Narrative Perspective in Remediated Stories

In class we talked about the interesting choice Peter Jackson made to show Gandalf’s story as it happened in scene instead of allowing him to retell it as exposition, like in the book. This allowed for the movie to have a faster pace using scenes and action, which works for this format because cinema does not have the time or much interest for slow-paced exposition dumps like books do. This is just one example of how the narrative perspective of a story changes between different medias; in looking at other remediations, we can look at how writers and directors either keep or change the narrative perspective and what this can tell us about the remediated stories and the media itself.

gandalf-v-saruman
This scene of Gandalf fighting Saruman is visually interesting and fits with fast-paced and visual media of film
gandalf-talking-to-frodo
A scene of Gandalf narrating his fight to Frodo would just not work in a film for too long

In  keeping with the Lord of the Rings saga, the next remediation of interest to this class is The Lord of the Rings Online MMO, which changes both the actual story being told and puts it all in the perspective of one character. The Epic Quest line allows your character to help the Fellowship of the Ring without actually joining it, thus allowing for the story to fit in with the book’s canon without changing it. One interesting aspect about the MMO genre is that although the quests and plot is already set, each person has the option to choose whether they want to join a party and interact with other players, allowing all of them to be their character and make choices within the framework of the games’ quests. For example, they can do side quests, join a party, or make their own, thus crafting their own story.

One remediation that is close to my heart is Tom Tywker’s and the Wachowski siblings’ film Cloud Atlas, based on David Mitchell’s novel with the same title. Both works tell the story of six different characters living in different areas and time periods in a different fashion and rely heavily on remediation. Starting with the novel, six stories are told through different story-telling means (a journal, letters and a musical sextet, a crime-fiction, a postmodern autobiography, an interview that became canonical in post-apocalyptic era’s civilization, and a first-person narration), with every protagonist finding the previous protagonist’s first half of writing in their respective stories; finally, the book ends by completing the second half of the stories in reverse chronological order (such that the 6th story finishes 1st, and the 1st last). As such, although the various individual modes of writing are extremely transparent and very focused on the subjective experience of each protagonist, the work as a whole is abstract and really focuses on the themes common to each story.

journal-cloud-atlas
The journal entry section is composed of several entries from different days. The narrator’s confusion, remarks, and attitude come from the character himself.
Cloud Atlas Boook Structure 3.png
The story breaks color coded

It’s interesting that David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas is called a novel, since none of the individual stories are presented in that form; instead, they are presented as autobiographical forms of literature (except the final story, which is oral story-telling). The book as a whole could have just been a narration of each character, but instead the story is presented as if the characters were telling you their own story; in this way, the novel can serve as a comment on the literature that it remediates- although a comprehensive analysis of this is beyond the scope of this blog post, I do have a feeling of what it may be: there is a stark contrast between feeling the subjective experiences of the characters from their intimate story of their life that I get from each story and the feeling of similarity between the immediacy and intensity with which each character describes their own story. Furthermore, since the protagonists follow a hero’s journey, the remediation of many different forms of literature may be a tool to show their underlying similarities.

cloud_atlas_poster_7
The movie poster shows the different characters and their respective environments together, almost as one, under an arc or light,

As if the novel did not have enough remediation, the film adds another layer by remediating that novel. Instead of showing half of each story then going back in reverse order, the directors stated that they cut the stories into segments, then combined the thematically similar segments together between each story; as such, the movie may go from the 3rd story portraying corruption and cut to the 1st story dealing with the same theme, then the 5th. The directors explained their choice to tell all the stories at once in terms of a restriction that their medium gave to them, since they believe that the audience would not want to see the first half of six stories then have those stories finished later, as it is in the novel. Furthermore, since each story has a similar Hero’s Journey arc for the protagonist, they would often scramble the various similar sections between stories together, such that we may see multiple characters from different stories crossing their relative thresholds and have the chance to appreciate their differences and similarities at each section of their journey. Finally, the film casts the same actor in multiple different stories, which adds a totally new layer to the theme of inter-connectedness that is unique to the medium but still captures the essence of the novel; since many of the same archetypes of characters appear in the different stories (from the slave or repressed victim fighting against the system oppressing them, the person helping them fight the system who is not oppressed by it, to the powerful agent representing that system), the use of casting actors in the same or different archetypes allows the whole film to have a meaning that is greater than its individual parts.

CloudAtlas Actors.jpg
Look at how many roles these 6 actors played! This is a great example of remediation using the features of a new medium to flesh out the theme of the story in a new way. By the way, Hugo Weaving (Elrond) plays a slave-ship trader, an assassin working for a corporation, an abusive nurse, an (evil) government officer, and a cannibal from a warring tribe- all the same archetype of the agent of a corrupted powerful organizations.

Although the film had no way to directly frame the whole story as a collection of letters or notes in a diary, the characters are often portrayed writing their story in their respective genre and some events are narrated from that mode. For example, the film showed a character writing a letter and narrating an event that happened off-screen and allowed the auto-biographer to narrate a short prologue to his story, as there is in his book. There is also one final change the film made: it included a 7th time period, consisting of the post-apocalyptic story’s protgonist and his love interest retelling the story of what happened to his grandkids over the campfire, thus making the remediated medium of his actually shown in scene, instead of implied by the books. I love this decision, since it makes the final story a retelling of his life, just as the other five stories are portrayed as a retelling of their lives in different personal modes. In all, the film is a remediation of a novel that remediates the autobiographical writing or narration of six different forms.

The last mode I want to talk about is the musical, which I believe has a special ability to portray what I call the simultaneous multiple 1st-person subjective narration. That was a lot, so lets parse it: 1-st person is telling the story as the focal character understands it, such as Nick in The Great Gastby or Frodo in the Ring trilogy; I use the term subjective to highlight how the narration is focused on what the character feels, rather than what they perceive; multiple means that the story switches between different perspective; and simultaneous means that characters are singing about their subjective experiences at the same time, often over, between, or with others.

A good example in a remediated show is “Now/Later/Soon” from A Little Night Music, which is a remediation of Ingmar Birman’s film Smiles of a Summer Night. In this song, three different characters sequentially sing about what how they feel and what they desire as the other two continue acting out the scene; finally, when the characters get so warped in their own internal experience, they start singing over each other such that it gets almost impossible to hear what each character is saying (despite the fact that it is mostly just repeating the words or sentiment of their previous individual singing); at any rate, just looking at the script from 8:19-9:22 is illegible if read as just the sequential order of the words:

I promise. When is later? As the sweet imbecilities
Soon, All you ever hear is Trip on my trouser leg,
I won’t shy away, “Yes, we know, Henrik, Stendhal elimanates A…
Oh, Henrik,
Dear old– Everyone agrees,
Henrik, please,
Henrik…”
Soon, As I’ve
I want to. Often stated,
Soon,
Whatever you say. When? But when?
Even now, Maybe Maybe

When you’re close Soon, soon, Later,
And we touch, I’ll be ninety When I’m kissing your brow
And you’re kissing And dead.
My brow And I’m stroking your head,
I don’t mind it I don’t mind it
Too much. Too much. You’ll come into my bed.

This technique puts equal weight on each character, thus emphasizing that they are all primary characters and that the scene unfolding on stage between them is important to each of their lives individually; furthermore, it gives the feeling that while each person’s desire when isolated seems rational, when combined in relation to what the other people want, it all becomes an incoherent mess. In framing the song to have the actors sing over each other with their own internal narration, Sondheim uses the technique of song and theatre to change the film’s script but keep its emotional essence.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s