@PolarisDiB The closer a film adheres to narrative concerns:
Plot is the structure of story, narrative is how it is told. Plot the word comes from the actual action of ‘plotting out the story’, which means breaking down points where things happen and providing a causal relationship between them, so that action ‘rises’ and ‘falls’ throughout the story.
…. a film that adheres to how it is told is a narrative film?
I want to say all films adhere to how they are told.
Story is the sequential events, the narrative is how it is told by way of causality – plot is the structure of that causality.
^^ Not sure I agree with this breakdown.
Narrative isn’t necessarily arranged by causality. Look at Pulp Fiction for example – the timeline is broken up and reassembled – in order to get at the plot you have to deconstruct it and re-assemble the parts in consecutive order. The narrative itself isn’t consecutive though – nor is it causal. We see Travolta die, then he’s walking around again. So in this case the screenwriter decided not to string it together by either chronology or causality, but to mix it up in order to reveal events in a particular way. That partciular way is the narrative.
So it is necessary to first get at the story through the narrative – then it’s possible to pull it apart and put all the pieces together in a chronological timeline (the plot).
Not sure how that conflicts with a timeline that is broken up and reassembled.
The how of the narrative is its breaking and reassembling.
The plot is that structure.
Ok, I misunderstood what you meant then. As Roseanne Rosannadanna used to say… nevermind!
That was Emily Latella. ;)
Narrative is more important than story. A bad story and good narrative makes a better film than one with good story and bad narrative. But to discount the quality of the story completely in judging a film is incorrect.
The bad guys in his serial killer films are sociopaths, the rest of the characters are generally not. Any cursory observation of human behavior reveals that moral decisions are visceral and in the moment. Fincher characters act like they’ve been programmed.
Greg said, I’m still not entirely sure what “story” is meant to encompass for this discussion since it can be read to mean pretty much anything from a good plot or storyline to a good script the “story” being filmed to the entirety of the film the story in the telling.
To be honest, when I use story—in the context of evaluating whether a film worked or not—I think I’m including plot or narrative; the content and the way the story is told. I think conflating all these terms and facets of the “story” is OK for the context of this discussion. Or am I wrong about this?
Let’s look at the issue from a different angle. What other things can be central to a film other than the story or the storytelling? I would say that films can be about a theme, concept, character or mood; and they can be more about the expression of these things rather than the telling an entertaining story. For example, I would argue that films like Last Year at Marienbad or Irreversible are primarily “concept” films—specifically films about the nature of time and memory. A film like In the Mood for Love is more about, well, mood, and expression of that mood or situation, even. Strictly speaking, all the films have a “story,” but stories aren’t that good. However, the films aren’t interested in telling a good story.
I’m bringing up the film’s (as opposed to the filmmaker’s) intention, and I think that’s really crucial with regard to the OP’s question. The validity of criticizing the story—at least in relation to whether the film is good or not—depend on how important the story is to the film (which relates to the film’s intentions).
(Btw, when speaking about what a film is really about or a film’s intentions, I’m speaking as if the film can only have one intention—e.g., either telling a good story or expressing an idea or feeling. I don’t think that’s quite right. It’s not so clear-cut, imo.)
Personally though, whichever is the case, I tend to suspect that the “story” isn’t the most salient aspect of good art or good entertainment unless it is being used in such a wide ranging manner as to simply mean is it okay to complain about a film not being good.
I think “story” is salient when the film’s intention is to tell an entertaining story. What do I mean by “film’s intention is to tell an entertaining story?” I’m having difficulty explaining this precisely (or in a way that satisfies me), but I think most Hollywood genre films are like this. If the plot/story or the telling of it fails, the films generally fail. Think of a popular novels in the thriller/suspense vein. These books are all about the plot—the surprising twists and clever ways the protagonist gets out of these twists. If the plot or story sucks, then the book sucks….well, that wording is not quite right. I should say this instead: if the plot or story isn’t good, that is a strong basis for saying the film isn’t any good. It’s possible for a person to enjoy such a book for other reasons—e.g., the characters, the writing, certain associations the reader has with the book, etc. Similarly with the Hollywood movies I’m referring to, if the “story” fails, we can say the film wasn’t very good. At the same time, viewers can still find other aspects that make the film interesting or enjoyable to them.
@Flani: “What I’m getting at (I hope) is that one ought not to frame any expectations of what the quality of a story will be before considering it in context of how it has been structured and organised within an artwork, because before this happens, a story or plot can really only have “potential” to be good. I don’t think that this is necessarily giving any precedence to one thing over the other, but rather to consider them working together as a unified whole.”
And I agree with you. I’m just trying to explain how story operates and thus how it can be useful for criticism, not defending it as the point of filmmaking which it all too often is placed as.
Darkmatters: “Narrative isn’t necessarily arranged by causality.”
“Look at Pulp Fiction for example – the timeline is broken up and reassembled – in order to get at the plot you have to deconstruct it and re-assemble the parts in consecutive order. The narrative itself isn’t consecutive though – nor is it causal. We see Travolta die, then he’s walking around again. So in this case the screenwriter decided not to string it together by either chronology or causality, but to mix it up in order to reveal events in a particular way. That partciular way is the narrative.”
Exactly. So we’re on the same page but I’m obviously miscommunicating my breakdowns because I keep having to cover the same territory over and over and over again, which must mean I’m not making something clear somewhere.
“The narrative itself isn’t consecutive though – nor is it causal. We see Travolta die, then he’s walking around again. So in this case the screenwriter decided not to string it together by either chronology or causality, but to mix it up in order to reveal events in a particular way.”
Things in the film are not arranged by causality with the events ordered chronologically, no, but it’s still ordered based on casuality. Otherwise the film would just be a series of unconnected vignettes.
@ Polaris and Matt -
I apologise – I just had misunderstood the comment above me by Robert W Peabody III when I wrote that, and was responding only to that comment, not to anything you had said Polaris. I didn’t mean to throw a monkey wrench into the works.
All I was trying to say is that, in order to get at the causality, you have to deconstruct the mixed-up narrative and re-connect it in consecutive order – then the causality becomes apparent. It’s not clear in the narrative itself (until you deconstruct it and get to the plot).
But, as I already said to him, I see that I misunderstood his comment, so I withdraw my statement.
Carry on gentlemen.
“you have to deconstruct the mixed-up narrative and re-connect it in consecutive order”
Right . . . and for some reason thinking about this leads me right now to Griffith’s Intolerence, where the film is intercutting four separate stories between which the only connection is thematic.
PLOT AND THEME
In the world of fiction, just as in the world of your life, events occur. In life, people often try to determine what events mean in their own life and in the life of others. In fiction, authors will create meaning by introducing conflicts in the life of a character. The way a character responds to these conflicts is part of what gives a story meaning. Understanding plot, conflicts, structure, and their relationship will help a reader understand the meaning in a story.
Plot is not just what happens in a story. Rather, plot is a pattern of cause and effect or conflicts upsetting the equilibrium of a situation. Plot is characters responding to those conflicts into some form of resolution, even if that resolution is incomplete, inconclusive, or unsatisfying to the reader.
Similarly, the plot in a film is not just what happens. The plot is the series of conflicts or obstacles that the screenplay author and director introduce into the life of the characters onscreen. The theme or message is the main point or points that the viewer draws from the way the characters respond to the obstacles or resolve the conflict in the film.
David Hume & causality….. we are not reasonably justified in making any inductive inference about the world.