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Narrative Analysis

Page history last edited by Air Dupaix 14 years, 7 months ago


A narrative can be considered to be the chain of events in a cause-effect relationship occurring in time and space (1). In order to analyze the narrative of a film, we need to first make the distinction between the plot of the film and the story of the film. This is sometimes referred to as the discourse and story of a film (1). Narrative may also be called the story thought story mainly refers to the events that describe the narrative(2).




The term “plot” describes all the aspects of the film that are visibly and audibly presented to the viewer (1). This description of plot includes the story events and both diegetic and nondiegetic elements of a film (1). The plot can also be described as the events that take place to work towards some sort of emotional or artistic goal relating to what the story is based on such as the characters or conflicts that occur in the story. Some stories may use something called a plot device. A plot device is something that has only one purpose and that is to advance the plot. Some call this bad writing unless the plot device has several other purposes other than just advancing the plot.


     In our working 2001: A Space Odyssey example, the nondiegetic intertitles are a good example of an element helping to develop the plot, but not the story of the film. When the words, “Jupiter Mission: Eighteen Months Later,” flash across the screen, a new element of the plot is developed because the audience is now more aware of the specific time and place of the action about to take place. Most likely, there will be no outside inferences based on this caption alone, so this is a nondiegetic plot element rather than a story element.





The story of a film comes from a collaboration of both the information directly presented to the viewer by way of what is seen and heard in the film and the inferences made by the audience after viewing and listening to the information that has been given (1). Although not all aspects of the story are inferred. You may use story interchangeably with narrative but the main difference is that story is the sequence of events used to describe the narrative(2).


     A good example of when a viewer infers a large amount of information that is not directly given to them can be found in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Numerous times in this film, the ominous monolith is seen on screen and after a character in the film touches the monolith, some new event takes place. As an audience, we infer not only that the monolith had some sort of control on the new event taking place, such as the early primates using bones as tools and weapons, but also that the monolith represents some sort of superior being (perhaps a deity or alien life form). These events that take place are what tell the story. The monolith though it is needed to advance the plot of the story is not a plot device because it symbolizes things other than just being there to advance the plot line. The events that take place afterwards tell the story in one reading of how tools in humankind's history have always been used for violence. Never in the film is the origin or meaning of the monolith directly displayed or told to audience, but the inferences made about the mysterious structure help develop the story of 2001 to each individual as they interpret it for themselves. 



     Trying to keep story and plot exclusive would make the distinction between them quite confusing. They overlap in one respect but are different in others. The overlap comes from the plot encompassing story events. The plot of a film differs from the story in that the nondiegetic aspects of the film influence the plot. The story element of a film’s narrative, however, includes those inferences made by the viewer but not directly viewed in the film. So the plot of something is the way in which and through what events the narrative is being told and the story is the central theme or base of what the film is communicating.




 Works Consulted

(1) Bordwell, David and Kristin Thompson. Film Art: An Introduction8th ed. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008.


(2) "Narrative -." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Web. 20 Nov. 200 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narrative>.

Comments (1)

Sean Desilets said

at 12:11 am on Nov 12, 2009

* Nice start, if combined with Sam's and Monty's efforts in this direction
* Seems to suggest that all story elements are inferred. Is that the case? (In fact, I think only story events that operate *outside* the plot fit in this category)
* "Discourse" and "plot" mean *slightly_ different things. May want to work out this distinction
* Why is this distinction useful?

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