The Different Styles of Narration
Narrators in Film and Novel In this chapter, Stam introduces the different styles of narrators in Novel.According to him, they vary from the first-person report-narrator to the multiple letter writers of epistolary novels, to outside-observer narrators of reflexive novels like Don Quixote and Tom Jones, to the once intimate and impersonal narrator of Madame Bovary, to the “stream-of-consciousness” narrators, on to the intensely objective/subjective obsessional narrators of Robbe-Grillet.
What interests Stam is the fact that these different styles of narration cannot be really explained by the conventional terms that exist.That happens because language and grammar are the foundation of the traditional analysis of film and literature and in this context have leaded to a terminology based on them, a terminology such as first-person narrator or third-person narrator.
This kind of grammar based terminology and approach, can create confusion and obscure facts like writers shifting person and changing the relation between narrator and fiction.
For Stam though, the most important issue is not the grammatical “person” as he says, but the control an author has over the intimacy and the distance and how he calibrates the access to a character’s knowledge and consciousness. Literary narration can be complicated through film because of the verbal narration (voice over/speech of characters) and the capacity a film has to present the different appearances of the world.
Andre Goudreault says that filmic narration is more powerful than “monstration” (showing) and “narration” (telling) and that for him, editing and other cinematic procedures consist of the evaluation and the comments of the filmic narrator. This way films tell stories (narrate) and at the same time stage them (show). Stam explains that «the film as “narrator” is not a person (the director) or a character in the fiction but, rather, the abstract instance of a superordinate agency that regulates the spectator’s knowledge».
In other words “le grand imagier” and the “meganarrator”, all names attributed to the narrator, can be considered as the conductor of an orchestra who uses the instruments of cinematic expression as musical instruments. The author (Stam) continues his chapter by explaining how a double play of forms can be made possible through sound cinema. Voice-over narration and monstration (showing) mutually reinforce each other like in Sunset Boulevard where the scene is supposed to be a visual manifestation of what Joe Gillis is saying. We will also come across that during my extract analysis.
In more modernist films like India Song (1975) and Last year at Marienbad (1961) the two forms contradict each other, in a sense that what is told is not what is being shown. Since sound made its appearance in film, cinema has been as Chion says “vococentric”, it has an orientation toward the human voice, which, in the cinema, according to Stam can provide information and focus for spectatorial identification. A debate has started about whether a film can actually narrate. Film theorists believe that filmic “narration” is only a fiction of the human mind.
They don’t argue of course about films being able to develop certain processes of “narration” but they state that these processes can only be considered as cheap copies of a “narrator”. This logic though can also be valid for novelistic narrators. Theorist like Christian Metz, consider film to be a deployment of “impersonal” narration in which case the narrator is both the one that provides the fictional world and the one that comments on this same world. Stam chooses to stand on another important matter of narratology, the relationship between the events told and the temporal standpoint of the telling.
For example, whether the telling if the story is taking place after the events of the story, which is called a retrospective narration, or prior, in which case, as he explains, we have an oracular or prophetic narration. In some cases, the telling and the events are simultaneous or even interpolated, meaning that they take place during the intervals between the moments of the main action. For Stam, the question is how all these different settings of time manage to be translated within adaptations. There is the case of “embedded narration”, where a story contains another story inside it, in a narrative mise-en-abyme.
This is the case of the extract I have chosen to analyze. These substories go by the term of hypodiegesis. This occurs when a story contains a sub-story. For Genette, the term “diegesis” refers to three things, the time and space, the participants, and the events in a narrative. Around this term he creates terms such as “autodiegetic” (when the narrator generates and tells his own story), “homodiegetic” (when the narrator is part of the story but is not the protagonist) and “heterodiegetic” (when the narrator is not part of the story at all). “Autodiegetic” comes from the greek word “??????????????? ”, “homodiegetic” from “?????????????? and “heterodiegetic” from “???????????????? ”. “??????????? ” means “narrative” and “???? ” has the meaning of “itself”. “??? ”means it has a resemblance with something and “????? ” that it is something different. So when the narrator is autodiegetic it means he is narrating himself, when he is homodiegetic, he narrating about something similar with him and when he is heterodiegetic he is narrating about something different that him. Stam adds that the narrator can be single or collective, a group narrator and that off screen narrators can be single, multiple or even contradictory like in the case of Citizen Kane.
He also makes a distinction between living and dead narrators. A dead narrator would be when at the time the narrator is talking it has been known to us that he is already dead in the story. So the narration would probably take place after the events. Stam continues his analysis by referring to reliability. Narrators can be completely suspect (like Leonard in Memento, the movie I have chosen to analyze) ,more or less reliable, or serve as dramatized spokespersons for the implied author. The modern period has a taste for changing narrators and unreliable ones.
This is the case of the bildungsroman, a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood and in which character change is extremely important.Sometimes, also, the reliability of a narrator as the governess in James’s Turn of the Screw can cause difficulty for literary interpretation. Cases of “lying narration” are also offered in the cinema. What is challenging for Stam, is to find a way to reproduce in a way all the ambiguity and readerly decipherment of the text, on a cinematic register.
Self-obsessed neurotic narrators like Humbert Humbert in Lolita, tend to be relativized by adaptation in a severe manner. While the narrator in the novel is “autodiegetic”, in the film he switches to “homodiegetic”. The problem is that the discursive power an unreliable narrator possesses is drastically reduced by film because of the multitrack nature of the film. In a novel, there is only one track available and that is the verbal track, which is of course controlled by the narrator.
In a film though, even if the narrator can partially control the verbal track by the use of voice-over or character dialogue, that same control remains subject to a great amount of constraints such as the presence of other characters, voices, objects etc. While it’s not impossible to portrait an unreliable first-person narration in the cinema, all the problems mentioned above lead us to understand that it would be extremely difficult and could only be succeeded by relentless subjectification in almost all the cinematic registers.
Point of View This chapter of “The Theory and Practice of Adaptation” tries to answer questions concerning focalization and point of view which is a term that has been regarded as problematic. “Point of view” can either refer to an ideological orientation, an emotional stance or even to the angle from which a story is told. Unlike literature, this term in cinema is always literal because of the camera set-ups that are required. Nevertheless, it can be figurative too at the same time, through the use of cinematic means.
For Stam, an authorial point of view can be sensed in films. He explains that the film’s multitrack and multiform nature are to be seriously considered if we want to understand the cinematic point of view since each and every filmic track and procedure can convey one. Next, Stam takes interest in the relationship between the knowledge of the character and that of the narrator, something that has been referred to as “focalization”. According to Todorov, three were the possibilities: narrators could either know more, less or as much as the characters.
Of course, one might argue that quantity is not always the case, since the two can also know differently. Gennete chooses to make a distinction between narration (who speaks or tells) and focalization (who sees) and then separates this last term into three sub-terms. “Zero focalization” refers to narrators who know much more than the rest of the characters. “Internal focalization” occurs when events are filtered through a character and is subdivided into “fixed” for when it is limited to a single character or “variable” for when it’s passed from character to character.
Finally, “external focalization” takes place when the reader cannot access to point of view and motivations and can only be a simple observer of external behavior. Andre Goudrault and Francois Jost argued that the term of focalization can create problems when it comes to the visual medium of cinema since the sound film has the ability to show what a character sees and say what he thinks at the same time. They proposed a separation of these two functions by the use of two terms. The first term is “ocularization” and refers to the relation of what the camera shows and what the character is supposed to be seeing. Focalization” was used by the two narratologists to characterize the cognitive point of view adopted by the story. Stam also examines how “point of view” intersects with “style”. Adaptations have been considered less modernist than their sources but that is not the case with adaptations like the one of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando by Sally Potter in 1992 or Bunuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire, where, in the contrary, the novel’s modernism is amplified. The author chooses to conclude this chapter not by answering questions, but rather by asking them.
He is interested in the handling of temporality and wonders if instances of Genette’s “pause” take place in the novel and the adaptation, as montage sequences or as static close shots without action. He mentions Cristian Metz’s eight syntagmatic types in the cinema (one-shot sequence or autonomous shot, parallel syntagma, bracket syntagma, descriptive syntagma, alterning syntagma, scence, episodic sequence, ordinary sequence) and asks how these types are useful and wonders about the existence of any correlations with temporality in film and their nature.
He questions the role of description in novel and film and wants to know if there is a possibility of pure (unnarrativized) description in any of these two mediums and finally sets the question of stylistic equivalences across them. MEMENTO [pic] Memento is a film directed by Christopher Nolan and released in the year 2000. He wrote the story with his brother Jonathan Nolan, based on a short story published by Jonathan called Memento Mori. The whole film can be divided in 22 colored and 22 black and white sequences plus the opening sequence which runs backward and is shown in slow motion.
In order to understand the analysis of the sequence chosen (1. 22. 58 – 1. 48. 43) a brief introduction to the movie’s plot is necessary: Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) is a former insurance investigator whose wife was killed during an assault in their home. During that assault he sustained a head trauma and now suffers from a memory dysfunction which makes him unable to create any new memories after the incident. He remembers of everything prior the incident though like who he is, what his job was and everything about his life with his wife.
But each time he wakes up he can’t remember where he is, why he is there or what he did and who he met the day before. He cannot trust anyone and his whole life is one big constant puzzle solving. There is only one thing that motivates him and that is to hunt down and kill his wife murderer. To collect the facts needed to avenge his wife he has developed a strategy that consists of taking polaroid pictures of everyone he meets, of the place he lives in and so on while also getting tattooed on his body every important information he comes across. pic]Leonard’s tattooed body In his investigation he is helped by two persons, Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) and Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss). The viewers of Memento find out pretty fast that a mentally ill character like the one of Leonard Shelby is an extremely unreliable narrator. Nollan gives us hints about the unreliability of human memory . [pic][pic] We can also see Leonard being manipulated by others and making mistakes while collecting information on his wife’s murderer. [pic][pic] We can see here that he mistakes the I of the license plate for a 1
What is very interesting in the revenge story In addition to Leonard’s revenge story is the embedded story of Sammy Jankis and his wife which we will encounter in the sequence I have chosen to analyze. [pic] EXTRACT ANALYSIS Introduction The selected movie extract (1. 22. 58 – 1. 48. 43) is a sequence shot in Scope like the entire film is and in black and white as half of the movie’s sequences are. Those sequences were shot that way in order to be separated from the colored ones. Black and white sequences are shown in a chronologically forward order whilst the colored ones are shown backwards and don’t have a linear narrative structure.
In this specific extract, Leonard Shelby narrates part of Sammy Jankis’s story, probably the most important one because it describes how he killed his wife by giving her an overdose of insulin. As it is explained to the viewers earlier in the film, Sammy suffers of the same condition as Leonard. Leonard investigated his case when he was still healthy and working for the insurance company and refused Sammy’s insurance claim by proving it was a psychological condition rather than a physical one. Relation between Stam’s text and the Memento sequence
Stam refers in his chapter Narrators in Film and Novel to the case of “embedded narration” and how embedded narratives generate hypodiegesis. Hypodiegesis occurs when a substory is embedded within stories. In the case of this extract, the story is the one of Leonard’s hunting down his wife’s killer while dealing with his condition , and the substory , the one of Sammy Jankis’s condition and how his wife tries to deal with it. In the sequence Leonard is speaking on the phone with someone yet unknown to the viewers who is supposed to be a police officer.
During their conversation, “Lenny” talks about his condition while comparing it to Sammy’s and decides to speak about what happened to him and his wife. This is when hypodiegesis occurs. [pic] Once this embedded narrative begins we are the scene is no longer situated in the same place and the characters have changed. As Leonard narrates the camera serves as a visual manifestation of what he is describing. We see him in a room with Sammy’s wife crying just after we hear him speaking about how she came to see him in his office.
Then he talks about how, persuaded he could “snap out of” this mental condition, she put him through his final exam. [pic][pic] Then we are transported back to the Jankis’s home where Leonard does not describe the fact that she tricks her husband into giving her three consecutive insulin shots (as it is shown) but only talks about how she found a way to test him hoping she would call his bluff. As Stam says “a voice over narration gradually gives way to direct monstration, yet we somehow take what is monstrated to emanate from the initial narrative”.
What makes this substory so interesting is the fact that the story of Sammy Jankis may in fact be the story of Leonard Shelby. Perhaps this whole parallel story wants to show the viewer that Leonard’s own wife was killed not by a murderer but by Leonard himself. There are several hints that point out the lack of the character’s reliability and lead us to conclude that his substory is a fabrication of his own subconscious. Reliability is actually a very interesting issue for Stam and in this case our narrator belongs to “those who are almost completely suspect” as they are called in Stam’s text.
There are three important moments in the sequence that help us understand Leonard’s unreliability. The first one is when he takes in his hands a picture of himself (which later we learn it was took the moment he killed his wife’s murderer) and turns it the other way so that he doesn’t see it anymore. At the same time he says “It’s completely fucked because nobody believes you, it’s amazing what a little brain damage will do for your credibility. I guess it’s some kind of poetic justice for not believing Sammy”. [pic][pic] The fact that he hides the picture shows the viewers that he does not want to see it.
He does not want to see himself while he tells Sammy‘s story, because he wants to forget that it is actually his story. He is lying to himself and wants to believe his lies. His words have also great meaning. He says that nobody believes him and that he has no credibility. He is again talking about himself because it is he that does not believe himself and he knows that he is not credible. His subconscious is projected to the viewers, we can see how deep inside he knows he is lying and he is fighting to believe these lies.
As he says he didn’t believe Sammy, or, maybe he didn’t believe himself? The second hint is given to the spectators when he looks at one of his tattoos which is “remember Sammy Jankis” and at the same time says on the phone “Like Sammy. What if I‘d done something like Sammy? ”. [pic] In this case, a doubt is raised, both in our minds and in Leonard’s mind. What if he had done something like Sammy? What if he had killed his wife without knowing it? The ending will show that he actually did kill his wife exactly how Sammy is supposed to have.
The tattoo reminds him of Sammy, he needs that tattoo, he needs to be reminded of Sammy, otherwise there would be no meaning for him to continue on leaving. He needs to mask the facts in such a way so that he’ll have a purpose to go on. Remembering Sammy Jankis means to forget about what he did. The last moment that points out to Leonard’s lack of reliability is the most visual one. While Leonard describes how Sammy was put in a home after the death of his wife, we can see Sammy sitting in a chair at the exact home. The camera starts to zoom in on him, when, at a certain point, a doctor passes in front of him and we have a cut.
When the action starts again, the doctor gets out of the way and we can get a glimpse (for exactly 2 frames) of Leonard sitting in that same chair instead of Sammy, just before the scene ends. It is obvious that Nolan wants the viewers to see that Sammy and Leonard are the same person and that Leonard is actually describing his own story. [pic][pic] Conclusion Memento is a film with unique narrative structure. The story behind it is rather simple but the narrative structure is extremely elaborate and constant attention from its spectators is needed.
The lack of short memory of the protagonist and and the chaos following him and his attempts to put together the puzzle of his wife’s murder are linked to whole storytelling in a very intelligent way. The fact that the main plot’s narrative structure is backwards and that its conclusion is revealed in the opening sequence, along with the mix of color and black and white sequences, can sometimes confuse the spectators as much as the main character. The spectators are this way driven to identify themselves in Leonard, sharing with him the confusion and the feelings of each revelation, as well as those of the disappointing truth.