The Cognitive and Hermeneutic Dynamics of Complex Film Narratives

Steven Petrus Martinus Willemsen

    Research output: ThesisThesis fully internal (DIV)

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    Since the late 1990s, popular films and television have featured a striking increase in narrative complexity. From Memento (2000) to Mulholland Drive (2001), and Arrival (2016) to Twin Peaks (2017), nonlinear, fragmented, ambiguous, contradictory, and unreliable forms of narration have become widespread in contemporary audio-visual culture. But the popularity of such complex stories raises something of a paradox, as it does not fit the picture of ordinary narrative enjoyment. High degrees of complexity obstruct the basic communicative, immersive, and mimetic functions usually attributed to narratives. Moreover, if confusion is something we generally prefer to avoid in real life, why would we seek it in fiction?

    This dissertation proposes that the heart of narrative complexity lies not only in intricate narrative structures by themselves, but also in the felt experience and cognitive effects that such compositional disruptions create. Combining perspectives from film studies, narrative theory and the cognitive sciences, the study looks at how different films strategically create complexity and confusion in narrative understanding by playing on viewers’ cognitive processes and interpretive practices. By examining what additional cognitive and interpretive effort complex films demand from viewers, the research proposes an original understanding of the distinct viewing experience of cinematic narrative complexity, as well as the ways in which different films and traditions have exploited such effects.
    Translated title of the contributionDe cognitieve en hermeneutische dynamiek van narratieve complexiteit in cinema
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Groningen
    • Korthals Altes, Liesbeth, Supervisor
    • Kiss, Miklós, Co-supervisor
    • Kovács, A.B., Assessment committee, External person
    • Pisters, Patricia , Assessment committee, External person
    • van Heusden, Barend, Assessment committee
    Award date1-Feb-2018
    Place of Publication[Groningen]
    Print ISBNs978-94-034-0361-8
    Electronic ISBNs978-94-034-0360-1
    Publication statusPublished - 2018

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