Nonlinear narrative – Art of script writing from a different dimension
It is good to be back with the Friday Fundas section after a while. This week I would talk about a specific style of script writing known as Non-linear narrative.
Nonlinear narrative is the art of telling a story as a list of events that are not in chronological order. The earliest form of nonlinear narrative in India has been experimented in Mahabharata. While this type of narrative has been popular in novels and stories, it has not been so easy to master this in the films. Only in the year 1924 nonlinear film emerged from French the avant-grade in the film “Entracte”, Dadaïst film by René Claire.
Sometimes people confuse non-linear narrative with films that employ flashback sequences. While you could argue them as nonlinear narratives but they may not be equivalent to narrating events in a non-chronological order. Films like Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa used non-linear narration using flashback that was non-chronological in nature.
In a typical three-act play structure a film has a beginning, middle and the end. A nonlinear narrative also has the same but not necessarily in that order (quoted by Jean-Luc Godrad, French-Swiss filmmaker). In the 1990s Quentin Tarantino employed nonlinear narrative structure in his films like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. This made a huge difference to the viewing experience.
In Indian movies director Maniratnam in his movie Alaipayuthe very well exploited this. The movie used flashbacks and flash forwards and converged at a point, which made a difference to the narration and won many accolades.
In the late 90s entered Christopher Nolan whom I consider as a perfectionist of nonlinear narration. Recently I had seen the movie Following by Nolan. This was his first movie and made in a very small budget. But the nonlinear narration has been used very well. He never uses adages like “3 months ago” or “2 days ago” but cleverly used the hairstyle of the pivotal character and facial scar to differentiate between the timeline of the narratives. The story picks up from three points of a linear narrative and travels in parallel. It is just brilliant. He then went on to make Memento and the Batman series, which also heavily utilized the nonlinear narrative style.
A story becomes very interesting in the way it is told even if it is a same old story, which is been retold. Nonlinear narrative if executed well adds that difference and generates interest levels in the audience. Watch some of the nonlinear narratives mentioned in this article and let me know what you think.