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Cinema is a powerful medium of expression. Cinema has been continuously

improving and developing towards something different from what it is known

for or what it was in the past. Narrative is the strategy with which any material

is organised and presented to an audience. This is an integral part of a film

and as Thomas Elsaesser argues cinema ‘become a predominantly narrative

medium’ with the development of its ‘codes of intelligibility’.

The classical narration is the type of narration that we all as spectators

normally expect from a film while nonlinear narratives have emerged from the

classical narrative form. Non linear narratives have been in vogue for a long

period of time and were considered by some as being inferior to classical

narrative. However, non linear narratives are now present in many media

forms and the digital formats have played a crucial role in their development

as Lev Manovich argues; ‘the use of digital compositing to create continuous

spaces out of different elements can be seen as an example of the larger anti-

montage aesthetics of computer culture’ (Manovich, 2000,p.155).

I believe that investigating something which is contemporary can be very

motivating and constructive. This dissertation would offer me a good

knowledge and understanding of a concept that would be crucial for my future

career as a filmmaker. For the research I collected ample amount of literature

from diverse sources. Based on the literature collected I have analysed three

nonlinear narrative films chronologically. Further to the analysis and literature

collected I have understood many concepts related to non linear narratives

and have arrived at a conclusion as to how non linear narratives have

revolutionized fictional films.




1. ABSTRACT-------------------------------------------------------------- 1


1.1. Background Information ---------------------------------------6

1.2. Rationale of Research -----------------------------------------7
1.3. Research Question ---------------------------------------------8
1.4. Objectives of Research-----------------------------------------8
1.5. Conclusion --------------------------------------------------------8


2.1. Narratology-----------------------------------------------------------9
2.2. What is Narrative? -------------------------------------------------9
2.3. Elements of Narrative----------------------------------------------9
2.4. Components of Narrative -----------------------------------------10
2.5. Cinematic Narrative ------------------------------------------------13
2.6. Factors that Sustain the Interest of Viewers in Films ------15
2.7. Elements of a Film Narrative -------------------------------------16
2.8. Narrative in Fictional Films ----------------------------------------17
2.9. Narrative Devices ---------------------------------------------------18
2.10. Classical or Linear Narrative ------------------------------------18
2.11. Post Modernism and Non Linearity ----------------------------19
2.12. Non Linear Narratives----------------------------------------------20
2.13. Linear Vs. Non Linear Narratives in Fictional Films---------21
2.14. Issues in Non Linear Narratives ---------------------------------23
2.15. Non –Linear Editing -------------------------------------------------25

4. CHAPTER 3: RESEARCH METHODS--------------------------------28


4.1. Don’t Look Now---------------------------------------------------------30

4.2. Pulp Fiction---------------------------------------------------------------33
4.3. 21 Grams-------------------------------------------------------- ---------37

6. CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSION----------------------------------------------40

7. LIST OF REFERENCES----------------------------------------------------44


Figure 1: Suspense –Arc and its five act structure-----------------15

Figure 2: Elements of a Narrative---------------------------------------16


1.1. Background Information:

Cinema is a medium through which numerous people shared fictional or non

fictional stories. In simpler words cinema catered to a larger section of

population replacing the storyteller with technology and manipulated the

viewer’s response to the story (Lindroos, 1999, p.3).

Films revolutionized story telling as it was possible to destruct time scales and

reconstruct them in any order. The viewer’s perception of the story changed.

Cinema offered the viewer a newer form of spatial and temporal experience

(Lindroos, 1999, p.4).

Tom Gunning in his essay ‘The non-continuous of early film’ talks about early

cinema and its contribution to film history. ‘The challenge that early cinema

offers to film history is a search for a method of understanding the

transformations in narrative form in cinema’s first decades; a method that

maintains as awareness of early film’s difference from later practices, without

defending if simply as relation of divergence from a method of continuity’

(cited by Elsaessar, 1990, p.86).

In his book Manovich emphasises the influence that ‘new media’ has upon

film and consequently how things can be modified. He argues that “new

media abandons this “human-centred” representation altogether – to put

represented time fully under human control. Time is mapped onto two-

dimensional space, where it can be managed, analysed and manipulated

more easily” (Manovich, 2000, p.51).

1.2. Rationale of Research:

Films have undergone vast changes over the recent years owing to the digital

media systems. The narrative structure has also undergone many changes. It

can be said that the classical narrative has given way to and has emerged as

newer forms (Favero, 2001, p.1). It is commonly perceived that in a digital

medium the narrative structure is non digital and non narrative. It is also said

that narrative in a digital media doesn’t have any artistic characteristics.

Non linear narrative reflects the real life method in which an information or

story is transferred between people. This technique is now been increasingly

used in fictional films. Non linear films now comprises of an immersive

narrative where the viewer assumes an interactive role. In the interactive

environment the viewer gets transformed into a protagonist.

Non linear films have changed a passive audience and stifling surroundings

characteristic of a linear film into an active, attentive audience and offer an

unrestricted viewing environment. Non linear narrative has emerged to

prevent spectators from just seeing and comprehending sequentially arranged

story material (Henderson, 2008, p.2).

The non linear narrative with its unconventional style, dialogues, camera

angles combined with non linear editing techniques has brought in a change

to fictional films. I have undertaken this research to understand if non linear

narrative techniques have brought about a revolution in fictional films. I

believe that the subject I am going to do for my dissertation is appropriate and

valuable because my intentions are to do a profound study on a form of

narration and narration is a basic and significant element of fictional films.

1.3. Research Question:

Has non linear narratives revolutionized fictional films?

1.4. Objectives of the Research:

 To comprehend the meaning of a narrative, the elements and

the components of the narrative

 To analyse the cinematic narrative and the different elements of

a cinematic narrative

 To understand the narrative devices used in a fictional film

 To distinguish between a classical narrative and non linear


 To understand the various issues of nonlinear films

 To analyse how non linear editing has helped non linear

narrative develop

1.5. Conclusion:

In my dissertation I intend to explore and research the nonlinear narrative by

studying the fundamental characteristics of this method and the changes that

it brings to fictional films. I would also research about the non linear editing

techniques and how they have helped non linearity in films. Also I would

analyse three non linear films in a chronological order to understand how non

linearity has developed over time.


This chapter is an analysis of literature collected from diverse sources such as

journals, books, conference papers and web pages. This helps in

understanding the basic concepts of narratives and non linear narrative in


2.1. Narratology:

Narratology has two elements: the story and the way it is said. Story is a

chronologic ordering of events related causally while the method of

presentation of a story is called narration (Tomaszewski, 2005).

The story becomes a narrative or a narration when the story is placed on a

medium and is viewed by spectators. This is possible after the story is edited

determining which part of the story should be told and the method it should be

told. Narrative and narration can be distinguished as the collection of the

elements of a story and the navigation between the elements of the story


2.2. What is Narrative?

Humans have always found the urge to narrate and communicate their

experiences to others through various mediums (Thuresson, 1998, p.5). In

general a narrative is a linear, organized, uniform progression of ideas.

Narrative is “chain of events in cause-effect relationship occurring in time and

space” (Bordwell & Thompson, 2005, p.69).

2.3. Elements of a Narrative:

A narrative has certain elements such as

 Action: the events of the story

 Characters: the enactors of the story

 Setting: the location of the story

 Perspective: is the way the story elements are told

(Tomaszewski, 2005).

2.4. Components of a Narrative:

Narrative includes five basic components. They are spatiality, temporality,

causality, dramaturgy and personification. In simpler terms a narrative takes

place in a certain location (spatiality), at a certain time or within a certain time

frame (temporality), has characters which perform certain actions (causality),

the actions which the characters perform are arranged in a sequence

(dramaturgy) and all these are received by a receptee who identifies with the

events that has happened (personification). Not all the elements are present

neither in narratives always nor in the same degrees (Thuresson, 1998, p.5).

Spatiality: A narrative has to take place in a location which can either be a

real one or an abstract one. Though location plays an important part in books

and non digital medium to draw the reader into the situation the role of the

same in digital media can’t be discounted. The linear narrative details about

the history of the plot and has a strict time line while a non linear narrative

doesn’t employ a time line and is more a reflection of a particular moment.

However, caution should be exercised when using the space or the

environment in the narrative as there are chances that the viewer might be

confused about the story or the story might become fragmented. Certain

elements of the space or environment can be utilized to effectively increase

the potentiality of the narrative.


Temporality is the occurrence of an event or a sequence of events within a

time frame. Temporality in films is achieved through single images presented

one after another within equal time intervals (Thuresson, 1998, p.6). However,

the temporality between the successive frames is less effective as the images

inculcate the concept of time only indirectly and the frame and the system that

host these images have certain restraints. According to Ricoeur (1980) “A

story is made out of events to the extent that plot makes events into a story”.

Also the concept of time in a narrative in films can be divided into “story time”

and “actual time”. Actual time is the time it takes to present the story as a film

to the audience while the story time is the time frame within which the story

takes place (Thuresson, 1998, p.7).

Editing in films can be defined as the ordering of units of time between which

implicit temporal connections can be established. In films the time of telling is

very significant and makes sure that the viewer’s interest is sustained through

the film. It is also not necessary that the sequence of events should follow a

chronological order (Thuresson, 1998, p.7).


Causal relationship between the various events is very important in a film

narrative. It is the binding force which brings together events that are ordered

by both temporally and spatially. In simpler words the actions of certain

characters cause the events in a story to happen. However, it is also felt that

not all events are causally motivated. However, the concept of dramaturgy

might establish weak links between these events in a story forming an overall

pattern (Thuresson, 1998, p.7).


According to Aristotle a story has three acts. In the first act the main

characters, the time, location and the conflict between the characters are

presented, in the second act the supplementary characters are introduced

and the conflict develops while the in the third act the conflict is resolved.

However, each act has an event or disruption which alters the balance of the

story and keeps the story line moving. It can be said that characters,

completeness, unity and the motivated incidents are the four factors that

make up a story.


Actors perform an action but in some cases the action denotes the characters.

Also these characters evoke an interest in the viewer as the interaction

between the various characters in the network helps in understanding the

narrative (Thuresson, 1998, p.9).

It can be understood that characters are very important to the narrative in a

digital environment. The viewer’s interest in a character is developed and

maintained in a digital media like films by considering even a simple

antropomorphic figure as a character, contextualizing it and maintain the

interest of the viewer.


A narrative in a digital media can either be linear or non-linear. Non linearity is

achieved in a digital environment by using hypertext or hypermedia. Hypertext

can be defined as blocks of text which is non linear in nature and connected

with each other through electronic links offering multiple alternate paths. The

viewer can choose anyone of these paths while reading or viewing. One

perfect example of hypertext is the Internet where blocks of text are

electronically connected and the person browsing the Internet is free to

choose any link and browse different information. At present the term

hypertext has been replaced with Hypermedia due to the increased use of

graphics and other multimedia components in digital environment. There are

certain elements that are characteristic of hypertext. A hypertext does not

have any distinctive starting or ending points not does it include a natural

central pole. Every hypertext section should include comprehensive

information as the reader might have directly clicked on the link to this

hypertext and it can’t be confirmed what sections that the user has read

before. This implies that the whole text is fragmented completely and self

explaining or complete in itself (Thuresson, 1998, p.10). All the elements of

the hypertext can be applied to hypermedia too.

2.5. Cinematic Narrative:

A narrative can be defined based on its temporal character as “the linear

organisation of events, selected and arranged in a particular order”

(Whitebrook, 1995). A cinematic narrative can be best described as an activity

that organizes data that is available to provide an experience. Cinematic

narrative includes the temporal element similar to a novel (Lindroos, 1999,

p.9). It is said that the temporal entity of the narrative assumes importance in


A cinematic narration demonstrates both events linked together on a spatial or

temporal basis and also the historical events of the story. So a spectator gets

to view the space time on the screen and the story. Cinema also utilizes light

and sound elements to create space, time and causal interaction (Lindroos,

1999, p.9).

Film studies talk about diegetic and non diegetic worlds. The diegetic

elements of cinema refer to the events that surround the character and the

sequence in which these events are presented. It includes both visible and

non visible elements such as characters and environment that is not shown in

the film (Lindroos, 1999, p.8).

The non diegetic elements of the film help the viewer to understand the

character and the events that surround the character. The film’s music can be

cited as an example of this and these non diegetic elements support the films

story. A viewer’s distinction of the film into both diegetic and non diegetic

elements plays a significant role in understanding the film’s narrative. In

cinema there is a wide difference between the person who writes the story

and the person who narrates it on screen. There is a difference between

implicit and explicit narration in cinematic narrative. The narrative of the film is

completely different from what the original author of the story intended to

explain (Lindroos, 1999, p.8).

Films include within themselves a facility to rearrange events from their

original order depending on the story’s narrative (Lindroos, 1999, p.9). A

screen time presents images that can span hundreds of years. A spectator

while viewing the films understands these vast leaps in time and links them to

the films narrative to comprehend the film. The technological advantage of

films help in either slowing down an event in screen time, make it appear

rapidly or repeat the same event in different situations. It can be easily

concluded that the technological innovation in fictional and other genre films

has made it possible to cut, arrange and change events of the film. This

technology has led to the emergence of modern narrative techniques such as

non linear narrative techniques in films (Lindroos, 1999, p.10).

2.6. Factors that Sustain the Interest of Viewers in Films:

There are certain factors that create and sustain the interest in the viewers

when it comes to digital media or in particular films. They are:

 Interesting aspects of the content

 Novel and original methods of presentation of the content

 Variety – The content of film should not be monotonous but should

have a variety in them

 Suspense- The viewer needs to have as suspense embedded in the

film to sustain his concentration in the film. The suspense element in

the film would create a curiosity in the viewer and make him take note

of the events in the film till the suspense is resolved. Suspense has

many different segments. These segments were clearly explained by

Aristotle. This diagrammatically represented below:

Fig.1. Suspense –Arc and its five act structure

 Climax- As discussed earlier each part of the film should end with a


 Surprise- This can be achieved by including subtle shock elements in

the film

 Tone of the film: The tone of the film refers to the attitude demonstrated

(Thuresson, 1998, p.8).

2.7. Elements of a Film Narrative:

There are two elements to a narrative: The Story and The Plot. The story has

both explicitly and implicitly presented events while the plot has diegetic and

non diegetic elements.




Fig.2. Elements of a Narrative

The events of a plot can either be ordered chronologically or non-

chronologically or can be classified into hubs or satellites. Hubs are significant

major events of the plot that force the characters to traverse alternate paths

while satellites are minor events of the plot which are not essential to the plot

but perform the function of adding complexity to the plot and characters.

There are also three types of duration. The story duration is the time that the

story occurs while plot duration refers to the time that has elapsed between

the events of the story and the screen duration is the time that the film takes

to complete in a theatre. The other elements of the film narrative are as


 Suspense and Surprise elements

 Frequency: Refers to the number of times that the story elements

occur in the plot.

 Characters: Can either be a flat character with predictable behaviour

and one dimensional presentation or a round character which has been

presented three dimensionally with unpredictable and multiple

characters. There can be major, minor and marginal characters.

 Time and Space Settings: Includes location, date, characters,

education, habits and other traits

 Point of View (POV): This can either be a physical or mental point of

view. Physical point of view refers to the camera angle or how a

particular character observes an event while mental point of view is the

mental viewpoint of a character or narrator about an event. This can be

further classified as omniscient POV in which the cinematographer

uses the camera unrestrictedly and captures complete details.

Subjective POV is the perception of an individual character of the story.

This is further divided into Direct and Indirect POV (University of Texas,


2.8. Narrative in Fictional Films:

A fictional film or a narrative film explains a story and differs from films that

explain information or documentaries. Narrative in a fictional film is the

principle using which the story is converted on to the screen for an audience

while narration is the method which determines how and when the audience

understand the information that is presented on screen (Branigan 1992, p. 36)

(Branigan 1992, p. 76).

2.9. Narrative Devices:

There are certain narrative devices which help to control the transfer of

information to the audience.

 Shift in Time: This is achieved through flash backs, dream sequences,

flash forwards and repetitive sequences.

 Shift in Narrative Point of View:

1. Division between audience knowledge and character

knowledge: When an audience knows something that the

character in the film doesn’t know this leads to tension.

2. Division between audience knowledge, one character’s

knowledge and another character’s knowledge: One

character and the audience knows information which another

character in the film doesn’t know.

3. Division between one character’s knowledge, another

character’s knowledge and the audience’s knowledge: This is

when all the three people have differences in the knowledge

of information

4. Voice over narration techniques (Tarek, 2002).

2.10. Classical or Linear Narrative:

Classical narrative focuses on linear presentation and causality which in turn

was accepted as the right form of art by the audience (Henderson, 2008, p.2).

In a linear narrative the viewer is passive and identifies with the main

character of the film who has a goal or has been victimized. The viewer

moves with the character from the start till the end of the film. The feelings

that the viewer experiences like anger, satisfaction, tension and suspense are

all dependant on the way how the viewer identifies with the character. It can

be said that linear narrative is a non experiment based safe movie experience

where the spectator participation is not present. The narrative style can be

applied to almost all story genres and the viewer once identifies the genre will

know how the story would proceed further. The writer of a linear story follows

many strategies to enhance the relation of the spectator with the film’s

protagonist. To sum up the spectator performs a non participatory role in a

linear film where his/her role ends with their identification with the main

character of the film (Dancyger &Rush, 2006, pp.155-156).

One of the major elements of the classical narrative is that many events

happen during the course of the film and is brought to an end or a result is

generated (Lindroos, 1999, p.10).

2.11. Post Modernism and Non Linearity:

Non linear narrative and post modernism is often discussed on a similar scale.

Post modernism is where materials and information from previous materials

are taken and then displayed in styles completely in contrast from the original.

Non linear narrative evolved by borrowing heavily from the classical narrative

and being presented in a completely different structure (Shamtoot, 2006, p.4).

This kind of fragmented or non linear viewing of images, films is linked to the

post modernistic attitudes of the people. Non linear narratives have no proper

ending and the viewers are free to interpret the meaning of the narrative in

their own way without engagement to any particular meaning (Shamtoot,

2006, pp.9-10).

2.12. Non Linear Narratives:

Narratives structures in films play a very significant role in stirring up different

emotions in the spectator. Depending on the type of narrative either emotions

such as fear, anxiety and anger or longing and sorrow are evoked (Knudsen,

1996, p.4).

The challenge of non linear narrative lies in its capacity to arrange fragmented

images and secondary visuals. Though fragmented images or actions

produces a feeling of disruption of continuity these non linear narratives have

the ability to explain reality (Lindroos, 1999, p.17). A modern film is an

independent entity composed of discontinued images, disturbed time and

space with no central core and focuses on a viewer. A film presented in a non

linear form offers the various perspectives to the viewer (Lindroos, 1999,


Fictional narrative according to David Bordwell is the “process whereby the

film’s syuzhet [plot] and style interact in the course of cueing and channelling

the spectator’s construction of the fabula [story]”. Non linear presentation

does not include action driven learning but however, can be compared to a

story narration. A same story can be explained in many different ways. It can

either be shortened or dealt with in detail or the sequence of narration

changed to suit the situation. However, non linear presentations have one

major disadvantage. The presentation’s progression is changed at decision

points leading to a feeling of dissatisfaction in the viewer and a thought that

they have missed some important parts of the presentation. To avoid this in

non linear presentations the coherence of the data discussed should be

maintained by making inherent decisions (Schneider, Bleimann, Harriehausen

& Phippen, 2006, p.2).

The possibilities that non linear narratives offer are endless with infinite

variation of time space elements either moving backward or forward or time

and space uniting them in to one single entity. It was believed that one

needed to have a lot of narrative intelligence to create interactive and non-

linear stories and films.

Non linearity has been in use right from the year 1929 when the first non

linear film hit the theatres (Dancyger &Rush, 2006, p.154). Non linear

narratives have developed tremendously since its early days and have been

fuelled by the non linear editing and computer programs. Computer based

cinematic story telling systems help in the production non sequential or non

linear narrative structures.

The computer applications have enhanced the open nature of the non linear

film. The cuts, the sounds and the fragmentary elements of the non narrative

techniques offer the viewer endless possibilities to comprehend the story in

his/her own methods. The viewer is made aware that besides the story that is

presented there are other versions of the story that are possible. Fictional

films now come with completely disorganised linear narrative structure.

Sometime spectators are confused and surprised by the order of the events

presented (Lindroos, 1999, p.10).

2.13. Linear Vs. Non Linear Narratives in Fictional Films:

There are certain advantages about non-linearity. Traditional or classical

narrative is sometimes felt as being very stifling while non linear narratives are

considered to offer better freedom. Also it is said that the non linear narrative

reflects the way in which our minds work that is non linearly. However, the

importance of traditional narrative can’t be overlooked. The classical narrative

offers a storyteller the method to order ideas and appeal to the artistic part of

the audience. If not executed properly non linear narrative might offer a

feeling of disorganization.

Non linear narrative is unconventional style of filmmaking which doesn’t give

importance to a protagonist but has multiple independent stories that end with

a final event where all characters and stories collide and mingle in to one.

In simple words non linear narrative is one where events are not narrated

chronologically. Events happening in different times may be shown back and

forth or in quick succession.

In the non linear narrative the spectator can’t identify with any character and

just observes the characters in the story unlike the linear narrative where the

viewer travel along with the character in the story. Non linear stories might or

might not include a plot (Dancyger &Rush, 2006, p.156). The structure of the

non linear narrative may either be loose or layered. The linear film generally

has a three act structure while the non linear film might have tow acts or no

act breaks at all. A non linear film might have multiple stories presented as

two acts or small short films within a larger film (Dancyger &Rush, 2006,

pp.159-160). The tone of the non linear film can’t be predicted. In linear films

the tone of the film matches the story genre and is constant through out the

film. However, the tone keeps on changing within the story in a non linear film.

The tone of the film does not correspond to the film but changes with the

writer’s intensions (Dancyger &Rush, 2006, p.160).

In a linear film it is imperative that the antagonist and protagonist has goals

and the clash of the interest in the goals provides the impetus to move the film

forward. However, the goal may or may not be present in a non linear

narrative. The impetus to take the film forward is done by either positioning

the characters in a situation where they contradict each other. The viewers

can also be made to sit up in their seats with the effective use of dialogues.

The effective use of dialogues is evident in a scene in the film Pulp Fiction.

Two men are discussing a murder of a person over financial matters. The

audience keeps on expecting some kind of dialogues in relation to the matter.

However, they are taken by surprise as they completely deviate from the

subject and talk about eating, French habits and foot massages. This really

pushes the spectator into a surprised state and creates a tension and energy

which propels the movie forward (Dancyger &Rush, 2006, pp.160-161).

In linear stories plot is very important and an integral part. However, this is not

the case in non-linear narratives. Plot may or may not be present and if

present is sometimes pushed to the background like in the movie Pulp Fiction

(Dancyger &Rush, 2006, p.161).

2.14. Issues in Non Linear Narratives:


The non linear narrative has both strengths and weakness. However, one

entity which is really significant to the non linear story is the voice of the writer.

The predominant presence of the writer’s voice enhances the character and

offers freedom and flexibility to the writer. The voice of the writer acts as a

unifying force in a non linear narrative moulding together different stories in

the narrative.

Focus on Specific Scenes:

The non linear story should focus on individual scenes in the film and treat

them as independent films. This kind of focus increases the intensity of the

story similar to a linear story despite the non linear story having looseness of

plot and insignificant focus on characters (Dancyger &Rush, 2006, p.162).

The Issue of Involvement:

The non linear story requires lesser involvement form the spectator than a

linear story. To address this issue some writers use different strategies such

as more focus on the plot or unique characters that attract the attention of the

spectators. Such a lack of involvement of the spectator subsequently leads to

boredom. To prevent this in the movie Pulp Fiction dialogues, plot and

exaggeration techniques were followed. Since these were fresh techniques

not tried by anyone else it really attracted the attention of the spectators and

lifted the film. Boredom can also be resolved by the appropriate use of writer’s

voice or incorporating techniques not tried by others (Dancyger &Rush, 2006,


Non linear plots or narratives start and end at a point however, offer multiple

paths or multiple story branches between the point A and B. Though the end

point is certain the means that the end is reached has multiple paths. This

kind of structure makes the spectator more immersed in the narrative and the

audience has the ability to control the development of the plot in the non linear

narrative. A good non linear narrative will either have multiple plot points

which allow the user to manoeuvre between the different plots but reach a

same conclusion or the story might have smaller story branches which are not

linked together and the audience will come to different conclusions. A non

linear narrative in a film or novel can be a combination of both. Non linear

narrative films require a good amount of concentration and patience from the


2.15. Non-Linear Editing:

With the advent of computers editing in films have become an easy task with

the computers generating narratives easily and performing the decision

making role (Brooks, 1996, p.318). Non linear editing is done by storing the

video or movie in a computer and then breaking down the digitized version

into smaller segments. With the help of the director notes and script the

smaller segments are then edited in the system itself. The non linear editor

scores over the linear one as the video and movie is electronically stored the

video is easily accessible (Browne, 1998, p.3).

In the Michael Brandt project about ‘Traditional Film Editing vs Electronic

Nonlinear Film Editing: A Comparison of Feature films’ he compares the two

different forms of editing in six different films. In this study Brandt argues that

‘the editing of the three films cut electronically. There are statistically

differences on a number of measures, and although the sample is not random

(and therefore the differences apply only to these films and not to the whole

universe of Hollywood films)…’ (Brandt, 1994).

In the present age there has been a shift from traditional editing to a non-

linear, electronic editing system such as Montage or EditDroid. Films which

were edited non linearly were has shorter shot lengths, used double the

number of opticals and had a unique dialog sequences which relied more on

alternate images rather than on the speaker of listener in the scene. On an

average it was found that 5.15 seconds as the shot time in traditional cut films

with the electronically edited ones being 4.75seconds in length. One factor

that needs to be considered while editing films electronically is the time that

the spectator needs to adjust with a shot cut. It has been proven that an

average viewer takes anywhere between 0.5 to 3 seconds to really

understand a shot cut change. If the length of the shot in electronically edited

systems is less then the spectator might find it very difficult to completely

comprehend the shot. This would lead to the viewer understanding the

different shots incompletely. However, such short shot cuts are also creative

and useful to create tensions in the viewer and really create an acute interest

in the proceedings of the film.

It becomes very easy to use optical transitions in electronic non linear editing

techniques and subsequently transition effects such as wipes and fades are

used frequently in the editing technique.

Studies have proven that such transitions appear in around 3.10% of shots

compared to their occurrence of 1.56% in traditionally cut films. The increased

use in electronic editing is obvious as an editor can test how these transition

would look on screen during electrical editing while this is not so in traditional

systems. Not only these transitions but more computer effects would be

utilized during electrical editing due to the ease of its use.

It was also found that films electronically edited had more close up shots

when compared to the traditional ones. An editor prefers one particular shot to

others as they might look good in a particular viewing situation. Editors who

use electronic systems might choose close up shots are these might look

good in the low resolution viewing environment of films. Also it was found that

traditionally edited films had more complex dialogue structures than

electronically edited ones. Traditional cut films had an average of 1.093 for

dialogue complexity while it was 0.873 for electronically edited films. The

dialog complexity index analyses the dialogue usage and the complexity it

offers to the editor. Off screen dialogues are simple while on screen dialogues

are tougher. However, pictures and sounds are very easily structured and

synchronized by the electronic systems. Also electronically edited films show

alternate images other than the character who is delivering the dialogue. In

fact the editors feel that such alternate images are a creative way of editing.

Also electronically edited films used 30% less reverse shots when compared

to the traditional ones (Brandt, 1994).

Non linear editing techniques have made the non linear story and films as a

feasible form of narration. Since the non linear story does not have a single

main character and there are many short story streams there need to be set

goal to edit the film non-linearly. They can be listed out as follows:

 The narrative should be coherent and should be held together or made

coherent by a shaping device. The shaping device may vary from film

to film. In Pulp Fiction the identity crises faced by the criminals is the

device or tool which makes the narrative coherent.

 The energy of the film is important. Though gangster films have

tremendous energy due to its plot structure in Pulp Fiction there is no

significant plot. There are three stories and they are not presented

chronologically. The plot is concentrated in the second story. The

energy to propel the film Pulp Fiction comes from its dialogue and

camera movement (Dancyger, 2007, p.417-418).


This chapter details the method of analysis in this research. The narratology,

the definition of narratives, the basic elements and components of narratives,

the differences and salient features of both non linear and linear narratives

were understood. Based on the literature and for the purposes of this

research I plan to study the process of research and development, the

elements that compose non linear narratives through the analysis of a three

films from different directors in a chronological order.

Though there are numerous non linear films I have chosen Don’t Look Now

(1973), Pulp Fiction (1994) and 21 Grams (2003) for the purpose of the study.

These films have been chosen for certain reasons. The film Don’t Look Now

can be termed as a masterpiece from the director while the film Pulp Fiction is

considered to be an influential film. It can be safely said that Pulp Fiction

created a new genre of non linear films. The film 21 Grams stirs up so much

emotion in the audience which can never be matched by any other film of its

times. The film is noted for its brilliant star cast and techniques.

Based on the analysis I would comprehend how the characteristics of non

linear narratives are used in these films. I would also analyse how non-

linearity emerged in fictional films and what were the main causes and

influences of its appearance. I will also focus on the development of the

elements of nonlinearity and the expansion of this type of narration based on

these films.

I will examine the style and learn the main characteristics that make nonlinear

narrative so distinctive through a profound research of the authors and

directors who used the nonlinear technique in the films. I also intend to verify

the most common element of nonlinearity and find the reasons for the use of

the same.

I intend to see how each director applies these elements and also to read

their perspectives about the films I will study the techniques and

methodologies used. I would also concentrate my efforts on the editing

techniques, camera angles and shots used in this film. I cannot study or make

a paper on nonlinear narrative, without focussing my study on other relevant

aspects of film and nonlinearity. During the process of examination, I will also

have to analyse the structure of the film, time and space and compare these

elements between the films.

Time, as the other elements is an important characteristic of every film, and in

nonlinear films, it plays a crucial role as it defines the narrative and situates

the viewer. As Michael Toolan argues, ‘time itself, in the sense of systematic

measurement of what separates particular states from our present one, is

itself a structuring and structuralist notion’ (Toolan, 1988:83). As a result, all

these elements articulate with each other and with the film narrative.

Working on this project, would provide me with great knowledge and

understanding of something that is crucial for films and for my future career as

a filmmaker.


4.1. Don’t Look Now- Nicholas Roeg (1973)


The story of the film is based on the short story by Daphne (Rebecca) du

Maurier. The Baxter’s John and Laura portrayed by Donald Sutherland and

Julie Christie are a couple who lose their daughter in a drowning episode in

Britain. The scene opens with the death of the small child. To cope over the

loss they move to Venice where Sutherland an architect by profession

supervises a church restoration where his wife meets two psychic sisters.

During the winter months in Venice the couple encounters supernatural

connections. A psychic sister identifies the dead daughter’s spirit. Since a

killer is on loose killing young women John asks Laura to return back to

Britain. However, Laura refuses. John also sees a small figure in the red

raincoat that the daughter of the couple was wearing on the day of her death

repeatedly. In a chilling climax in the closing scene John sees Laura and the

two sisters, oblivious to him, pass by on a funeral barge (Dayoub, 2008).


Nicholas Roeg has changed cinema from a time based medium to a medium

in which time is comprehended by the viewer. Though the director still makes

movies it is his movies in the 1970’s that he is still remembered for. Don’t

Look Now (1973) is often remembered for its famous love making scene

between a bereaved husband and wife. However, the film has many more

elements that make it a masterpiece in its own right.

The film Don’t Look Now has an eerie environment dealing with the death of a

young girl and how the Baxter’s deal with the tragedy. The film is set in Venice

in winter. Don’t Look Now can be classified as a peculiar horror film as there

are no scenes which predominantly depict the horror in the movie. However,

there is always an uneasy tension prevailing in the film which is due to the

grief and death of a small child and the bereavement of the parents.

The film has all the elements that the director is famous for such as the use of

colour, boldness of themes and the structure of the film including aggressive

elements such as the famous love making scene (Kelly, 2008, p.1).

The film includes impressive imagery with generous use of the colour red

reminding the spectators of the colour of the dress worn by the young girl

when she drowns during the start of the film. The film starts on a shocking

note with the drowning of the small girl and the spectator has a sense of

unease throughout the film as Sutherland sees various images which

convince him that his daughter is still alive. The closing scenes of the film with

graphic displays of blood and violence leave a lasting impression in people’s


Roeg is very creative and does not follow any predetermined story structure.

He is of the opinion that the story needs to evolve all the time. Roeg wanted

his viewers to be surprised by what the camera has captured and always

followed the most original method of making his movies (Kelly, 2008, p.2).

Don’t Look Now is a film which aptly subscribes to the view that the director is

a master in creating films that are intellectual puzzles and this is considered

as his best film till date. The opening drowning scene is a shot that has been

tastefully done with a series of synchronous intercuts. The film abounds in

many clues which imply to the spectator what is in store for them in the course

of the film like Sutherland’s struggle to rescue the child serves as visual

precursor clue for the sex scene that would come in the film (Moria, 2008).

A red coated small figure is always omnipresent in the camera frame. The

director’s use of the colour red is also appreciated by the spectators. The

scene where Sutherland chases the red coat figure across Venice is a treat to

watch with the colour being depicted in multiple places such as the red

sweater on a clothesline, the red square in Sutherland’s scarf. The colour red

is used as a significant visual symbol across the film. The film also boasts of

daring cross cuts with the love scenes being alternated with scenes in which

the couple dress up for dinner after their act (Moria, 2008).

Non linear techniques are very evident in the film with Sutherland always

experiencing a feeling of death and slowly a sense of something morbid

closing in on the couple is built up by the director creating a feeling that the

couple have been trapped and cannot escape from the situation. The director

uses contrasting images of the generally serene and beautiful locales of

Venice. The director plays with the spectator’s instincts. In the film the locales

of Venice are notably aloof, the streets are deserted, a killer is on the loose,

and a blind psychic says that she has seen Baxter's dead daughter. A strange

and sad quality is presented to the audience in contrast to the good and

happy feel that a tourist destination such as Venice portrays. This creates a

sense of foreboding in the spectator. This is one highlighting feature of this

non linear film (Dayoub, 2008).

The film is based on the theme of fate and the non linear editing of the film

heightens this. The editing style of the movie is totally disorienting and

distorted. The director uses a lot of mirror images, constant distraction

techniques and 180 degree action line in addition to unmotivated sounds to

create the mood of the story. Story elements are warped by the director and

elements like time and space are connected though in a distorted manner.

Don’t look now is a thoroughly enjoyable film and thriller with a fitting finale.

The film resembles a fragmented nightmare though delivered on the screen


4.2. Pulp Fiction - Quentin Tarantino (1994)


Pulp Fiction has a prologue and epilogue. Pumpkin and Honey Bunny discuss

small robbery in a coffee shop finish their discussion and food following it with

robbery. This can be considered as the prologue of the film. The film then

displays the titles followed by a scene were Jules and Vinnie discussing about

BigMac. This scene is considered to set the pace for the entire film and

informs the audience that the two killers’ works for Wallace and they need to

get back the suitcase. The first story shows how Jules and Vinnie kill the three

men and the scenes where Vinnie take Mia out to dinner in addition to the

overdose and recovery of Mia. The second story is about Butch and his

watch. The scenes depict what happens to Butch as he did not lose the fight

as he had agreed to do so. The third story or part of the film is a continuation

of the first story and shows how Marvin’s remains which are splattered in the

car are cleaned. Jules, his transformation and his talk about divine

intervention all form the epilogue including a continuation of the robbery that

honey Bunny and Pumpkin did in the prologue part of the film (Syd Field,



Pulp Fiction can be stated as a film innovative in thought, concept and the

style of execution was considered unique.

 The plot and the story are non linear in structure and completely

disjointed with multiple narrative themes.

 The average film goer’s expectations are aroused as the films opens

not with the main characters but with small and insignificant characters

though the film has multiple main characters. The tempo is sustained

by stopping the Honey Bunny and Pumpkin narrative in the course of

the film and merging it with the Vince and Jules character narratives.

 The characters in the film are indifferent to the crime and the hold up

which happens in the film is very natural and not forced in to the


 Though each of these narratives deals with exclusive problems they

often overlap and mix with each other during the story process. Some

of the places where scenes take place and the scenes are repeated.

However, each scene is dealt with differently and from a different point

of view preventing a sense of boredom in the viewers and sustaining

their interest throughout the film (English Teaching Online, 2003, pp.1-


 The movie uses dialogues to the minimum and does not use this to

move the plot of the film forward.

 The films inculcates various post modernistic techniques in it including

inter textual nature, fragmented plot and story, no clear ethical values

reflected in the film, merging of low and high cultural values, no clear

sense of time, location and space in addition to irony (English Teaching

Online, 2003, pp.1-2). However, certain mysteries in the film are not

resolved. One example for this is the viewer is not shown what is inside

the briefcase till the end of the movie.

 Also unlike a classical narrative the film does not clearly demarcate the

good and bad characters. All the characters in the films have various

levels of criminality in them leading to a sense of hatred in the viewer’s

mind about all the characters in the film.

 The film is based on the contradicting theories and ides of rescue and

revenge, loyalty and betrayal in addition the violence in the film is given

a very indifferent treatment which is evident from the fact that

sometimes violence is mixed with humour.

 The film’s music and costumes should be given special appreciation as

they span different time periods. The dialogues in the film can be

termed as the most interesting and humorous of its times.

 There are minimal establishing shots. For example, the exact location

of the diner is not determined as the film does not include a shot to

ascertain the place of the diner in which the action happens.

 The film defies convention as most of the scenes in the film are

monologues and the camera is focussed on the backside of the

character delivering the dialogue or in other words the face of the

character which is listening. This is in difference to most of the films as

a majority of them use only shot reverse shot technique. The film

abounds in shots characteristic of the director Tarantino. One scene

worth mentioning is the scene which focuses on Vince and Jules when

they open the car boot. It gives the viewer a feeling that the scene has

been shot from the boot of the car (English Teaching Online, 2003,


 The traditional dramatic structure is completely destroyed in the film. As

an audience it was natural for them to expect the criminals to commit a

crime rise and then fall. However, the crime scene included a

philosophical dialogue between two main characters which completely

douses the anxiety that would build up after the murder would be


 The characters are introduced one at a time and at various points of

the story. In the film events are shown from the perspective of each of

the character while each character is depicted independently. However,

it so happens that characters overlap into other characters sometimes.

In other words pulp Fiction has multiple linear stories with these

overlapping with each other sometime and having a common end in a

single event (Pig, 2008, pp.1-3).

 The time line in the film Pulp fiction is bit strange. The films reel time is

around one week and movie goes back and forth within this week’s

time. The audience is left wondering for the change in costume of Jules

and Vinnie. They appear in suits when they enter the apartment to kill

the inhabitants but however, they are in gaudy tshirts and shorts when

they leave the apartment. The costume change is explained later that

is due to the blood of spilling on their suits when he is accidentally

killed in the car. Also the non linear style is evident from the same

opening and closing scene where Jules and Vinnie declare that they

have come to rob the coffee shop. The closing and opening scene are

repeated but from different perspectives which is possible only with non

linear story telling technique (Wiloux, 2008, pp.1-2).

 The movie does not include a cause and effect structure and is famous

for its style of presentation, dialogue and non-linear approach

(Dancyger, 2007, p.415).

4.3. 21Grams- Alejandro González Iñárritu (2003)


The film was directed by a Mexican Director Alejandro González Iñárritu in the

year 2003 following the death of his young son. The film is written by

Guillermo Arriaga and deals with three stories which are all linked together

with a common car accident. The film starts with three people in a room with a

gun shot being fired. Jack Jordon (portrayed by Benicio Del Toro) is an ex

convict and is depicted as a person with a rough character while Christina

Peck acted out by Naomi Watts is a mother and ex drug user while the

professor Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) is suffering from a congenital heart

disease. The lives of these three characters are entwined by a tragic car

accident (Dermansky, 2008). Jack who wants to start life afresh runs over

Christina’s husband and two children. Jack is consumed by guilt as he has

been the cause of death of the family and turns himself to the police. Christina

in turn agrees to have her husband’s heart transplanted to Paul to save the

ailing professor. Paul involves a detective to search for the donor of his heart

and he falls in love with Christina and then they go in search of Jack. The film

ends with a scene involving all three of them in a dingy motel room.


The film analyses the theme of human morality in different groups of people.

The characters are portrayed differently and are all united by a common

tragedy. The title represents the exact amount of weight that a person loses

when he or she dies. The film deals with a theme of the dead people

exercising an influence over the people who still live. The film is in line with

non linearity principles and doesn’t demarcate the characters of the films as

good or bad. The film also doesn’t have conventional main characters. The

character Jack runs over a family but does nothing to help them after the

accident. However, he is consumed by guilt because of the action. The

characters of the film have contradicting features in them.

The film has huge narrative scenes linked to together with emotions. Also the

film uses light as an important object and pays adequate significance to the

concepts of day and night. Till the accident happens the scenes happen in

day light while after the accident there are afternoon, dusk and night scenes.

The film also imbibes the theme of fate and the place in which the action

happens is not defined. The film deals with death and other dark images.

However, it has an element of hope in it (Curry, 2003).

The film doesn’t have a sense of time and the narrative shifts back and forth

posing a real challenge to the spectators to piece together the chunks of

information. The film has been entirely shot with hand held cameras which

result in grainy pictures. The film is shot in a documentary style and most of

the shots are close ups in bleached style. The film’s audience doesn’t feel the

time space continuity. The film has been edited to present a fragmented

narrative presentation. Special mention should be made about the films

editing as the scenes are cut associately based on the characters emotions

and not linearly. Such a non linear presentation makes the spectator sit up

and take note of the film. The film also abounds in a lot of clues some of

which are deceptive and confuses the viewers (Soares, 2008).

The film deals with the theme of death in an indirect and realistic way. In this

film unlike certain films the sub plots are also not in chronological order. The

audience has to pay attention to minute details such as the costumes of the

characters to understand the film’s time line. The film has numerous flash

forwards and flash back shots. However, the film’s music is disappointing

(Antulov, 2004). The spectator is always on the edge having a feeling that he

knows what is going to happen and also that he doesn’t know what is going to


The film is a mosaic of images placed non chronologically which develops in

to a tale of death, tragedy and redemption. The past present and future all

converge together in the movie with no clear demarcation and the film shifts

from one character to another with a dizzying frequency.

The film imbibes modernist techniques such as non linear structure to depict

fate, uncertain identity of the characters and time. Non linear narrative

techniques, flash forwards, repetitive loops and theme are merged together to

produce an expressive film (Hahn, 2005, p.53).


Cinema has a history of technological innovations and creative diversity.

Cinema is a mix of various elements such as hyper realities, space and time

that weaves magic over the audience in darkened cinema halls.

Through the analysis of relevant literature, related archives and articles I

understood the basic concepts of narratology, narration, story, elements of

narration and cinematic narration in fictional films. A narrative is a series of

events related through causuality, temporally and spatially. A film narrative not

only includes formal elements of a story but also the audience’s

comprehension of the information that is presented. Narrative includes the

story and the way it is presented. The method of presentation includes

camera shots, angle, technology and techniques used. Narrative film is

synonymous with fictional films.

Narration can be defined as a set of organised representations of the story

that needs to be delivered to the audience. A fictional film is a collection of the

narrative texts which have independent styles. Narrative should always be

analysed based on the history of films, production modes and narrative theory

(Film Reference, 2008). The classical and non linear narrative forms were

analysed and the principal differences between these two forms of narrative

were outlined.

The research study also included an analysis of three non linear films by

different directors to understand how the non linearity principles have been

used in these films by the directors. After the analysis certain common

features of non linear films were comprehended.

They are as follows:

 No conventional plot structure

 A character or event is presented not chronologically but broken down

in to smaller events and rearranged to offer the audience a compelling

movie experience.

 Characters in the film are not given any importance

 Action is an important element in the plot of non linear films but

however, is not concerned about a single goal that the characters

pursue. Theme is also significant for the plot structure.

 Dramatic unity in a non linear film is achieved by a theme and a

framing action

 The controlling theme defines the film’s experience while the framing

action is needed to establish continuity in the story and a context of the

story (Cowgill, 2003).

After analysing the films the common non linear techniques and

characteristics in these three films in particular can be listed out as follows:

 The films offer no significance to the traditional plot or dramatic


 The films include scenes that are very aggressive in nature

 The films don’t follow tradition when it comes to defining the virtues of

the characters. There is no demarcation of the good and bad in the


 The films have multiple stories running within them with some scenes

overlapping with each other or all the stories coming to an end with a

single event

 The films use a lot of imagery, images and colours

 All the films follow a non linear structure and offer no importance to


 All the films have no proper time lime as the scenes shift back and forth

in time.

 The films boast of special shot techniques such as flash backs, flash

forwards, repetitive loops and intercuts.

 Totally disoriented editing style is followed in all the films.

 In the films a bleak and sad nature of the society is presented

 All the films have a theme on which they base the story and narrative


 In some films there is no proper definition of the place or location that

the action is happening in

 The films abound in a lot of visual clues to the audience

 The style of presentation, dialogue delivery and the film structure is

worth mentioning

 The audience is always given an active role in comprehending the film.

Non-Linear narrative has been in vogue from time immemorial. In early days

this narrative was present in text only. However, the developments in cinema

developed the non linear narrative as well to involve the audience as an active


It was understood that non linear narrative has changed cinema into an

immersive narrative space where the viewer becomes the camera person and

editor. Non linear narratives have created a sensation and revolutionized

fictional film making with their unique plot, dialogue delivery, tone and story. In

its pursuit of excellence non linear narratives have been immensely helped by

the non linear editing techniques. Non linear editing breaks away the

conventions that a film should have an ordered flow of time. In a non linearly

edited film The scenes would be linear in progression. However, the scene

itself might be placed anywhere in the movie to create an interest in the


Non linear editing was never considered to last long. However, non linear

editing has withstood the travails of time and in fact completely put an end to

off line linear editing techniques. Non linear editing technique is exciting and

an easy to perform operation for editor (Browne, 1998, p.2).

The linear or traditional story is now considered outdated. However, a non

linear writer needs to address the issues which plague the non linear story

through various strategies in order to lift the narrative style to better levels.


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