Narrative Critique and Sequence

By Scott Daniel Boras, Ph.D.

Narrative approaches to pop culture criticism compel us to consider the ways in which central messages in stories, TV and film, music, and mass mediated messages are a reflection of our lived experiences. Ultimately, narratives provide a way of ordering and presenting a world view through descriptions and depictions of situations involving characters, plot/conflict, setting, and perspectives or point of view.

One of the central elements of narrative criticism is sequence – options for ordering the elements of a story; such as time/chronology, theme, character, quality, etc. When we look at the sequence of a story in relation to characters, plot, themes (and the like) we can begin to draw conclusions about the quality of the story and the ways that it affects us.

Short films are a great way to show students how to examine sequence in relation to the core elements of narrative critique. Consider Mitchell and Walker’s award winning Superpowers. Conflict emerges on a variety of levels in the film, both in terms of the failing relationship and subsequent quandary of escaping embarrassment. But by focusing on how the sequences of events unfold, we see how these two distinct conflicts are each resolved through the progression of events, specifically. One conflict ends up being the resolution to the other.

Rúnar Rúnarsson’s Oscar nominated The Last Farm is a more somber but equally fascinating depiction of sequence. Though the narrative is slow and almost painstakingly laborious (like its protagonist), we nonetheless ultimately realize that the film (in many ways) is a race against time. This juxtaposition between pace and sequence uniquely highlights the tension between traditional ways of life and death, and the impeding presence of modern technology.

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