As part of my final essay for DME1000, will be discussing the concept of narrative agency and I will also analyse two set media texts of my choosing. Within this essay whilst analyzing my media texts I will proceed to discussing various narrative theories, differentiating the key difference between a story and plot, as well talking about the significance of the technical and symbolic codes of my chosen media texts.
When analyzing a movie’s narrative ones must know the difference between a story and plot. Plot and story are very similar however are differentiated from each other as Suzzane Keen once mentioned “story means the event of the narrative as “they happened in the imaginative zone, chronological and ordering of fictive time (Keen 2003:75) “ this emphasizes that a story is an essential timeline of circumstance that are showcased in a narrative. A story is a mental construct that connects certain circumstances in the film together. The plot differs from a story however they are affiliated; a plot is a logic that educates its viewers, readers, and audience on why certain series of events make a story. “The fully reconstituted set of narrated even, completed with casual relation and consequences, makes the plot”.
As most films go through, a three-structure act: Beginning, Middle, and End. Emphasized by poet Aristotle, I have realized that Tzvetan Todorov's narrative theory plays a major contribution towards this point.
Tzvetan Todorov was a French/ Bulgarian film narrative theorist/structuralist. Born on March 1st, 1939 in Sofia, Bulgaria; Todorov has had a major influence on Ferdinand's semiology and g culture. Whilst reading “Structural analysis of narrative” it was mentioned that in 1969 Tzvetan Todorov that “plot consists of a movement from one state of equilibrium through a state of disequilibrium to a final state of equilibrium that is similar to, but not the same as, the first state of equilibrium”. (Richard L. W. Clarke, Novel 3 p1)
The equilibrium is the primary phase where everything in the narrative seems to be completely good and happy. The equilibrium stage of the film is where most characters in the film are introduced and the status quo. Todorov's analysis always starts off with the equilibrium stage (balance), Todorov strongly believes that as the storyline develops the equilibrium phase will change shifty due to disrupting events in the story, therefore, allowing the narrative to enter a state of disequilibrium (unbalance). As the original equilibrium is ruptured, a new equilibrium must start, new equilibriums will begin until the final equilibrium has been reached.
Bulgarian theorist, Tzvetan Todorov, suggests that all narratives follow a five-part structure and they are following:
- A state of equilibrium (stability) at the start
- A disruption of the equilibrium by some action
- A recognition that there has been a disruption
- An attempt to repair the disruption
- Reinstatement of the equilibrium
Todorov's narrative theory can be applied to Catwoman (2004) in the following ways:
The equilibrium theory is shown when Patience (protagonist) a very shy woman that cannot stand up for herself, goes to work at a cosmetic company as a graphic designer. Tasked to redesign an advert by her boss, she stumbles across a cat on her window ceil. Attempting to retrieve the cat from the ledge, a patrolling police officer thinks Patience (Catwoman) is attempting suicide. Saved by the police officer, Patience agree to detective Tom’s request for a date. Patience and Tom are seen smiling at each other and this connotes the stereotypical scene in a film where the main woman is saved by her love interest and this scene in most films are where women are represented as clumsy.
The disruption is shown in the form of Patience overhearing the discussion between Laurel and a Doctor on new ant aging product having major health problems. As patience's and presence is noticed by Laurel’s guards she is ordered to be killed and drowns. As her body is found by several casts and she is mysteriously revived.
The third stage of Todorov narrative act “Recognition of the disruption” is when Patience start to attain Cat capabilities, as her movements are odd and uncontrollable. A good example of this would be when she breaks the glass door and tries to brush it off as a dream. Intrigued by the cat that appears at her flat, Patience realizes that cat belonged to an old Women named Ophelia, who informs to Patience that the cat is an Egyptian Mau a rare cat that gives special abilities to select women after they die.
As Patience is now official Known as ‘Catwoman” she encounters one of the man that was ordered to kill her. As Catwoman attacks the guard, he informs that the company ordered her killed and that he did not know who Patience was. Whilst investigating the company she saw another familiar guard on the night of her original death, murdered is blamed for his death.
As the narrative transitions to the penultimate Todorov film theory “An attempt to repair the damage”. Laurel Hedare contacts Catwoman reporting to her that her husband has committed crimes and she contains proof. When Catwoman arrives, George has been killed laurel and frames patience for the murder. As Tom investigates patience belongings and see a diamond, originally stolen by Catwoman at some point in the narrative. Tom put two in one together and confirms his suspicion that Patience is Catwoman. As the evidence collected clearly indicates that Patience is the murderer, however she denies having any involvement of George’s murder during the interrogation. As Patience escapes from the precinct from the help of Mau, she confronts Laurel in a stereotypical showdown between the hero vs. the villain. This concept strives toward Claude Levi Strauss structuralism theory based on binary opposites.
In typical fashion, Patience claws Laurel's face during their fight and the instant transformation of her face, is a side effect of the skin care product that she is planning to release. As Laurel falls to her death and Patience manages to save Tom and shut down the Hedare company. Tzvetan Todorov's narrative theory concludes as a ‘New Equilibrium is reached as she takes the mantle of her Lifetimes Catwoman.The narrative of this film is very tightly plotted because their is a reason for everything that happens in the film and therefore the event that occur in the film is a consequence of what happened previously
Whilst analysis Catwoman the concept of the male gaze an how women are perceived came to mind.The term ‘Male gaze’ stem from the way we create meaning through representations. To continue this, point the male gaze is an ideology to showcase the sexualization of women in films. Laura Mulvey a British feminist theorist in film has stated “This the women as Icon, displayed for the gaze and enjoyment of men, the active controller looks.” (John Storey 2015:9). A good example of this would be American actress Marilyn Monroe. Monroe is an excellent example of the male gaze, as she was highly sexualized in films and even until this very day she is considered majors sex symbol and was dependable to investors in in films. The male gaze is majority represented where a female is the main protagonist in a movie, this was mentioned in DME1000 week 14. “When woman the protagonist”. The male gaze was somewhat represented in the above media text Catwoman. In the Catwoman film, women are stereotypical as being very sexualized both the protagonist and antagonist, as we can see Halle Barry character wearing black leather suit and her female assets are clearly exposed. The ending scene of the Catwoman movie is good example of the male gaze, the camera, focuses on Halle Barry’s body language, the significance of this is to concentrate on the attractiveness of the character being represented.
Throughout my time during lectures and seminar in DME1000 Media Analysis, I have realized when watching Catwoman (2004) that Hollywood love representing woman as passive object, convincing myself to partially agree with Lara Mulvey when she stated female protagonist “coded for strong visual and erotic impact signaling to be looked at ness” (Collen Glen:502).
The second Media text I will analyze is Hancock as a superhero film starring Will smith released in 2008. In my analysis of this film, I will use Todorov's narrative however It partially be analyzed using Claude Levi Straus's structuralism theory.
Claude Levi Strauss discovered they understood certain words does depend not on the
meaning it directly holds. They understood the difference between the word and opposites or also known as binary opposition. Claude and Roland Barthes realised that words simply act as symbols society ideas between relationships than fixed relationships.
Levi Straus's theory is conflict is centred on the binary opposites and that binary opposites are vital high point of a narrative structure. Once Strauss’s theory is understood people will start to realize the Hancock movie also trail the similar structure. Strauss binary opposition consist the following:
- Good vs evil
- Black vs white
- Boy vs girl
The equilibrium stage of the narrative is when Hancock the hero is seen intoxicated and woken up by a child. As he does his deeds and stops a bunch of criminals the disruption occurs as the civilians complain about Hancock’s carelessness for personal property and demand he should be arrested. As relating to Vladimir Propps's theory, the dispatcher ray (second character) persuades Hancock to go to prison to realise that they need him therefore the recognition part of Todorov’s theory comes in to play. The donor quickly becomes friends with Hancock much to the helper’s dismay.
The disruption relapses as Hancock is seen being terrorised in prison by fellow inmates as he’s responsible for putting them there. Attempting to repair the disruption he had caused Hancock silently pays for his crime but due to his containment crime level has risen. The equilibrium resurfaces as he is a free man; the equilibrium is short lived as there is bank robbery causing the disruption to occur and the robber is established as the villain of the movie. Strauss's theory “binary opposition” comes into light as good vs evil is established between Hancock and the robber.
The equilibrium again resurfaces as he appreciates the police’s help. As Hancock finds out the truth that the helper was previously his wife they fight across the city, as Strauss theory I’ve noticed that a binary code – boy vs girl (Hancock vs Mary). Ray discovers them fighting making the disruption to happen again. the recognition is occurred again as she stayed away from Hancock to protect herself.
The villain escapes from prison wanting revenge against Hancock. Once he had found him they face off in hospital one final time as everything goes Hancock and Mary are hurting struggling to keep alive. The recognition stage is seen when he tries to stay away as far as possible healing from their wounds. The equilibrium is once and for all seen when Hancock puts the symbol of ray’s PR on moon smiling for his efforts.
Strauss, Todorov and Propps's film theories are hard to recognise in art cinema are because they are independent films that they targeted at specific audience. Unlike Hollywood movies, art film does not target a large audience to create revenue. Art film does not have a huge budget, art film is eccentric this suggests that art cinemas does not follow the identical construction system like Hollywood movies.
It’s hard to uses narrative theories because art movies are surrealistic and directed and producers tend centre around the dreams of characters instead of giving a direct goal, in art movies, there are some codes and conventions such as, relationship
Art film/cinemas have an unclear structure and therefore could be puzzling. The storyline of an art movie is difficult to keep up with. Resulting that theories created by the film Philosopher that cannot be used in art movies. “There has always been a tradition in European cinema for the production of films that challenge or at least subvert the convention of the mainstream” (Jill Nelmes 1999:84)
Using lights and costumes are very important to the mise en scene, lighting can be used in various ways that can give its audience an impression or emotion on certain characters and scene is in Catwoman, when patience is resurrected, she is shown in an aura green light. As the color green connotes life and energy, this gives the audience the feeling of opportunity is represented as Catwoman is brought back to life. When it comes to a movies antagonist dark color are used, dark colour connotes fear and danger, an example of this is when Hancock is fighting the villain and almost dies on the fact that he’s easily wounded around his partner, you also see in movies that criminals/ villain are never in bright clothing but instead in black or brown clothing.
Even though Catwoman and Hancock are depicted from the same superhero genre, as both characters wear costumes, the costume are an insignia of their character's history and development. The film does not deter from its original character aesthetically.
When it comes to technicality, Hancock and Catwoman are set in Los Angeles and New York respectively. In my opinion, I believe that Hancock and Catwoman used CGI as the building in the background are artificial. CGI add realism and makes the establishing camera shot very authentic. Films could be grounded with a particular “national milieu” Khan, A west well G. ( 2012:27).
The narrative agency is the agency of characters that Portray themselves to be independent, even though my chosen media texts are based from the superhero genre, the way their characters are represented by their genders is very different Claire Johnston stated “the fact that there is a far greater differentiation of men’s roles than of women’s roles in the history of cinema relates to sexist ideology” (Claire Johnston & Sue Thornman 1999:32). I believed that with the statement that has been made by C.Johnston and comparing to my text, I think that Hancock has agency as act and speak in the movie to own accord, whereas Cat woman, the supporting cast are the cause of the agency of the film. In terms with men having more agency than women in film, I do agree with the statement as society has made it a norm for men to be leaders and reasons for the own action and this is highly reflected in Hancock and represented minimally in Catwoman.
Overall, I believe that by conducting a thoroughly a conducting narrative analysis, I have understood the difference between a story & plot and how they connect with each other, I have also understood that most Hollywood film follow the same narrative structure that was highly influenced by Tzvetan Todorov. By using Todorov equilibrium theory to analyse a movie, the narrative structure does shift four times before finding it’s new equilibrium. Both Hancock and Catwoman are tightly plotted narratives and therefore what happens in the movie is a cause and effect of events that occur one after the other. Whilst conducting research for this essay, the concept of the male gaze, was very difficult for me, however once reading into Laura Mulvey statement on how woman is represented in mainstream media, I was able to apply to Cat woman and how her character was represented. Although whilst looking into Hancock I was able to use another narrative theory by Claude levi Strauss on binary opposite.
In the end decided to write my essay about question 9 Media Analysis DME1000 – Agency & Narrative Analysis best suited me as I enjoyed researching into many concepts, allowing my own opinion to influence this paper and using the knowledge we’ve gained throughout DME1000 to use.
- Hallcrossmedia.files.wordpress.com. (1969). TZVETAN TODOROV 'STRUCTURAL ANALYSIS OF NARRATIVE'. [online] Available at: https://hallcrossmedia.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/11btodorovstructuralanalysisofnarrative-1.pdf [Accessed 11 Apr. 2018].
- Thornham, S. and Johnston, C. (1999). Feminist film theory. 1st ed. New York: Sue Thorman, p.32.
- Storey, J. (2015). Cultural theory and popular culture. 7th ed. New York City: Routledge, p.9.
- www.tandfonline.com. (2017). Complicating the theory of the male gaze: Hitchcock’s leading men. [online] Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17400309.2017.1376892?scroll=top&needAccess=true [Accessed 14 Apr. 2018].