What characterizes narratives is their ability to count a story in manifold ways (be it chronologically or not), through the selection of scenes that exist to convey special meanings.
A chosen short film (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikGVWEvUzNM) can be very a very relevant example to give to better illustrate how the narration of a story (stemming from a plot, a plan) can come to mean something to an audience through the actions of the characters and through events. This specific short film’s discourse time is longer than the story time (real time of events). The time is therefore stretched; the video contains ellipses, and, occasionally, insert shots from other locations. The video starts with the rewinding of a tape up to a certain point, and continues with the free flow of events only to end in the same way it started, but in reverse (this process becomes clearer after the video is watched).
The plotline can be categorized as closed, a category recognized by Chris Mottershead. The ending is clear, although the video in its entirety is somewhat conceptual. As Todorov states in his equilibrium theory: a story has a beginning (starting with the dramatic gaze in the mirror and the disequilibrium created by the girl’s morose attitude – the audience knows something’s wrong), and continues with the set of events that lead up to the resolution of the problem (the girl takes her mask off – equilibrium is, once again, reinstated). As Roland Barthes would therefore suggest, the story has an open ending, and as Levi-Strauss would infer, binary oppositions in themes are apparent (happiness vs. sadness; rejection vs. inclusion by peers; belonging vs. isolation, and so on…).
Through a closed story, the audience can expect a more concrete meaning, which might be less open to interpretation than would be anything conceptual. This consequently makes the story easier to understand. Through binary oppositions, the internal struggles of the main character are represented, and the audience can build their interpretations of her on that very basis (e.g. through insert shots of “cliques” sitting together at lunch with similar masks, and eventual returns to the initial shot of the girl sitting alone and alienated, one might assume that she is friendless and alone).
Roland Barthes also theorized 5 codes that can help audiences deconstruct media texts in terms of narratives:
- Hegemonic codes/enigma codes refer to mysteries within the text that catch the audience’s attention and that compel them to solve the initially presented “enigma” through clues.
- Proaieretic codes/action codes are sequential elements of action in a text. Suspense is added and audiences are convinced to seek to find out what happens next by staying tuned.
- Semantic codes are referent of meanings created by diverse images, icons, etc. The audience can try to decipher the hidden meanings behind these different elements (semes).
- Symbolic codes are somewhat similar, but solely include a select few symbols that appear recurrently in a media text. Creation of this sort can help producers build up a certain element of tension and drama that the audience can attempt to understand and be mesmerized by.
- Referential codes involve anything that mentions/hints at external bodies of knowledge (e.g. known characters from a book, important historical events, etc). The audience can therefore make links between real life and the media text to construct a new meaning.
This short story would fall under the category of the symbolic code. The mask is the recurrent item that appears and that the audience can attentively analyze and come to a conclusion about. If one pays attention, one may come to understand that the mask is actually a symbol of fakeness, taken on and embraced by anyone who lacks individuality and who conceals one’s true identity for the sake of belonging. This is symbolized by the fact that the “groups” shown talking and laughing together all have same-colored masks. In addition, the protagonist’s originality and individuality is symbolized by the intricate paintings on her white mask. At long last, after the character takes the mask off, everyone is surprised by it (e.g. see guy who takes a step back and puts a hand on his masked mouth as she walks in his direction) – this makes “showing one’s true identity” something extraordinary.
Lastly, as Christopher Booker has pointed out, any plot has 1 or more of 7 patterns:
- overcoming the monster
- rags to riches
- the quest/the adventure
- voyage and return
- rebirth (can include the reinvention of self)
This specific story fits into the rebirth category, seeing as the main character reinvents herself by getting rid of the mask.
Elements of the mise-en-scène also influence audience’s perception of this short film:
- The dimmed-down lighting shows a gloomy atmosphere;
- All the characters in the short film seem ill-humored because of the expression in their masks;
- The fast-motion scenes at the beginning connote rush and unsettlement;
- The cafeteria, classrooms, and busy hallways filled with teenagers connote a school environment;
- The non-diegetic sound at the beginning, for instance, conveys a sense of danger – it sounds like little knives piercing a surface;
- The frequent close-ups of the main character’s face (while she keeps her head down) connote introspection and discontent.