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Narrative Theory

Narrative theory refers to the way events are revealed in a film, rather than the actual plot of the film, and offers a way of organising the events in the story and allows the audience to view the events of a film in a pattern and order that real life occasionally lacks. As described by Alvarado, the construction of narrative involves the “process of selection and organisation which structure and order the material narrated so that it can be invested with significance and meaning”, suggesting that narrative theory allows the audience to develop a deeper meaning to the film, thus making it more enjoyable and interesting for the viewer. Barthes coined the term, ‘the death of the author’, emphasising the importance of symbolism and meaning in films and literature, and that people will continue to make their own assumptions on the meaning of films.

Narrative structures can be linear, open, closed or circular. I believe that my film would be classed as having a circular structure, as the narrative begins at the end of the events and the audience are taken back to when the events began. In my film, we start on the allotment after the murder and are taken back to see the murder unfold. Narrative devices also help drive the narrative theory and can manipulate the sequence that events are revealed. For example, my film features a flashback to the murder; thus providing necessary information about the character’s past and helps the audience to understand the reason behind there being a dead body under the allotment. Close ups of significant objects are also a key narrative device featured in my film. The close up of the finger shows the audience why he is so protective and the close up of the shovel suggests that it will be important to the plot without disclosing why. My film also features an ellipsis, cutting out part of my film to manipulate the narrative and keep the viewers guessing. My film doesn’t show how the man actually got the woman to the allotment and buried her, but this would have made the film much longer and our A2 coursework projects had to be around five minutes.

Barthes discussed 5 codes that a film’s narrative could fit into, to help separate and analyse each films narrative theory: the Hermeneutic code, the Enigma/ Proairetic code, the Semantic code, the symbolic code and the cultural code. First of all, he created the Hermeneutic code. A film where the narrative avoids telling the truth of revealing all of the facts in a film, thus helping to add to the mystery. I feel like my film fits into the Hermeneutic code based on the importance of the flashback, however my film’s narrative does eventually reveal all when we see Andy murder his wife at the end, detracting from the mystery. Next he discussed the Enigma / Proairetic code, the way tension is built up and the audience is left guessing as to what will happen next. I feel like Green Fingers also follows this code, as its aim was to build up the tension and make the audience wonder why Andy is so protective of his allotment. By distinguishing these narrative codes, one is able to create a film with deeper meaning.

Strauss was also a philosopher who spent time analysing narrating theory. He noticed the concept of binary opposition and applied it to the narrative of films. Strauss’ theory is the theory that conflict is based around binary opposite, making these central to the climax of narrative structure. His theory can be applied to Green Fingers when considering that men and women can be seen as binary opposites, and therefore the contrast between genders creates the ultimate climax of my film, the murder scene. Andy, uses his masculine power to control his wife. By considering the use of binary opposites.

When looking at narrative theory, Propp noticed that similar events were repeated throughout native storie. He then broke down these events into a further 31 narrative functions, which always appear in a certain orders. He notices that the plot was driven by the protagonist, but the narrative functions are shared between the main characters of the plot. The main character categories are: the villain, the donor, the dispatcher and the anti hero. Propp’s theory applies to the characters in Green Fingers, as Andy could be seen as the villain because he murdered his wife. Helen could be seen as the donor, as she is effectively the ‘damsel in distress’ looking to escape her unhappy marriage. Less obviously, it could be said that the person on the phone to Helen is the dispatcher, as they are trying to console her through her marital issues. Propp’s theory helps to understand the character’s role within the narrative functions, and how each role develops the story and the audience’s understanding as these are all well known characters in media.

Todorov looked at the narrative state of films, and noticed a recurring formulae in the way that events and tension unfolded throughout the plot. At the beginning, there is equilibrium which is a state of calm that represents the ‘normal life’ in the world of the narrative. The equilibrium in my short film may be the shots of Andy tending to his allotment, making him seem like a typical gardener. Next is the disruption of order; something happens to alter the equilibrium that is seen in the beginning of the film. For my coursework, this would be when the gentleman steps on the allotment and the audience sees a more aggressive side to the main character or when Andy kills his wife. Next is the recognition of disruption, when the protagonist realise what has happened and try to find a solution. It is unclear where this aspect would feed into my film, perhaps if Andy tried to recussitate his wife this may class as recognition. The attempt at resolution follows, where the protagonists devise and try out a plan they believe will resolve the issue. In Green Fingers, although unseen, this would be when Andy buried the body to prevent going to jail for murder. And finally, there’s the new equilibrium, where the problem is solved and equilibrium returns, which is evident in my short film when he covers the finger with soil, suggesting that his problems have been hidden once again.

Ultimately, narrative theory discusses multiple areas within the way a story is presented to an audience. Through using narrative theory, it is clear that there are many complexities in creating an interesting and well told film.