Narrative Theory | 19.01.2018

 


“Apply the concept of Narrative to one of your coursework productions.”

Level 4 (21-25 marks).

Candidates demonstrate a clear understanding of narrative and relevant media theory and can relate concepts articulately to the production outcome, describing specific elements in relation to theoretical ideas about how media texts are constructed as narratives. Candidates offer a range of specific, relevant, interesting and clear examples of how their product can be understood in relation to relevant theories of narrative. The use of conceptual language is excellent.

Complex issues have been expressed clearly and fluently using a style of writing appropriate to the complex subject matter. Sentences and paragraphs, consistently relevant, have been well structured, using appropriate technical terminology. There may be few, if any, errors of spelling, punctuation and grammar

All media texts tell a story and narrative theory is concerned with how that story is constructed which leads to audience appeal which keeps them interested . By narrative theory, I mean the plot, locations, language, structure and character traits. There are five main theorists that I have explored, they are: Propp, Todorov, Strauss, Barthe and Cameron. In this essay, I am going to apply the concept of narrative and the five theories above to Disturbed MindDisturbed Mind is my A2 short film about a paranoid schizophrenic young adult whom describes their emotions and experiences in the form of a counselling session.

Vladimir Propp stated that all stories have the same general structure, he created eight defined character types and thirty-one narrative functions. However, Propp wrote his narrative structure theories in the 1900’s and based on his readings of Russian folk stories; Which means that some of these characters and functions can be seen in Disturbed Mind, but only very vaguely. Propp’s eight character types particularly apply to fairy tales, for example Sleeping beauty is a damsel in distress, Prince charming is the hero and Maleficent is the villain. This is an example whereby Propp’s character types fully apply. However, Disturbed Mind does not directly conform to Propp’s Character types, as there is no explicit hero/protagonist nor villain/antagonist- however it could be inferred that the patient is the hero, the counsellor is the helper and the schizophrenia itself is the villian. However, I feel that Propp’s eight character types are vastly out-dated compared to modern media texts as the theory is based on Russian Folk Stories of a fairytale theme. However, Propp suggests that the protagonist/hero seeks something or at least there is a lack of something. In Disturbed Mind, the narrative is driven by the protagonist looking for answers and aid to battle his Schizophrenia- which acts as the agonist in the plot, as the illness prevents the young adult from living a ‘normal’ and free life. This could be interpreted as a modern take on Propp’s character types. However Propp also created thirty-one narrative functions, once again based from his analysis of Russian Folk Stories. From these narrative functions, three can be chronologically applied to Disturbed Mind. Firstly, I could apply an interdiction to the narrative as the protagonist feels as though they cannot talk to anyone. Then there is the violation, whereby it is seen that the counsellor is not real nor present which was lead by the narrative function of trickery which was served by the mind, which as already established, is the mind and antagonist.

An alternate narrative theorist and device is the Bulgarian Tzvetan Todorov’s state of Equilibrium. He states that the narrative is sorted in a state of equilibrium, or normality. This normality is the ruptured by an external force, which he refers to as the disruption. This disruption is then recognised and repaired. Which then concludes with the reinstatement of the initial equilibrium. Once again Todorov’ narrative theory could be applied to Disturbed Mind, however the narrative structure is anachronic, and there is a state of equilibrium where the main antagonist is not featured. This includes the settings of a pub and playing outside, which establishes what everyday life for a ‘normal’ person is, and happiness. This then turns into a a constant state of disruption once the main protagonist is introduced, there are flashes between this disruption to his own equilibrium. However, there is never a resolution to this disruption, just further added disruption. Disturbed Mind‘s climax is the recognition of this disruption by the protagonist, as he realises that he is essentially trapped by his villainous illness. There is common similarity that both Propp and Todorov’s theories share, which is that their narrative structures are in fact predictable, particularly Todorov’s. However, as Disturbed Mind is a film on mental health thats intention is to enable the audience to engage with the patient’s mind, it could explain why it does not fit Todorov’s equilibrium structure, as Schizophrenia is an unpredictable illness.

A third stance on narrative structure is Levi-Strauss’ Binary Opposition. Strauss recognises that there is a constant creation of conflict and the narrative can only end with a resolution of this conflict, this is particularly applicable to horror films. For example in James Wan’s 2013 The Conjuring, there is conflict between the demonic Annabelle doll and the Perrson’s family whom where being haunted. The conflict, or binary opposition, in this narrative is confidence and rationality juxtaposing fear and the irrational. Strauss’ theory is the best applicable theory to the narrative of Disturbed Mind as the narrative is formed and displayed through juxtapositions of good and bad, company and isolation, sane and insane. Not only the narrative, but between the characters, there is an opposition of authority and a lack of control.

The next narrative theory that I am going to apply to Disturbed Mind, is Roland Barthe’s audience codes. The main codes that Barthe expressed were the proairetic and hermeneutic codes. The Proairetic code is also known as the action code as it builds tension and makes the audience guess and question what will happen next. With in Disturbed Mind there is no direct use of what Barthe would consider as proairetic, as there is little action; by action i mean race against time, or things that bring on a sense of urgency with in the audience. Instead, Disturbed Mind offers a more hermeneutic approach whereby a field of enigma is formed, as elements of the story are not fully explained, leading to the audience to create questions. At the ending of Disturbed Mind, it can be seen that the counselor set-up was an illusion, and this is a prime example of Barthe’s Hermeneutic narrative code/

Lastly, Allan Cameron stated that “Popular cinema has displayed a turn towards narrative complexity”, which caused him to create the Modular narrarives. This is a narrative theory concept that applies the best to my film because it is modern and up-to-date, unlike Propp’s 1900’s Russian Folk stories. Cameron talks about four key modular narratives. Firstly a forking path, where by the audience is shown different versions of the same event. Secondly, visually splitting the screen, this could be to show the audience a race against time between say James Bond and a ticking bomb. Episodic, which is not commonly used, but is a collection of short stories and lastly Anachronic. Anachronic narratives are flashbacks, juxtapositions and having an unclear rolling order to a film, for example Tarantino’s Pulp FictionDisturbed Mind can apply the concept of anachronic flashbacks and juxtaposition. In the ending sequence, there is a visual blurred flashback montage to show the suffering with in the patients mind, which is an example of this “Narrative Complexity” that Barthe speaks of.  And following onto Strauss’ binary oppositions, there is also juxtapositions between the narrative.

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One comment

  1. Katie

    The following is the exam board’s description of a level 4 answer, from the January 2013 mark scheme.

    Level 4 (21-25 marks).

    Candidates demonstrate a clear understanding of narrative and relevant media theory and can relate concepts articulately to the production outcome, describing specific elements in relation to theoretical ideas about how media texts are constructed as narratives. Candidates offer a range of specific, relevant, interesting and clear examples of how their product can be understood in relation to relevant theories of narrative. The use of conceptual language is excellent.

    Complex issues have been expressed clearly and fluently using a style of writing appropriate to the complex subject matter. Sentences and paragraphs, consistently relevant, have been well structured, using appropriate technical terminology. There may be few, if any, errors of spelling, punctuation and grammar

    I would mark your current answer as being Level 4, possibly 20/25.

    – Good coverage of the four main theorists.
    – Well written!
    – Need more explanation of your own film — you really need to describe it, as the examiner won’t have seen it.
    – When you say your film doesn’t really fit a theory, state why. There are marks in the explanation.
    – Think about alternative interpretations — what if someone else is the hero and someone else is the villain?
    – Your sections get shorter and shorter. The last one is quite rushed, especially when it comes to talking about your film.

    Like

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