Narrative is the concept of following the process of the film and seeing how the sequence of events takes place. It is closely related to storytelling however it is not synonymous as storytelling is “the irreducable substance of a story… while narrative is the way a story is related”. Narratives can be used in fiction and non-fiction as a way of telling a story or showing a sequence of events happening, however narratives used in film are can be much more complicated than narratives used, for example, in a news broadcast.
The film ‘Something Old, Something New’ follows the story of a young woman walking her dog one morning along the beach when she stumbles across a message in a bottle. The leads her on a treasure hunt across the city to find four items, each representing something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. She is ultimately led to a final location where she discovers a marriage proposal. This film uses narration in order to lead the story and be the main marker for what is happening. It also follows a linear structure as the audience follows the character step by step along her day. This film is complimentary with several narrative theories such as those by Barthes, Todorov, Levi-Strauss, and Propp.
Roland Barthes was a French philosopher who lived from 1915-1980. He is most famous for having coined the audience codes of narrative theories. He came up with five codes to explain the different codes that are woven into any media text. The first of these is the Hermaneutic Code, which is also called the code of truth, and this essentially explains how the story will avoid telling the truth or revealing all the facts, in order to drop clues throughout that will add to the mystery. This code is seen in ‘Something Old, Something New’ as the audience is left to wonder who the narrator is and we can only follow and understand the story by the clues that are being purposefully left to us. This is effective as it causes the audience to be more involved and actually think about what will be happening next and as time goes on and more clues are revealed they can get closer and closer to revealing the truth. Another of Barthes codes is the Enigma, or the Proairetic code, which is also known as the empirical voice. This is the way tension is built up and the audience is left guessing what will happen next. This Proairetic code is also evident in the film ‘Something Old, Something New’ as the more clues that are revealed the more tension arises as the character is trying to work out what is happening and what will happen in the end. The audience follows the characters train of thought as she is trying to understand and they are also left guessing what is going to happen which is inevitably going to be revealed as the tension heightens. The third of Barthes five codes is the Semantic Code, also the voice of the person. This Semantic Code points to any element in the media text that suggests a particular meaning, which is often additional, by way of connotation which the story suggests. This code is also evident within the text as the riddles/clues actually have the hidden meanings of location within them that the character must figure out and the audience races to figure out before the character does. Then Barthes also has the Symbolic Code, also known as the voice of symbols. This is similar to the Semantic Code however it acts on a wider level by organizing Semantic meanings into broader and deeper sets of meaning. This is typically done through the use of the antithesis in which new meanings arise out of opposing and conflicting ideas. This one is the most difficult of them all to relate to the film as the film is only five minutes long and so does not have enough time to establish such a complex code within its storyline. However Barthes final code, The Cultural Code, can be much more suited to the film. The Cultural Code, or the voice of science, looks at the audiences wider general and cultural knowledge, and their morality and idealogy. The film ‘Something Old, something New’ relies on the audiences knowledge of the old wedding rhyme ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’. The knowledge of this rhyme is what helps lead the audience to the conclusion that the protagonist must be expecting a proposal at the end of the film.
Another narrative theorist whose work relates to the film ‘Something Old, Something New’ is Tzvetan Todorov, a Bulgarian-French historian and philosopher who lived from 1939-2017. He worked on narrative structure and is most well known for his equilibrium theory. He created the theory that all films have a specific structure based on the film-worlds natural harmonious equilibrium. This theory is most often explained in five different parts. Part one is Equilibrium. This is where everything is perfectly calm and normal in the films world and the audience is shown this usually through the film showing a normal day in the life for the character. In ‘Something Old, Something New’ this is shown through the protagonist walking her dog along the beach and everything seems calm and ordinary. It is also clear to the audience that she doesn’t find a message in a bottle everyday because of her confusion at discovering it. Part two of Todorovs theory is Disruption, or disequilibrium. This is when there is a problem or event that breaks the continuity of the equilibrium and is the catalyst for something different to take place in the characters life. In the film this is the discovery of the bottle as it causes the equilibrium to be disrupted and lets the audience know that something is about to happen. The third part of the Equilibrium theory is Realisation. This is when the characters acknowledge disruption and realise that something has to be done about it. In ‘Something Old, Something New’ this happens when the main character reads the first clue that is hidden inside the bottle and decides to go on the quest to discover all the clues. The fourth stage is the Restored Order phase as the characters attempt to restore the equilibrium back to how it used to be. This happens in the film as the protagonist goes on the quest and tries to find all of the clues to discover the answer and get her day back to normal. Finally is the Equilibrium Restored stage in which things return back to normal, or a new normal that the character will live like. In ‘Something Old, Something New’ this happens when the woman discovers the proposal. However, the ending is relatively ambiguous as the audience never really find out what happens after she discovers the proposal, however it can be worked out.
Another theorist whose theories link into the film ‘Something Old, Something New’ is Claude Levi-Strauss. Levi-Strauss was a French anthropologist in the 1900’s and he created the theory of Binary Opposition. His main work on binary opposites was through contrasting opposite characters such as heroes and villains. He understood that language was constructed through the use of opposites and so our understanding of words isn’t through their meaning, but through their opposites. He named the difference between words and their opposites ‘Binary Opposition’. His theory was that conflict is based around opposites and so ultimately narratives are based around opposites, for example, hero and villain, boy and girl, human and technology. He also went on from this to explain Binary Ideology, which is the idea that “when the girl wins the heart of the guy in a romantic comedy the values of heterosexual relationships and monogamy are reinforced”. This can be seen in the film ‘Something Old, Something New’ as it is boy vs girl as the two main characters who drive the storyline forwards, and ultimately result in the guy winning the girl or visa versa.
The final theorist who can be applied to this film is Vladimir Propp, a soviet folklorist and scholar who lived from 1895-1970. He came up with the Characters and Narrative Functions theories. He came up with his narrative functions theory in the 1920’s when he was studying folklore in Russia and he saw that the same events kept getting repeated in each story. He worked out what was happening in every story and broke the events down into 31 different narrative functions, or narratemes. The narratemes were small sections of the events that happened in every story and he saw them based on what events push the story to move forwards and take it into a different direction. Not all the functions appear in every story as some stories don’t have the time or correct storyline, however some will always appear and they will always appear in the order that Propp wrote them. To go alongside these 31 narrative functions, Propp also created the theory of the seven character types. He explained how there are seven different character types, and like the narrative theories they don’t all have to appear in every film, but at least one of them will. His first character type is The Hero. The Hero is the main character and in typical folklore the hero would be the one who has to save the princess and slay the dragon. However, the hero is usually seen nowadays as the main character who has to go on a journey of some sort. The second character is The Villain. The Villain is the one who struggles against the Hero and is typically shown as evil through the use of dark clothing and an overall scary or intimidating appearance. The third character is The Dispatcher, this person is the one who sends the Hero off on their quest. Then he has The Helper who is more typically known as a sidekick as he aids the Hero and stands by him throughout the narrative. After this we have the Princess. The Princess is the person that the Hero is trying to save, or to get to. The Princess is often seen as an end prize to the Hero’s quest. The sixth character is The Donor who is key in helping the Hero to prepare for battle and gives them something to help them win. Finally is the False Hero. This person tends to be a traitor as in the start we are led to believe that they are good and want to help the hero, but inevitably they betray the Hero. From these character types it is difficult to see exactly which ones could fit in with the film ‘Something Old, Something New’ due to the fact that it only really has one clear character which is that of the young woman who portrays The Hero according to Propp as she is the main character who is sent on a quest. However, the narration can also be seen as a character as it is both the Dispatcher and the Helper as it sends her off on her quest and also gives her useful clues along the way. From watching the film it could also be argued that the narration also plays the part of the Princess as it is what the Hero’s prize will be at the end of her quest, however the ending does remain ambiguous so it would be difficult to be able to exactly tell.
The film ‘Something Old, Something New’ follows many of Propp, Todorov, Barthes, and Levi-Strauss’ theories of narrative functions despite the fact that it is a very short film with extremely limited characters.