Term Paper, 1994, 13 Pages
Summary of the story
Introducing Branigans scheme
Application of Branigan's Narrative Scheme to 'Total Recall'
Deviations to the classical narrative
The Point-Of-View and the Perceivers
As the film Total Recall was released in 1990 critics were confused. In their attempts to give a summary they all created different stories. Some even figured out some failures in the plot and for some the story line was an enigma.[i]
Though there was a lot of misunderstanding about this film there was also a consens on the kind of genre the film belonged to. Fred Glass gave in his article 'Totally recalling Arnold' the film 'Total Recall' the label NBF "New Bad Future", which has to be understood as a subgenre of the fertile SF (Science Fiction) of the 1980's. NBF is defined as following: "NBF films tell stories about a future in the grip of feverish social decay. While some posit a post nuclear barbarism (as in the Mad Max trilogy, ...), most envision the world that will emerge without such an apocalyptic break with history. The NBF scenario typically embraces urban expansion on a monstrous scale, where real estate capital has realised its fondest dreams of cancerous growth. (...). The heroes,..., go up against the corruption and power of the ruling corporations, which exercise a media-based velvet glove/iron fist social control."[ii]
Exactly these characteristics can be found in 'Total Recall'. In consequence it could be read as a film that is following these patterns which are founded in the 1980's Science Fiction. In this respect one could argue that 'Total Recall' is a quite traditional movie. But 'Total Recall' offers something new through using cyberspace. This world that is defined as virtual reality mixes all the patterns and norms of traditional SF and makes this film very special in its appearance.
As Paul Verhoeven says about his film: "For the audience every moment in the movie seems to be real. But when you get to the next scene, you can doubt the scene before, yeah? I'm exaggerating, because it would be really terrible to do that to an audience; everybody would be driven crazy, probably. But every once in a while you realise that what you saw before should have been seen in a different way, It was not reality, or it was a misinterpreted reality."[iii]
The narrative structure of this film is therefore extremely complicated. It combines reality, dreams and virtual reality. Perceiving this film means having the choice between many narrations. They all depend on the point of view the perceiver wants to take. Therefore my task will be to show, how the narrative structure is established by using a so-called "classical" story line and a schizophrenic hero with many identities to mix everything up that is known as the "norm" of Hollywood cinema.
At the beginning of 'Total Recall's' plot, a man and a woman dressed in space suits walk on the wasted landscape of planet Mars. The man (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) falls down in a canyon. His helmet splits and he dies by suffocation. Frightened, construction worker Douglas Quaid (played by Schwarzenegger, too), wakes up out of this nightmare, that he had several times before. He experiences, stimulated by TV-news from Mars, an powerful longing to move to Mars. It is the year 2084. When his wife (Sharon Stone) refuses to go, he follows the advice of TV commercials and goes to a company, called Rekall, Inc. This firm is specialised in the implantation of vacation "implants" into its clients' brains. But something goes wrong, and Quaid has a "schizoid embolism." The company dumps the unconscious Quaid into a taxi. Shortly after regaining consciousness he is attacked by four men. One of them is a colleague of him and calls him "Hauser" and tells him, that he has blown his cover. After killing these four men, he goes home, to find his wife attempting to kill him, too. She also tells him, that he is not Hauser but Quaid, a top security operative for Cohaagen (Ronny Cox), the evil capitalist ruler of the Earth's mining colony on Mars. Hauser knew too much and became too powerful for Cohaagen. So Hauser's memory was erased and he was send with a new identity to earth to lead a normal life as a worker.
Still on earth Quaid is followed by Cohaagens' killers, who want to avoid that he goes to Mars and can meet Kuato. He can flee to a hotel, where he gets a phone call of a stranger, who brings him a suitcase. It contains some technical equipment and a computer. When he turns it on his own image appears on the screen and starts talking to him and recommends him to follow his instructions and go to Mars. Quaid / Hauser goes to Mars and meets Melina (Rachel Ticotin), the prostitute-revolutionary he had a love affair with and falls in love with her again. The political leader of the mutant worker rebels on Mars, Kuato, wants to come in contact with Quaid / Hauser because of his knowledge as a former friend of Coohagen. When Quaid's wife also appears on Mars he kills her and joins the rebels, and inadvertently leads Cohaagen's soldiers to Kuato, who is killed and Quaid / Hauser and Melina are captured. What Quaid / Hauser is not told is that Cohaagen has planned to send Hauser on earth in order to return incognito to Mars and gain the confidence of Kuato, and then to innocently lead Cohaagen's forces to the rebel's fortress. Since Kuato possess telepathic powers, there was no other way for Hauser to accomplish this except by completely giving up his original identity. But Quaid / Hauser and Melina can escape and find the ancient Martian technology for making air on the barren planet. After killing lots of bad guys, including Cohaagen, they set off the chain reaction that brings air to Mars.
For my proposal, that 'Total Recall' can be read as a usual NBF-film, I have to demonstrate that it has the usual narrative structure of a classical Hollywood film. For this purpose I have chosen the model of Edward Branigan. He has developed a model that is applicable on the classical narratives and defines this specific method as a ‘Narrative Scheme’[iv].
First I want to introduce the model Branigan developed. In his book ‘Narrative Comprehension in Film’ from 1992 he introduces a method of classifying various parts of any narrative structure in accordance with its standard system. Branigan gives this definition : ‘A scheme is an arrangement of knowledge already possessed by a perceiver that is used to predict and classify new sensory data.’[v] Branigan's scheme is based on a literary model and is as follows:
Orientation and Exposition.
An Initiating Event.
A Complicating Action.
Climax and Resolution.
It has eight parts or areas of information. In order to understand the concept, Branigan gives an illustration. He uses the fairy tale ‘The Frog and the Princess’.
Branigan describes the ' abstract' as ‘a title or compact summary of the situation which is to follow’[vi]. Applied to the ‘Frog and the Princess’, the abstract would be the title itself, because it sets out the initial story world, that of the Princess and of the Frog, and leads us to believe that the story will revolve around their later interaction[vii]. He further qualifies his idea of an abstract: ‘If an abstract is expanded, it becomes a Prologue.’[viii] Basically, if the abstract has great detail and is more than a compact summary about the life of the main characters, it becomes a Prologue. If for example there were information about the parentage of the Princess additionally to the fact that she is a Princess, then this would be a prologue because it has no real bearing on the story of the Princess and the Frog because it has nothing to do with their interaction directly[ix].
The ideas of orientation and exposition are fundamentally linked. They both provide information about the characters in the story that is going to take place. In Branigan’s words: 'The Orientation is ‘a description of the present state of affairs (place, time, character)’ and the Exposition gives ‘information about past events which bear on the present. To use the story as an example, the Orientation would become; ‘(Once upon a time). there was a beautiful young Princess who was very unhappy because she didn’t like any of the Princes that wanted to marry her, even though they visited her castle everyday and serenaded her below her window at night.’ This gives the following information. She lives in a castle (place); and she is a ‘beautiful young Princess’ which gives an idea of her age (time); and we get insight into her character because we know that she is unhappy.
The exposition in this case does not really exist. There is no historical information about the Princess or the place in which she lives and no retelling of past events. Because of the generic conventions of the Fairy tale the story is ‘timeless’ and has no detailed background.
Branigan defines the initiating event as something which ‘alters the present state of affairs.’[x] In the story of the Frog and the Princess it would be the King telling the Princess that she must choose a Prince to marry within a week. Now the story starts. The state of equilibrium has be upset, the King wants something to happen that has not, which draws the focus in the narrative for the re-establishing of the equilibrium.
The goal as Branigan defines it is 'a statement of intention or an emotional response to an initiating event by a protagonist.'[xi] In the story the goal would be the Princess choosing a Prince to marry, which would consequently mean that she would be happy and her father's request would be satisfied.
The complicating action is usually linked to the antagonist in the story and as Branigan says it 'arises as a consequence of the initiating event and presents an obstacle to the attainment of the goal.'[xii] For the purposes of the Princess's story it would be the discovery that the Frog is in fact a Prince. The Princess wants to marry a handsome Prince but in order to do so she must kiss the ugly frog. That is, she must overcome an obstacle in order to achieve her goal.
The climax usually evolves around a battle between the 'hero' and the 'villain' and for Branigan this means an end to the 'conflict between goals and obstacles and establishes a new equilibrium or state of affairs.' This new state of equilibrium is called resolution and as such it usually marks the end of the story. In the illustrating story the climax of the ‘conflict’ would be the Princess overcoming the ugliness of the Frog to kiss it and the resolution would be her new marriage to the handsome Prince.
'The epilogue is the moral lesson implicit in the history of these events and may include explicit character reactions to the resolution.'[xiii] For the reader of the ‘Frog and the Princess' the moral of the story would be not to judge people, or things, by their appearance because appearances are deceptive. An explicit character reaction here would occur if the Princess said aloud that she will never judge people again just by appearances. In most stories it is usually quite a simple moral lesson to be learned.
Narration is a different idea to the rest of Branigan’s scheme and is not immediately quantifiable in terms of what happens in the story. It is rather implicit in the way that the story is written or told. Thus he writes: "The Narration is constantly at work seeking to justify implicitly or explicitly (1) Why the narrator is competent and credible in arranging and reporting these events and (2) Why the events are unusual, strange or worthy of attention. In other words, how is it possible to possess the knowledge and why should it be possessed."[xiv] A simple way to break down these two distinctions would be to give them more revealing names like depth and range of narration.
The depth of narration refers to the level at which the person telling the story has access to the story information itself. If for example a story was told from the point of view of the main character in the story, a first person 'I', then the depth of narration would be great because they should have access to all of the information relevant. If the story was told from a third party 'He', then the depth would not be so great because they may not have access to all of the relevant information, or see it from the Hero's point of view. These points shape the readers believe in the credibility of the storyteller.
The range of narration stresses the importance of the storyteller. If for example all of the story information is given through one person then the range is restricted. A counter-example would be if the story information is given through more than one character. If there is a God like person who gives the information then the range is omniscient.
There are several other notable things about this scheme and perhaps the most important idea is that it can be applied to a macro as well as to a micro level. Film possesses coherence from the level of shot to the whole of the film itself. As Branigan writes: ‘Narrative is a recursive organisation of data; that is, it’s components may be embedded successively at various micro and macro levels of action.’[xv] The path from the Initiating event, which is not necessarily the first thing in the narrative, to the Resolution and Exposition is not linear. Parts can be repeated several times and some may not be included at all.
Another important point to be made not necessarily about the scheme but about narratives in general is that they almost always rely on a 'snowball effect' for coherence. That is to say, events which have happened earlier on in the story normally always have relevance, and indeed may decide the outcome, to later events. If for example in the 'Frog and the Princess’ we learn that the Princess must marry a Prince within a week then we can understand her actions in overcoming the ugliness of the Frog to kiss it. The previous events in the narrative give us a motivation for the Princess doing what she does. In this manner it can be argued that early events in the story form an exposition to the later parts of the story, they become 'information about past events which bear on the present.' These are the most important signs of a classical narrative.
'Total Recall' can be read as a film with a 'classical' narrative scheme. The abstract would be the title of the film: 'Total Recall', because there is no compact summary of the situation that is to follow and the title itself defines the issue of this film very well. Included in the abstract is a prologue. Two people in space suits walking on a wasted red shining landscape. Time and location are not named and so the perceivers have to guess and have to ask the first questions. Who is it? Where is it? What is going on? The two spacemen look at each other and for a short moment the faces can be recognised. It is therefore the introduction of some characters. When one of these people is falling down a slope, smashes its helmet and can not breath it is the introduction of an adventure line and also the hint for the perceivers that this happens on a planet, where is no air to breath.
When Quaid wakes up out of a nightmare he tells his wife that he dreamed about Mars again. Now we know that the abstract must have been his nightmare. Then he watches the news of the world which includes Earth and Mars, which is a colony where an important metal comes from. Then he tells his wife that he wants to move to Mars with her, but she does not want it and tells him to stop dreaming about it. But he says he knows that he can do more than to be an ordinary worker. This part is the orientation. It gives information about the place (earth), time (somewhere in the future) and the characters (Quaid and his wife). It is also the end of the adventure line of the prologue. In the following film nothing is linked directly to the adventure line of the prologue.
[i]Nico de Klerk: SF&barkrukken in Skrien , p.26 `Waarom hij, nu woonachtig op Aarde, dan toch naar Mars terug wil is mij een raadsel.´
[ii]Fred Glass: Totally Recalling Arnold. p.2 in Film Quarterly Fall 1990
[iii]On Dangerous Ground, in: Film Comment, July-August 1990. p. 26
[iv]Edward Branigan: Narrative Comprehension in Film, London Routledge 1992, Preface p.xii
[v]Edward Branigan: Narrative Comprehension in Film, London Routledge 1992, p. 13
[vi]Edward Branigan: Narrative Comprehension in Film, London Routledge 1992, p. 18
[vii]Edward Branigan: Narrative Comprehension in Film, London Routledge 1992, p. 19
[viii]Edward Branigan: Narrative Comprehension in Film, London Routledge 1992, p. 18
[ix]Edward Branigan: Narrative Comprehension in Film, London Routledge 1992, p. 19
[xi]Ibidem, p. 18
[xii]Ibidem, p. 18
[xiii]Ibidem, p. 18
[xiv]Ibidem, p. 18
[xv]Edward Branigan: Narrative Comprehension in Film, London Routledge 1992, p. 18
Term Paper, 23 Pages
Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 15 Pages
Term Paper, 23 Pages
Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 15 Pages
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