Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Non Linear Story Telling

I went to see the movie Inception and really enjoyed it. (The set design and lighting were beautiful). I liked it that the main character's driving motivation was to return to his children.

For any one who hasn't seen the movie I will say only that is about dreams within dreams. It reminded me a little of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, in that it was playing with reality. It also reminded me a little of Momento, in that it made you ask what what is real and can I trust the main character's perception of reality.

There are many SF stories that ask what is reality but there seems to be more non-linear story lines in movies than in books.

Linda Cowgill says:

‘Nonlinear film deconstructs a character, complicated event, situation, or a combination of these elements by reordering the time sequence and creating a new arrangement of time for dramatic, and thematic, purposes. This rearrangement makes the telling of a story more compelling than if we left the scene progression in chronological order.’ (See full article Non-linear narrative: the Ultimate in Time Travel).

Think of the Firefly episode 'Out of Gas'. That was a complicated time line, but ultimately a very satisfying episode.

You see the occasional flashback in books. But I'm having trouble thinking of examples of more complicated non-linear story telling. Can you think of any? Were they done well? Why do movies use this device more than books?


Allen Edwards said...

Well, I would start with the most complicated non-linear novel I remember reading almost 50 years ago --- Catch-22 (Joseph Heller). I had to read that several times to figure out who was doing what when.

C Kelsey said...

I think non-linearity might be easier (for certain definitions of easier) to pull off in a visual medium than it is in the written form. It certainly takes an accomplished author to pull it off in even a mediocre fashion, whereas video possibly can pull of mediocrity with a mediocre writer.

Anonymous said...

Even movies like Memento would get irritating, quickly. Once was cool. Period.

The relationship between a reader and a book is much more active and involved than the more passive viewer of movies. Books must be written clearly, to keep the reader from interpreting themselves right out of the book. Too much confusion and the book goes sailing across the room.


Kate said...

Different medium, different forms. Movies can be enjoyed on a purely visual and audio basis (a really good soundtrack gives all sorts of story cues without watchers being consciously aware of it). That gives room for movement in directions the written word isn't able to take. Or take well.

Synova said...

I enjoyed Inception. There were some interesting ideas in the movie.

What I didn't care for so much as the hint at the end... reminded me of Total Recall, which in Total Recall you really didn't care, and the end of Pan's Labyrinth which I passionately hated.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Allen, I've never read Catch 22.

The ultimate question is -- Did you enjoy it, or did the non-linear narrative annoy you?

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

C Kelsey,

You get 100 points for using non-linearity in a sentence and making sense!

After teaching scripting, then seeing the stories go through storyboard into animatic, I've come to the conclusion that film (good direction and actors who know what they're doing) can save a weak plot.

So I agree with you, a visual medium does get away with non-linear.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Matapam, absolutely.

If the reader has to stop and wonder what's going on, the author's lost them.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Kate, you are so right.

Music goes right past our thinking brain to stir up links and emotions in our subconscious.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I loved Pan's Labyrinth, even though the ending made me wince.

And one of my students brought up Total Recall. So it is on people's minds after seeing Inception.

Allen Edwards said...

Rowena - Catch-22 is, IMHO, one of the signature American novels of the mid-20th century, the BEST thing Joseph Heller ever wrote (poor guy).
Yes, it was excellent, at the time i read it (I was 18, it came out in ppb in '62 or '63), and still great when I re-read it several times over the next 2 decades. It was an early forerunner of all the war-is-darkly-hilarious that came out during the Vietnam War. Cliche: the book was WAY better than the movie, but ... both media got the non-linearity right.

Synova said...

The part of Pan's Labyrinth that I hated was the end. I thought the movie was great up to the point of getting cheated.

Anthony J Langford said...

Kate got it right.. it's a totally different medium - you can sit back with a film and be given all the information, whereas a book is picked up and put down and can be harder to consume. But its more than that.. as Kate said, you can suggest something with a visual or music..

Inception was similiar to Dreamscape and The Cell.. with people entering the dreams of others to manipulate them.. it isnt as clever as some think, for example the 'rule' that so many seconds equals x amount of minutes in dreams.. ah no..
but very well done..
Memento was smarter..

as for books, Phillip K Dick's novels were crazy in that dream like sense..