Types of Narrative
The Narrative of a film is quite frankly how the story within it is told. There are multiple different types of narrative, which include Linear and non linear, single stranded or multi-stranded, open or closed and realistic or non realistic.
To begin, Linear Narratives exist when the story within the film starts at the beginning of the story, progresses to the middle and then to the end. The story is told in chronological order. On the other hand, a non linear narrative is not in chronological order; the movie can begin with the stories ending and then show the beginning. Film Blogger Salil Shankar compared Linear and Non Linear Narratives to a mathematical equation. On a graph with x and y, the straight line passing through the origin would be linear, while a curved, not straight line would be non linear. An example of a linear movie is The Hunger Games (2012), where it starts with Katnis unexpectedly being chosen to take part in a dangerous and deadly game, progresses to when the games take place and finishes with the end of the games. A nonlinear film example could be 500 Days of Summer (2009), where the film starts off with the main character Tom Hansen, looking back and reminiscing on his past relationship.
Furthermore, a Single Stranded narrative is one where only one story is covered throughout the movie, and does not have multiple stories being told at the same time. As all films do, it does include subplots, but these would mainly involve character development and a background to the main story occurring. On the contrast, multi stranded narratives involve many stories being told at the same time. This is especially apparent in TV shows and soap operas, where the multiples of stories occurring is what keeps more episodes coming. Examples of this are Breaking Bad (2013) and Friends (2004). Blogger Jake Shore (2016) rightly pointed out that complex narratives, such as multi stranded ones, do not necessarily mean that they are more entertaining and better made than simple, single stranded ones. “Some of the greatest stories ever told have been simple narratives with just a single strand.”
Moreover, open narratives are stories within the movie where the ending is not completely final or shut down, but there is a possibility for a continuation, or different types of endings depending on what the audience takes from it. A closed narrative is the opposite of this, as the story within the film finishes with a final solution at the end of the film. An example of an open narrative film is Inception (2010). A main concept in the film, is when a character spins a special thumnail, if it keeps spinning and does not stop, it means that they are not in the real world, and are in fact dreaming. In order to leave this dream and enter back into the real world, they must kill themselves. Leonardo Di Caprio plays the main character Mol in this film and after having completed a risky task of entering this dreamworld and struggling to get out, he spins the thumbnail one last time, just to make sure he is actually back in his real home, with his real family. It is expected that the thumbnail will stop spinning, but the film ends before the audience could even know. The clip is shown below. An example of a closed narrative is the film About Time (2013) where a number of years are compressed into a 2 hour film. It involves a man with the ability to ravel back in time, to change or relive past moments. Its ends with this character, Tim Lake, reflecting on the simple pleasures of life and finishes with a very formal ‘The End’ finish. It’s a very ‘feel good’ ending, and has closure. The final clip is also shown below.
(Sorbinful’s Channel 2010)
Realism can be defined as “an absence of style and more linked towards real life”. Realistic Narratives mainly appear with Linear Narratives, where there is a clear and defined beginning, middle and end. They are typically based on cycles that occur in real life, for example adolescence, birth, or death. Film Directors Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne are very passionate about making their films as aesthetic and realistic as possible, while addressing important social issues. The Child (L’Enfant) (2005) is a Belgian movie and in a particular scene realism is highlighted. As described by blogger Tony McKibbin, “there is a high degree of suspense, but this tension comes out of not the privileged and impressive cross-cutting of a chase sequence, but the absence of cross-cutting.” The main character in the film sells his new-born baby to the black market and as he hands the money through a gap in the wall, the viewer stays with this character, so that the audience to has to wait with him to find out what exactly happens with the child. They are seeing things entirely from his perspective, and we are left in the dark, unaware of the fate of this child.
An Unrealistic narrative on the other hand is when the story of a film is told in a non realistic way. The sequence of events is not something that would happen in real life. The Film Sliding Doors (1998) is an example of this, as the film shows two parallel lives of the main character Helen; one as a result of he missing her train one morning, and the other as a result of her taking it. The story takes the audience on two different adventures of the same woman as the movie progresses. Something like this could never happen in real life, and because of this, the film narrative is classed as unrealistic. It is important that different Narrative Styles are often told in that particular way for a reason other than to engage the audience, but contributes to the film’s themes, characterisation and issues raised. This Film for instance addresses the issue of identity in the 90’s Britain. Moya Luckett (2000) commented that ‘Sliding Doors indicates that national identity requires some “authenticity’, despite its ultimate endorsement of glamour, the
superficial and the magical.’.
Moreover, certain techniques are used within a Narrative, to aid in the storytelling of a film. These can include the use of Voice Overs and Indents. Voice Overs involve an actors or narrators voice being recorded outside of production and placed over the visuals within a movie. They can provide a deeper meaning to a scene and give insight to what goes through the character mind, something that is hard to portray visually. For example, if a movie were based on a book, the book would allow for better characterisation of a character, as so many of their thoughts and descriptions are explained outside of dialog, and are a huge contribution to the story within the literature. A Voiceover, can give a similar effect in a movie. It is also essential in explaining things that are not made clear to the audience in the acting or dialog. To clear up what might be a complicated plot that is hard to keep up with, the use of a voiceover would be extremely effective.
(J Pf 2016)
In this ending scene, a voice over is used to communicate to the audience Agu’s thoughts and mind-set after the traumatic experience of being forced into becoming a child soldier. The voice over is present where dialog would be inappropriate, as the context of the scene involves him being reluctant to talk about the experiences he had. Despite this, the audience is still able to know what he is thinking. It also explains some of the visuals which were put in the form of a montage. Agu’s shivering, twisting and turning in bed is explained by the voice over saying ‘And I am knowing the feeling of the Brown Brown (a drug that mixes heroine with gunpowder, that he had taken), and the jumba in my blood’. Furthermore, through voice over, this scene also gives the audience an idea of exactly what kind of place he is now in, and what he is doing there.
In addition, indentions are extremely helpful in letting the audience know the time or place of a location in a film, making the decoding of the storyline easier for the audience. In the image shown below, the text on the screen is to let the audience know what the text message that they received sent. This is another way that indenting can be used, and is a creative alternative to showing the audience the actual message displayed on the phone.
I open my eyes to the loud shrieking of my baby brother, his cries echoing throughout our cramped flat. It’s 10 minutes later… he’s louder now. “Ughhhh shut up!” I hear my mother shout from the room adjacent to mine. Little Benjamin’s bawling stops for a split second but then continues with even more rage. I shut my eyes tight and try to block out everything, replace it even, with something that makes me smile, makes my body light up and glow with oranges and golds, instead of the dull greys and black that I usually feel. ” Good Morning hun!” my mum skips into my room, drawing the curtains to let the sunshine sprinkle onto my face. I smell bacon and pancakes, and I feel my face warm into a smile. My beautiful mother leans in to kiss me.. “WAKE UP STUPID!” My eyes open once again, but this time to my mothers hands violently shaking my shoulders. “Are you deaf? Haven’t you heard me calling you for the past half hour?” I quickly jump out of bed, treading over the mess covering my bedroom floor to fumble for a clean uniform.
As I enter the kitchen, my mother has Benjamin swung onto one hip, her other hand being used to apply mascara as she looks at her reflection projected onto the window. I do think she is beautiful and I know she loves underneath this persona she puts on. It’s not her fault either, it’s the stuff that she uses, she puts it up her nose. She says it makes her feel better, but it’s the source of this darkness I feel, and the dullness that surrounds me. As I head towards the door, my mother turns around to face me abruptly. “No no, you don’t have to take the bus today doll,” she says, a little too bubbily. ‘Steve’s giving us a lift in his car!” she puts her mascara down and plonks Benjamin into my hands like a parcel, fumbling on the counter for her pack of cigarettes and a lighter. “Isn’t that nice eh?”. A lump forms in my throat. Steve. I hate Steve.
“Alright everyone in ya go!”He definitely sounds too jolly for a Monday morning. As he ushers my mother, little brother and myself into his green Renault, I feel as uneasy as ever. I normally feel uneasy whenever he pops round our flat, or whenever he looks at my mum the way he does, but today was different. His eyes are dazed and empty, he wreaks of weed and stale alcohol. As the car engine starts, and a shiver runs down my spine, I shut my eyes and drift into a world where I can pretend I feel safe. There’s laughter, and warmth. My dad is there too. I knew he’d never leave us, he’s what keeps mum happy without her having to use the ‘funny stuff’. He’s telling us a joke now, and we’re all hysterical with giggles, our stomach’s hurting from laughing uncontrollably. “Stop!” I exclaim through the chuckling, “Stop hunny I can’t breathe!” mummy gasps happily. “STOP STEVE!”I open my eyes once again, and it’s worse than I could ever have prepared myself for. Benjamin’s shrieks are as ear-splitting as they have ever been, my head is squashed to the floor of the car, thumping violently. My entire body is covered in aches. I hear all the caious and nothing at all at the same time. I can’t even hear my own screams.
“…she’s had severe injury in her left leg.. it’s lost a lot of blood, and amputation might have to be an option”. They’re talking about Mum. I am still shaking perfusily, but now I’m in a hospital. My Nan stands right next to me, there is so much pain in her eyes I can’t bare to look. I grab her fragile hand and squeeze it as tight as I can. The doctor stands before us, her body radiates regret and sorrow. “A-a-and what about my Susan?” My nan stutters, trying desperately to keep her voice from shaking. ” I’m fine Nan, see?” I interrupt before the doctor can say anything. She looks at me and smiles slightly, grabbing my hand tightly and leaning in to kiss my bandaged head. “My head hurts a little bit but other than that I’m fine Nan, really” I ramble as if trying to convince myself aswell. She slowly releases me hand, and walks off, leaving me standing in the hospital corridor. Finding a seat, she collapses delicately, placing her head in her hands. She is so perfectly still as she whispers to herself, “I’m so so sorry I let this happen… so so sorry..” I’ve never felt as dark and empty as I feel now, I shut my eyes desperately trying to escape this cruel world, but nothing can erase the images floating around my head, the screams, the blood… “Mummy!!” My eyes are filled with tears now. “MUMMY!” I scream. But no one seems to take any notice of me. “Darling…” I follow her voice, and it leads me to a small hospital room. My mother lies on the bed closest to the door, while an elderly lady sits up right on the bed to the other side of the room.
“Come here babygirl,” my mothers voice is cold and strained. “I’m sorry, for everything. I’m sorry I’m your mother. I should never have even had you- you and little Benji” she gasps as she says his name. “Im sorry-” she continues. “Don’t Mama, don’t say that.” my voice is on the verge of tears, and hers is too. I look into her eyes but she is not looking at me. They seem distant, as if I’m not even here. “I love you mummy, I love you and I know you love me too” I scream out between sobs, trying to get her to notice me. “Things aren’t perfect, b-but we can make them better I promise”. She shakes her head slightly. I look up as I hear a chuckle from across the room. “No point in dreaming now is there darling,” The old lady’s voice is crackly and witch like. ” You can dream all you like, she snickered, “but in the end, reality will come crashing down on you!” Her face all of a sudden turns completely serious. “I should know, “she mumbles, as she shakes her arm with tubes connected to a drip.
I open my eyes to a ceiling fan spinning round and round. I try to let my eyes follow every time the wings of the fan go around until my head gets even more dizzy. As I turn my head to the left, I see my father. He is blank and expressionless. In contrast, my Nan is consumed in emotion. Tears stream down her face as she twists the beads of her rosary and utters prayers. Doctors scram all around me shouting orders at each other. Alas, I let my imagination get the better of me. Suddenly everything and everyone is silent. Grief and sadness clog the air, but I don’t feel empty. I feel those amazing gold and orange colours swirling around in my body like never before. I don’t know why, but I feel happy and whole, and I close my eyes for the final time.
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