatic ‘character’ in the movie, it alters ourperceptions of the story, characters and our point of identification. However, in order for themovie not to be totally incomprehensible, there are scenes in the movie which are shot in blackand white and reflect a sense of parallelism. They alter the effect on the viewer by becoming agift to them, they are a flashsideways and therefore the nearest thing to present. They areconstant which makes it easier for the audience to understand the movie as a whole. With regards to plot and story, Shlovsky distinguished them by using the terms fabulaand syuzhet4. The plot (syuzhet) is described by Thwaites et Al as ‘Like a signifier, it is what the[audience] perceives’5 whereas he acknowledges the story as ‘Like a signified, story is what thereader conceives or understands’6. Therefore, the difference between the two is that the plot iswhat is explicitly presented to the audience through being ‘visibly and audibly presented in thefilm before us’7 through diegetic material and non diegetic material which can be applied to themusic and Leonard’s voiceover in ‘Memento’. Whereas, the story is what the audience caninterpret from the movie and build perceptions about the characters and the narrative as awhole. According to Lacey, ‘Hollywood executives often refer to this background information,1 Page 89- Thompson and Bordwell (Narrative as a formal system)2 Page 18 – Narrative and Genre by Nick Lacey3 Page 60 – The Power of time – Media Magazine – Emma Louise Howard4 Page 18 – Narrative and Genre by Nick Lacey5 Page 18 – Narrative and Genre by Nick Lacey6 Page 19 – Narrative and Genre by Nick Lacey7 Page 92- Thompson and Bordwell (Narrative as a formal system)
  2. 2. Research Investigation Sample Cwhich explains characters’ motivation as the ‘back story’8. This can be applied to ‘Memento’ asthe audience identify with Leonard and understand his motives for revenge, even though themurder of his wife or his attack is not explicitly presented in the plot. With further reference tothe plot of a narrative, Thompson and Bordwell say ‘We create the story in our minds on thebasis of cues in the plot’9. However, in ‘Memento’, the lack of chronology means cues in the plotare not in the right order, which Nolan has done to reinforce the alternate structure and presenta challenge for the audience. As Thompson and Bordwell said when discussing temporal order‘We are quite accustomed to presenting events out of story order. This does not confuse usbecause we mentally rearrange the events into the order in which they would logically have tooccur’. This adds to the challenging appeal of the movie for an audience who perhaps do thisnaturally whilst watching the movie. With further regards to temporal order, Bordwell and Thompson said when talkingabout Pulp Fiction that ‘By coming at the film’s conclusion, these portions receive an emphasisthey would not have if they remained in their chronological story order’ 10. This can also beapplied to ‘Memento’, as in the last scene, the audience are presented with an idea of Leonard’strue motives which would have failed to force an identification between the protagonist and thedecoder if this was shown at the beginning of the movie. One way of looking at the conclusion isthe idea that it acts as a huge character twist as we discover that Teddy, who had beenportrayed throughout the movie as the villain, could actually be the hero. However, One primary aspect of narrative in film is narrative structure. In a conventional movielike ‘The Proposal’ It exemplifies Todorov’s theory of narrative structure, which states that afilm begins with an equilibrium, conquers a disruption, to create a new, different equilibrium atthe end of a movie11. In this movie, the equilibrium is that the two protagonists dislike eachother but face a disruption of having to pretend to be en engaged couple in order to prevent thefemale protagonist, Margaret, from being deported and conquer this disruption by falling in loveand therefore creating a new equilibrium where they are together. ‘The proposal’ also fits thenarrative system of Annette Kuhn, who summarised the characteristics of a conventionalnarrative as having ‘Linearity of cause and effect within an overall trajectory of enigma-resolution, A high degree of narrative closure, A fictional world governed by spatial andtemporal verisimilitude, centrality of the narrative agency of psychologically-roundedcharacters’ 12. However, as for ‘Memento’, this movie cannot be classified easily by theories ofnarratives such as Todorov’s and Kuhn’s, there isn’t a fictional world governed by spatial and8 Page 16 – Narrative and Genre by Nick Lacey9 Page 93- Thompson and Bordwell (Narrative as a formal system)10 Page 97- Thompson and Bordwell (Narrative as a formal system)11 The Media Student’s Book – Page 4512 Narrative and Genre – Page 121
  3. 3. Research Investigation Sample Ctemporal verisimilitude as the basic idea of time is challenged with the flashbacks and flashforwards never depicting the present. However, the narrative does have aspects of linearity. Theaudience know the resolution they are looking for and the narrative is mostly linear, albeit inthe wrong way compared to conventional narratives. Also, there is cause and effect in themovie; however the audience learn the effect of Leonard’s actions before the cause of himcommitting them. For example, it could be argued that the conclusion of the movie uses anunconventional narrative structure to set up a conventional narrative closure; there is aresolution to the dominant enigma code of the movie which is why Teddy was killed at thebeginning of the movie. According to Warren Buckland, ‘Films do not need to represent thecause-and-effect logic of a film in chronological order’13, which means that even if the idea ofbasic cause-and-effect logic is challenged in narrative, the audience can still understand thenarrative. The most interesting characteristic of Kuhn’s theory when it comes to ‘Memento’ is theidea of ‘centrality of the narrative agency of psychologically-rounded characters’. AlthoughLeonard has brain damage and is not psychologically well, identification is created between theencoder and decoder for this likeable character, he appears to be humorous and simplysearching for justice for his dead wife who he loved. This identification between encoder anddecoder is emphasised by the fact narrative devices are used in the film such as flashbacks andflash forwards to create a complicated narrative structure which reflects the uncertainty of theprotagonist’s psychological state. Also, as Lacey says ‘Characters can only perceive diegeticmaterial whereas the audience, obviously, can perceive everything a text has to offer, includingnon diegetic material.14 Regarding the non diegetic material in ‘Memento’, Leonard’s voiceoverbuilds a connection between the protagonist; Leonard and the audience which is intensified bythe sense of Leonard’s isolation as no one can hear it but the audience can. The identification isalso reinforced by the editing as Leonard is in almost every shot and extreme close up and closeup shots of him are used for the entirety of the movie. Another aspect of the narrative whichforces a point of identification is the restricted narration. When discussing restricted narrationin ‘Taxi Driver’, Buckland says ‘The flow of narrative information is filtered through a singlecharacter’,15 this can be applied to Memento, the audience completely connect with him and hisside of the story because we only discover new clues when he does so we go on the journey withhim. Additionally, in the final scene, the audience discover that Leonard kills Teddy because hehas only created the puzzle in his mind of his wife’s killer to satisfy his needs for a challenge inlife. The restricted narration prevents the identification made between Leonard and the13 Teach yourself Film Studies (Warren Buckland) – Page 4914 Narrative and Genre – Page 1915 Teach yourself Film Studies (Warren Buckland) – Page 37
  4. 4. Research Investigation Sample Caudience from being completely shattered, we still sympathise with Leonard, even if we don’tcompletely emphasise with him like we did at the start of the movie. However, perhaps the character types in the film switch for the audience in this finalscene. Regarding Propp’s theory of character types16, Leonard, the protagonist is depicted as theobvious hero throughout the movie, whereas Teddy, the man who Leonard killed at thebeginning, believing he is his wife’s killer is conveyed as the villain. Also, it can be questionedwhether the character Natalie is the princess, helper or villain. However, clear character typesare not established in the movie, so it depends on how the audience have interpreted the plot todecide which character fits each type e.g. Teddy could be the helper and Leonard could be thevillain. It also indicates that Nolan works on the assumption that the audience knows charactertypes, then breaks them which adds to the appeal of a challenging narrative for audiences andcontrasts the compliance to character types from the perspective of a conventional narrative.For example, in a movie such as Avatar, there is a clear hero, princess and helper which is notthe case for Memento. In conclusion, there are many aspects of narrative which can determine a clear contrastbetween traditional and alternate narratives. Although conventional narratives are simpler tointerpret and understand, alternate narratives can work on the assumption of the audienceknowing the aspects of traditional narrative to create a challenging appeal for an audience. Thisis reinforced by the successful audience response for films with alternate narrative systemssuch as ‘Inception’ and ‘Memento’.16 Narrative and Genre by Nick Lacey

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