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Narrative Experiments in “all About My Mother” and “the Matrix”

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Narrative Experiments in “All about My Mother” and “The Matrix”

The classical narrative structure is the key to the success of classic Hollywood films and the feature that makes them easily understandable to the audience. Such structure suggests the presence of three essential parts: in the first one the problem is introduced, in the second one the characters work on the problem, and in the third one the problem is solved. Therefore, the classical narrative includes setup, development, and resolution[1]. In other words, every classic movie consists of three acts: exposition, climax, and resolution[2].  Such mode of storytelling is based on continuity, as the events depicted in the film are linked by cause and effect. Therefore, the link between the events is logical, causally-motivated, and anticipated.  Such cause-effect model serves as the tool for achieving the logical consequence of events.

Though the classical narrative structure is followed in the majority of films, certain movies present examples of experimental narratives[3]. The analysis of such experiments can be made with the example of “All about My Mother” and “The Matrix”. Such analysis will help to identify whether the classical rules can and should be violated for creating unique narrative structure, and in which way such actions help the directors to achieve their goals in creating a certain overall impression from the film.  

“All about My Mother”

“All about My Mother” (1999) is a movie directed by Pedro Almodovar[4]. He is considered Spain’s most important and influential filmmaker[5]. The movie depicts a story about Manuela (Cecilia Roth) and presents an example of European cinematography that tends to avoid adhering to the straightforward narrative structure that is typical for Hollywood films. Analysis of the process of storytelling used in the movie is essential to understanding the uniqueness of Almodovar’s narrative and the specifics of its experimental nature.

As the classic narrative structure includes three basic elements, it is necessary to start analysing the film with determining these elements in its narrative. The movie starts with introducing the viewers to Manuela, the nurse working in donor organ transplants department at the hospital in Madrid, and her son Esteban. As the first part of the movie should introduce the main characters, it seems that the story is about Manuela and Esteban. When starting to watch the movie, the viewer expects it to be a story about the mother and her son who seem to be an ordinary one-parent family living in Madrid. However, the sudden death of Esteban and the details about Manuela’s life given in later parts of the movie demonstrate that the first part of the movie does not serve as the introduction to the main characters. On the contrary, the personality of the main heroine can be revealed only after watching the whole movie, and other main characters are introduced throughout the movie, not in the beginning. After watching the first half of the film, the viewer understands that the impression received from the setup cannot serve as the basis for understanding the characters, as further events change this impression completely. Besides, it is rather difficult for the viewer to differentiate precisely where the development ends and the resolution begins. This feature can be considered one of the specifics of Almodovar’s experimental narrative. It violates the rules of classic narrative structure, as the events in the movie are difficult to be grouped in three parts of a classical narrative.

Another distinctive feature of Almodovar’s experimental narrative is that the viewer is kept confused almost till the very end of the movie. While classic narrative structure supposes the events to be anticipated and causally-motivated, the events in “All about My Mother” are unexpected, and the viewer is surprised with every new turn of events. The problem that needs to be solved cannot be determined after watching the setup of the movie. It seems that the main problem is related to overcoming the grief of the son’s death, but the next scenes of the film reveal that the problematic investigated in the movie include a much wider variety of issues, including relationship between men and women and recasting of their roles[6]. The introduction of such theme as gender construction is not expected by the viewer, as the setup suggests different thematic[7]. However, the director is not afraid of breaking the rules and making the viewer confused by exploring the complex issues related to gender and social role-playing[8].

One more unique feature of Almodovar’s narrative in “All about My Mother” is related to the method of revealing past events through allusion. Besides using the classical method of informing the viewer about the past through the recollections of the heroes, Almodovar uses allusions to a theatrical play and a movie to reveal the nature of past events. The movie watched by Manuela and her son in the beginning reveal her theatre past while the play attended by the heroine and her son serves as an allusion to her tragic family life.

While classic narrative supposes the film to depict the heroes whose connection with each other is causally-motivated and easily-understandable, Almodovar ties the heroine that seem to be from different worlds at the first sight: a nurse Manuela, a transsexual prostitute Agrado, a bisexual actress Huma, and a young nun who works at a shelter for battered prostitutes Rosa. Almodovar manages to demonstrate the unity of such a diverse group of heroines and explores the main themes of the film through these characters. The female body, the mother, the whore, the transsexual, and the “quintessential expression of creativity”, an actress, unify the film[9].

The experimental nature of narrative in “All about My Mother” serves as a tool to appealing to the viewer’s emotions and sensitivity, not to his/her logic. Though such narrative makes the sequence of the events difficult to follow, it creates a unique atmosphere and leaves the viewer spellbound. This movie presents a “confident piece of polished film-making” and serves as an example of successful employment of unusual narrative[10]. The experimental narrative of the movie reflects “Almodóvaresque fashion” [11] and contributes to the ability of the film to reach the viewers’ hearts and minds.



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