film studies

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Introduction To Film Theory Film Studies Essay

What makes a good movie? That is a very subjective question as it could be the individual’s preference, director’s style, or even the very mood the audience are feeling at that particular moment. However, a good script and a fantastic line-up of actors does not always guarantee to produce the movies with the best quality there is in the showbiz industry. It could be the way the story is told or portrayed. One of the most prominent way to capture the audience’s attention is by narrating the story. The process of storytelling can be tedious or really effective depending on how well the audience believes the method of narrating used by the narrator. Soothing, professional-like voice would be suitable for documentaries, whereas mysterious, deep voice would be best for thriller films. If the narrator is good enough, he or she could bring the audience to tears or feel whatever emotions they are supposed to have while watching the movie. That is how powerful a narrator can be.

Concept

Narratology focuses more on story. A story consists of an arc(ending), narrame(general and inseparable outline) and a theme(representation of the meaning of the story). The word ‘narrative’ originates from the Latin verb narrare which basically means “to recount”. A story or narrative basically illustrates how the order of the fictional or non-fictional incidents is like. The inspiration behind every story is usually the product of every author or director’s imagination. In this case specifically, Winston Groom, the author of Forrest Gump which is a novel written in the year 1986 recounting Forrest’s amazing ventures from his childhood to his post-war life. The way it was written and how clever the script was what made the narration in the movie so powerful.

Background/Originators

Story-telling goes way back to the time of the ancient Greek, Indian, Chinese, Egyptian’s time which is part of their culture and source of entertainment. It makes sense of things, helps you find meaning in your life, and remember things better.

The narrative theory first came about in the 1920s where Vladimir Propp, a Russian formalist suggested that the narrative ‘spheres of action’ or functions are took on by the characters. Vladimir came up with seven different character types using folktales as his guidelines. Forrest Gump would be a good example of a movie with good narration. The first is the hero who is normally a male, the mediator who keeps the narrative at its equilibrium by getting on a journey. Forrest is not like the other conventional heroes as he does not crave for the lifestyle of the rich and the famous, or that intelligent but his childlike innocence would win the audience’s hearts over. Whereas the villain in the story, is the bullies in Forrest’s elementary school and all the other people that looked down on him. His narration would almost always be interrupted by them.

The donor, helper, and princess of the story is in fact Jenny Curran Gump(Robin Wright) as she has been always there for Forrest during his times of trouble, giving him support and valuable advice. Jenny who was sexually abused by her father growing up, was saved by Forrest telling her to run away with him escaping from her painful childhood. Looking from Forrest’s perspective on Jenny’s father was interesting, where he goes from 00:17:27 to 00:17:39 saying “He was a very lovin' man. He was always kissing and touchin' her and her sisters. And then this one time, Jenny wasn't on the bus to go to school.” His innocence and take on the serious situation did lighten up the atmosphere even though domestic abuse was no joke.

Moving on to the dispatcher who is Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue(Mykelti Williamson), a friend of Forrest in the Army. He told Forrest about how much he knows about shrimping that they should venture into a shrimping business together. Unfortunately, he was killed by an explosion during the war. However, the promise that Forrest made with Bubba was not forgotten by him, Forrest went on with the task to start a shrimping business on his behalf as illustrated from 1:38:27 to 1:38:36, “ And even though Bubba was dead, and Lieutenant Dan(Gary Sinise) said I was nuts. I gave Bubba's mommy Bubba's share.” Judging from the way he talked and ignored Lieutenant Dan’s comment about him being crazy, he was a simple man who values friendship more than anything and a man to his word.

There seemed to be no false hero in the story since every character stayed true to their character till the end, be it good or bad. According to the modular narratives theory by Allan Cameron, “it articulates a sense of time as divisible and is subject to manipulation” (Critical Perspectives: Narrative, 2010). The anachronic modular narrative is being used in the movie Forrest Gump as it includes the application of flashforwards and/or flashbacks without any clear control over the narrative threads. Flashforwards are often used in the bus stop scene where he will be sitting on the bench telling his story to different, interested strangers and flashbacks after that returning to his story from the beginning of his childhood until this very day. The whole story is viewed through his perspective. Examples of other movies using this same narrative would be Memento and Pulp Fiction.

This research would be about the exploration of the narrative theory and how it can be implemented to movies appropriately. In this case, the movie and Forrest Gump and Fight Club would be used as case studies. Also, it is important to prove how useful and effective narrators are to the success of a film.

Characteristics

According to Aristotle, there are two types of fictional narratives which are mimesis, showing the place where the events take place and diegesis, telling the story. Cinema usually combines both types making it more complex. The audience are known as the message receivers while the narrators are the message senders, and this is how the communication process works in story-telling. Forrest Gump proved how a story does not have to be told in chronological order to be interesting. His heart-warming, soothing tone and instinct on what to stress on are one of the few characteristics of a successful narrators. Tom Hanks is definitely comparable to Morgan Freeman(The Shawshank Redemption), Ray Liotta(Goodfellas), Richard McGonagle(500 Days of Summer) and many more.

Diegetic sounds consist of sounds that can be heard onscreen or are obviously consistent with the current scene of the movie, such as the sounds that are made by the objects, the characters’ voices, and the music made by the instruments on scene. Non-diegetic sound otherwise known as commentary sound is the exact opposite of diegetic sound where the source of certain sounds is not present or visible but can still be heard onscreen. Examples of non-diegetic sounds are dramatic sound effects, mood music and lastly the narrator’s commentary. It can be hard to differentiate between the two sounds if one is not attentive enough. However, mixing both of the sounds is an essential element to a movie as it puts the listeners in the suitable mood that goes well with the scenes.

Narrators do more than just read the words on the page, they draw in the audiences’ absolute attention that they bring the story to life. Even so, narrators are not always trustworthy. Like Edward Norton in Fight Club(1999), as the audiences are starting to feel sorry for him and believes every part of his story, the twist at the end showed them that he was suffering from split personality and that Tyler Durden only existed in his mind. The guy who was supposed to be a clueless, relatable and reliable person turned out to be messing with the audience’s head and they might feel that they were being lied to the whole time. The fact that Norton had to find his courage to stand up to consumerism through Tyler was unexpected. Since the audience was so certain about Tyler and Norton being two different person, the narrator did a very good job with deceiving the audience through great narrating that even though he was being dishonest, he was still believable to the eyes of the audience for the first half of the movie and that was a big accomplishment.

Forrest was narrating his story from a first person’s point of view using voice-overs. This made him an active character both in narrating and acting since he was also the main character. Tom Hanks was fantastic impersonating an Alabama accent and a man with low IQ that it sounded so believable. He said, “Momma always had a way of explaining things so I could understand them.”(1:36:53-1:36-57), this line especially was heart-warming as it was one of the few lines he and his mom shared before she died. The relationship between those two has definitely touched the audience’s hearts. Forrest is capable of making the audience laugh, “Now, the real good thing about meeting the President of the United States is the food” (00:28:38-00:28:44), feel inspired, “And when I got there, I figured since I'd gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going”(00:48:53-00:49:03), laugh some more, “And 'cause I was godzillionaire and I liked doing it so much. I cut that grass for free.”(1:38:46-1:38:52), and smile at how naïve and simple his mind is, “Though he did take care of my Bubba-Gump money. He got me invested in some kind of fruit company. And so then I got a call from him saying we don't have to worry about money no more.”(1:37:53-1:38:01). Of course the script was clever, but without Forrest’s wonderful execution on the narrating, it would not have made that big of an impact on the audience.

Conclusion

Even Owen Flanagan, a researcher in Duke University mentioned that, “Evidence strongly suggests that humans in all cultures come to cast their own identity in some sort of narrative form. We are inveterate storytellers.” It is in our nature to tell stories and have the curiosity to listen to stories. In conclusion, narratology would be a good method that should be used more often to tell a story more effectively in films. It makes a good script even better.


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