Week 6:  Narrative & Values

This week’s PowerPoint addresses narrative – the story – as an element of film.  You will see how stories are carefully structured “cause-effect” chains which take characters through a develoment arc that tests them to their limits, and uses our identification with fundamental values in order to keep us engaged.

Below is a rough diagram of the narrative of the film Titanic.  The film’s plot uses a “framing story” – it starts in the present day, with a group of explorers who go down to the sunken wreck looking for a diamond.  When they don’t find it, they bring an old lady aboard, who tells them the story of the famous ship’s maiden voyage, and the tragic events that ensued.  She becomes the narrator, and the film cross-cuts between the present, and the three days in 1912 which led to the ship’s sinking. 

An informative and clearly presented overview of the role of structure in some classic films.

The “inciting incident” of Toy Story (1995).  Woody the cowboy is used to being “sheriff” – in charge of all the toys.  But the arrival of an exciting new space toy means Woody may be de-throned!

Below is the “inciting incident” of Titanic.  Rose isn’t free; she wants to take the easy way out of her dilemma.  Instead, she meets Jack, a free-spirit who will show her another possibility.

Here’s a good script analysis exercise.  Jot down every possible thing we learn about the main character in this expository sequence from the movie Rocky.

The inciting incident from Hollywood’s classic, Casablanca (1942).  Rick is a mysteriously bitter man who has disconnected himself from life.  But when Ilsa appears in his bar, his life is turned upside-down, and he will be forced to react.

A very detailed analysis of a dialogue sequence by screenwriting guru Robert McKee, using a scene from Casablanca.


Legendary director Terrence Malick shares his lessons on doing unique and powerful voice-over narration in his films.

Naturally, most police/crime films’ inciting incident will be the commission of the crime.  And that means the climax will be the restoration of justice and the bringing down of the villain.  Policeman John McClane (Bruce Willis) is tested to the max in Die Hard, a skillfully written action film from 1988.  After all the eye-popping action, the film’s climax will have to be spectacular – and its vicious bad guy punished appropriately.  As you will see!

As one might expect, the climax of a nine-hour epic will have to be pretty powerful.  Gollum falls to his death, taking the evil ring with him, and Sauron is defeated, in the final part of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003).

An excellent analysis of The Silence of the Lambs (1991) which highlights the usefulness of subplots within a narrative.

Stranger Than Fiction (2006) is probably the most clever comedy Will Ferrell has ever starred in.  He plays a character who can actually hear the narrator describing his life.  Where will this take him?  It is a very strange premise that the film uses extremely well.

Wayne’s World (1992) finishes with 3 alternate endings – a sad ending, a “Scooby-doo” ending, and then this final sequence, which is as tongue-in-cheek and self-reflexive as the whole film has been!