The use of a voice over narrator is one method

The Relationship between Character and Narration

In his book onUnderstanding Film Texts: Meaning and Experience, Patrick Phillips describes the differentiation between a to the full formed character and the figures on screen who are their merely to supply organic structures to populate the dietary universe.

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“A character, as opposed to a figure who merely performs a narrative map, will hold a set of features and, in realist narrative, these will normally be seen to link straight or indirectly with the determinations they make and the actions they perform.” [ 1 ]

This essay will look at how closely narrative and character are connected, how characters create play from personal motive in some cases and how outside forces force them into dramatic state of affairss in others. The essay will besides see how voice over narrative affects the audiences apprehension of character, and briefly discuss the presentation of narrative and character in surrealist film.

Narrative movie is mostly concerned with people’s personal lives and ne’er so much more than in the Hollywood biopic. Audiences are frequently fascinated by the ‘true’ narratives of the celebrated and ill-famed. In many movies such asBeam( 2004 Taylor Hackford ) ,Blow( 2001 Ted Demme ) orWalk the Line( 2005 James Mangold ) , narrative discharge and character discharge are one and the same thing. Biopics of this nature frequently attempt to ‘get behind’ into the private lives of public figures in order to ‘fully’ understand the supporters character.

Character is defined by the manner that people react to the state of affairss they are faced with. ( The adult male who stays to contend the good battle is brave ; the adult male that flees is a coward. ) However the state of affairss that people find themselves in are likely to be caused by the character of a individual and the picks they make. The celebrated gap line ofGoodfellas( 1990 martin Scorsese ) is spoken by the supporter Henry Hill ( Ray Loitta ) in voiceover and merely provinces, ‘As far back as I can retrieve I ever wanted to be a gangster.” Henry is seduced by a life of offense at a really immature age by the mobsters that hang out in his vicinity. Their richness and frivolousness that they display by spend their clip imbibing out side the taxistand is in blunt contrast to the poorness and domestic force that he witnesses at place.

The class of Hills life is made clear during an gap flashback sequence in which we see briefly the adolescent old ages of Henry’s life. This sequence flood tide with Henry desribing how some male childs from the nieghbourhood carried his mother’s food markets home out of ‘respect’ whilst the screen depicts a frozen image of Henry running off from a auto detonation he had started. The ardent imagination is wholly clear ; Henry is on the way to hell.

Throughout the movie we see that Henry’s success as a mobster is mostly due to his natural appeal, personal appeal and intelligence, although he ne’er reaches a major place of power amongst the Mafia hierarchy. In a sequence set wondrous to the sounds of the piano outro from Eric Clapton’s vocal Layla, we see the death of the Lufthansa rip-off pack, each of the pack members has been murdered by Jimmy ( Robert de Niro ) who is himself paranoiac of being arrested. This sequence illustrates the regard for human life that the gangsters wholly lack, and highlights the dangers of the universe that Henry inhabits. We understand from this sequence that no affair how confident Henry of his place, there is no trueness or award amongst stealers and treachery by his friends is a really existent possibility.

Henry Hill’s character discharge is that of the rise and autumn. The autumn is either caused by a individual event or a defect or folly within the supporter themselves. In the scene taking up to his apprehension Henry is sweaty, gaunt and dying from excessively much cocaine usage. His visual aspect is wholly changed from the intimate and presentable adult male that we saw earlier in the movie. He has become a victim of his ain vibrant appetency for drugs and money. The drugs and greed have clouded his head and judgement and allowed him to do errors that have lead to his apprehension.

Henry Hill’s narrative discharge is defined by the picks that he makes throughout his life. Even when fortunes move beyond his control such as when he faces the pick between attesting against his friends and traveling to prison ; we can see that he has brought the state of affairs down upon himself through his ain character and his ain defects.

Goodfellasfollows a character and narrative discharge that is typical of the mobster genre. Generic conventions of motive and character are built-in to our apprehension of narrative ; they are the cinematic equivalent of fabulous motives in folklore. Phillips describes how acquaintance with storytelling tradition informs our apprehension of narrative. “We make intending from mention to our cognition of the universe and from our cognition of the conventions of movie storytelling, particularly genre.” [ 2 ] However many successful movies achieve their success through corruption of generic convention and storytelling tradition.

The Big Lebowski’srubric ( 1997 Joel Coen ) echoes the rubric of the authoritative movie noirThe Big Sleep( 1946 Howard Hawks. ) The movie itself contains many of the character originals and iconic motives of movie noir ; nevertheless the specific generic forms altered. The movie is a corruption of the genre. The movie Noir hero in the Phillip Marlowe mold is a tough, difficult imbibing, disreputable adult male who inhabits the seedy underworld of American life. He is motivated to work out of an obsessional professional irresistible impulse. InThe Big Lebowskithe hero is Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski ( Jeff Bridges ) has been mutated into an aging hippy whose comfy and lazy being is interrupted by destiny and circumstance.

In her book on narrative in new Hollywood film, Kristen Thompson establishes a nexus between character and narrative.

“In virtually all instances, the chief character in a classical Hollywood movie desires something, and that desire provides the forward drift for the narrative. Hollywood supporters, tend to be active, to seek out ends and prosecute them instead than holding ends merely thrust upon them. Almost constantly, the protagonist’s ends define the chief line of action.’

It is fortunate that Thompson has left room for exclusions in her analysis as The Dude is surely an exclusion. The Dude has no clear motive for anything other than his love of bowling. He seems to set about his function as private research worker because it is easier than disregarding it. As he proclaims himself when things start to acquire excessively involved, “The fellow merely wanted his carpet back! ”

It is happenstance that draws him into the movies secret plan and the will of others that keep him connected to it. Initially it is the fact that he portions a family name and is confused with ‘The Big Lebowski’ ( David Huddleston ) who is in problem with known scoundrel and porn merchant Jackie Treehorn ( Ben Gazzara. ) It is this simple mistaken individuality that brings machination, force and offense into the dude’s life.

The Dude’s house is invariably invaded when he is vulnerable and trying to loosen up and he becomes the victim of unbridled aggression. First he is attacked when he returns place from bowling to an unlighted flat, secondly he is knocked unconscious when he is lying on his carpet closed eyed hearing to a cassette participant and in conclusion the nihilists set free a marmot in his bath bath whilst he is bathing.

The Dude is besides really suggestible and is easy led by the will of his friends. He is frequently heard read reiterating what other characters have said earlier in the movie, sometimes out of context. It is at Walter’s ( John Goodman ) suggestion that he travel to see Mr. Lebowski to acquire recompense for his dirty carpet, it is besides Walters’s intercession that foils the handover of the ransom and apparently gets The Dude more profoundly involved in the secret plan. Rather than paying visits or ‘shakedown’ possible informant, the fellow is perpetually summoned to meetings, at which farther narrative information is divulged. Left to his ain devices the Dude would detect really small.

With his unkempt hair and bearded, grubby tee-shirts, trunkss and sandals, the Dude is the prototype of the physical incarnation burnt out hippy. He is a set dorsum lapidator willing to loosen up and allow events blossom around him. He is good-humored and sympathetic, and it is from his subjective point of position that we unravel the enigma. The audience is ne’er privy to information that is denied to the fellow. It is his character that makes him so easy manipulated by outside beginnings particularly ‘the large Lebowski’ whose bogus snatch biting sets the fellow up as autumn cat his peculation of charity money.

It is the corruption of the archetypical private oculus character that makesThe Big Lebowskiso successful. The Dude is a recognizable and to the full developed character that the audience can associate to as opposed to a figure that is so good documented it has about become a stereotype or a lampoon of itself. The narration of the movie is made all the more challenging by the fact that we are non certain how our supporter is traveling to travel about work outing the enigma.

The Big Lebowskiis introduced and epilogue by voiceover narrative by a cryptic almighty character known merely as ‘the stranger.’ ( Sam Elliot ) The usage of a voice over storyteller is one method of stating the narrative from a peculiar position. A heterodiegetic storyteller is a storyteller who is non they themselves a character within the narrative. These are frequently used as an nonsubjective perceiver, possibly a alternate or personification of the movies ‘author.’ This can be seen in many other movies includingThe Princess Bride( 1987 Rob Reiner ) andThe Royal Tenenbaums( 2001 Wes Anderson ).This type of storyteller normally introduces and so provides the epilogue for the movie, easing the audience in and out of the narrative.

Homodiegetic storytellers ; that is storytellers who themselves are characters within the movie ; have a really different function to play. By giving a peculiar character a voice with which to straight turn to the audience ; whether or non that character is themselves the movies protagonist ; the character is awarded an huge subjectiveness. In these fortunes the narrative of the movie becomes basically linked to the manner that we understand the character, as we as audience are let into that peculiar character’s ain personal position.Casino( Martin Scorsese 1995 ) provides the spectator with non merely one but two different voices over storytellers who switch back and away through out the movie. This gives two different subjective positions on the same events.

However the subjective narrative may or may non be the position that we the audience are supposed to portion. Before we can do that differentiation we must first of all expression at all the other formal elements that are presented to us through the narrative of the manager through the usage of lighting, framing, redacting, colour sound and so forth. We recognize through these elements another voice that is the voice of the image-maker, this voice may be used to either give acceptance or sabotage a given characters vocal narrative.

In her authorship on first individual storytellers Sarah Kozlof quotes Christian Metz in stating “The witness perceives images which have evidently been selected ( they could hold been other images ) and arranged ( their order could hold been different. ) In a sense he is flicking through an album of preset images and it is non he who is turning the pages but some ‘master of ceremonials, ’ some expansive image maker’” [ 3 ]

The fact that the spoken narrative may be at odds with the narrative from the image-maker leads to undependable storytellers. In these state of affairss we as an audience have to weigh what the storyteller is stating against what the image-maker is stating in order to determine the significance of the movie, as Kozlov explains it.

“If the storytellers commentary and the image shapers scenic presentation are disparate plenty, the spectator will bit by bit invalidate his contract with the narrating voice and recognize that the narrative is really being presented by a wiser heterodiegetic image-maker.” [ 4 ]

The supporter ofFight Club( Dir David Fincher, 1999 ) Jack ( Edward Norton ) is a homodiegetic frame storyteller. As such the narrative of the movie is extremely subjective to Jack’s ain personal point of position. In an early scene Jack establishes both his ain personal point of position and one of the movies major subjects through his voiceover. He describes his dissatisfaction with modern life whilst his narrative is supported by the imagination. He talks about being a ‘slave to the Ikea nesting inherent aptitude, ’ we see him walking through his flat but with everything labeled and priced as if he were trapped inside a catalogue. The ocular metaphor supports the characters words and it is evident to the audience that the story’s subjects and narrative are being presented to us through Jacks ain subjective experience.

Jack’s confederation and subjective influence over his audience is enhanced by direct mention to the mechanics of filmmaking and the fictionality of the diegesis, through direct mention to what we see in the frame. For illustration in the seen in which Bob ( Meat Loaf ) is introduced, Jack calls our attending to him by stating us to ‘see the large moosey.’ In a ulterior scene in which he is explicating Tyler’s ( Brad Pitt ) terrorist act of the hotel nutrient industry, he breaks the 4th wall and negotiations straight to the camera. The line between the image-maker and Jack as storyteller is blurred. We as the audience are led to experience comfy with Jack and to demur his commentary at face value. We are invited to portion Jacks universe position.

Although Jack’s narrative of the narrative is retrospective it is besides told in direct discourse with small mention to future events. As such the audience experiences the narrative with Jack and stress with his dissatisfaction at life, and his revival. At the important scene when Jack discovers that he and Tyler are one and the same the voiceover stops before returning with the line “Please return your seatbacks to their full and unsloped position.” The line is acknowledgment of the audience’s incredulity that the character is sing.

Although the movie leads us to sympathise, sympathize and follow Jack’s position for the bulk of the movie ; one time the audience is cognizant that Jack and Tyler are the same individual the narration of the old 90 proceedingss must be wholly reevaluated. Including as Phillips suggests the presentation of the movies other characters.

“If we see a character through the eyes of another character, who has a really typical attitude, this may act upon our position of that character excessively. This is, of class, complicated by the fact that we have to take into consideration what we know about this other individual and the ‘reliability’ of their point of view.” [ 5 ]

Through reevaluation and re-narration of the movies old events we come to understand the character of Marla ( Helena Bonham Carter. Throughout the movie she has been kiping with Tyler and urgently doing progresss on Jack. Once we are cognizant of the movies twist we can see that she is non herself an irrational and emotionally damaged adult females, but she is involved with a adult male who himself is mentally sick.

The first forenoon after she has slept with Tyler, Jack shocks her with his off manus and ill-mannered attitude towards her and she leaves offended. In the first version of this scene Marla’s flirty behaviour towards Jack and the extent to which she is offended both seem inordinate. Looking at the scene in retrospect after the turn is revealed Marla becomes a sympathetic character. We can see that she is working hard at a relationship with a adult male whose behaviour is unaccountable and irrational.

Of class no treatment ofFight Clubwould be complete without a treatment of Tyler as a personification of Jack’s ID. The pleasance Centre of the male encephalon suppressed to the point of breakage and released through a dervish of hedonic need-gratifying instinctual gender and aggression. Project mayhem is a focal point of Jacks aggression onto the corporations that cause the dissatisfaction with modern life. It is the unrestrained release of Jacks suppressed internalized inherent aptitude that is the accelerator for the events of the movie and lead to the explosive coda. Here we can see that in this most it is character that is driving the narrative forward.

The deeper deductions ofFight Club’s stoping segue nicely towards treatment of surrealist movie. But before we move on we must return momently to the differentiation that Phillips made between a character and a figure with narrative map, we can see that he qualifies the statement by doing his remarks specific to realist narrative. In a surrealist movie with a non additive narrative the relationship between character and narrative may be altered.

In David Lunch’sMulholland Dr.( 2001 ) characters may go alternates for the audience in their quest to understand what is traveling on. The movie centres around two adult females Betty ( Naomi Watts ) and Rita ( Laura Elana Harring. ) Rita has lost her memory and found her manner to Betty’s flat with a hurt caput and bag full of money. The movie follows their shared pursuit to happen Rita’s true individuality every bit good as the lives of other characters to which the adult females are someway connected.

We as audience are besides on a pursuit to decode Lynch’s narrative, and at minutes of disclosure such as the money in the pocketbook, or Rita’s memory of the name Dianne Selwyn ; we as audience and they as characters are intrigued and excited at the possibility of puting another piece of the narrative saber saw mystifier. There is besides of class the information that we are cognizant of the two adult females are non such as the engagement of shady figures such as Cowboy ( Lafayette Montgomery ) and Mr Roque ( Michael J Anderson, ) but this information poses more inquiries than replies. As a consequence the women’s narrative is comparatively straightforward and increases audience designation.

However despite this alliance of the audience and Betty as recreational sleuths Lynch’s narrative suggests that there is more to see that what is at face value. The presentation of Betty is at odds with the remainder of the movies baleful tone. When she is introduced she is have oning a pink jumper which is in blunt contrast to the dark colors and inkinesss that the remainder of the characters preponderantly wear. The plotting of the movie is intentionally obscure and the narrative hard to understand, nevertheless she is all excessively easy to understand as a broad eyed, naive, positive and pretty immature miss with dreams of stardom. The manner she wholeheartedly embraces the alien in her house and undertakes the quest to happen out Rita’s individuality is besides hard to accept. Her optimism is non in-keeping with the movies dark, cryptic and unsafe tone and we are led into believing that there is something more to detect about her.

The stoping recasts Betty and Rita as Camilla and Dianne ; that is to state that the characters that Harring and Watts played are swapped for other spot portion characters within the movie. Dianne is the rejected lover of Camilla who herself is a successful actress thanks to her underworld connexions that have got her dramatis personae. Jealous and depressed Dianne hires an bravo to kill Camilla before turning the gun on herself. Betty efficaciously becomes the cadaver that she had earlier discovered. The most common reading is that the first two tierces of the movie is Dianne’s phantasy, disgruntled with her life and disturbance at being jilted by her lover she fantasises a more optimistic option for herself.

Taking into consideration other scenes from the movie, such as the Adam’s confrontational meeting with his movies manufacturers and the underworld connexions that seem to be turning the Hollywood cogs, we can see that the movie is in some little portion a sarcasm on the Hollywood system. We can so understand that within that frame work Betty/Dianne’s character discharge is that of a tragic dreamy eyed aspirant who is used, abused and discarded by Hollywood.

The line between Diegetic ‘reality’ and phantasy is ne’er clear in the movie and narrative significance is obtuse and intentionally elusive. Character, significance and narrative are all fluid, capable to alter and open to reading.

A characters motive may be the driving drift of a movies narrative, their compulsion and desire being the key to their ultimate success or failure. Alternatively a character may be forced into the narrative against their will, and let opportunity and circumstance to finally make up one’s mind their destiny. The voice of the supporter may non be every bit informed as we would presume, and we must look for the Directors voice to determine significance.

Our apprehension of the declaration of narrative is determined by the qualities that the characters display through the events of the movie. To return to the words of Patrick Phillips for one last clip in this essay, he tells us that the relationship between character and narrative is capable to the influence of the other formal elements of movie devising. “We receive all sorts of counsel from the text about how to react to a character, – from their overall topographic point within a narrative cause>effect concatenation to really specific ways that a character can be positioned within themise nut scene.”[ 6 ] We must happen the truth between how the character perceives them self and how that character is being presented. It is in this infinite that narrative significance can be found.


Bordwell, D and Thompson, K ( 2001 )Film Art: An Introduction( 6th edition ) . New York: McGraw Hill.

Branigan E ( 1992 )Narrative Comprehension and movieLondon, Routledge

Chion M ( 2006 )David Lynch. London, BFI publication

Karwin, BF ( 1992 )How Movies Work. London, University of California Press

Kozloff S ( 1988 )Invisible narrators: Voiceover narrative in American Fiction Film.Berkley, University Of California imperativeness

Phillips P ( 2006 )Understanding Film Texts: Meaning and Experience.London, BFI Publishing

Thompson K ( 2001 )Storytelling in the New Hollywood: Understanding classical narration technique. Harvard, Harvard University Press

Wilson GE ( 1986 )Narrative in Light: Surveies in cinematic point of position. Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press


The Big Lebowski ( 1998 ) Dir: Joel Coen. GB/US, Universal Pictures

The Big Sleep ( 1946 ) Dir Howard Hawks. US, Warner Bros

Casino ( 1995 ) Dir Martin Scorsese US, Warner Bros

Fight Club ( 1999 ) Dir: David Fincher GB/US, twentieth Century Fox

Goodfellas ( 1990 ) Dir: Martin Scorsese US, Warner Bros

Mulholland Drive ( 2001 ) Dir: David Lynch. GB/US, Universal Pictures

The Princess Bride ( 1987 ) Dir: Rob Reiner, US, 2oth Century Fox

Ray ( 2004 ) Dir Taylor Hackford, US, Universal Pictures

The Royal Tennembaums ( 2001 ) Dir Wes Anderson. US, Touchstone Pictures

Walk The Line ( 2005 ) Dir James Mangold. US, Fox 2000

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