Narrative incomprehension and interpretation

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Panek, Elliot

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This thesis investigates the phenomenon of filmic narrative incomprehension, commonly manifest as the subjective sensations of confusion and a lack of engagement or interest in the text. Following David Bordwell, I am conceiving viewer activity as consisting of 1) the perception of visual and aural stimuli, 2) the consideration of this new information in the context of the overall narrative of the film and previous movie-going experience, and 3) the hypothesizing about what information will follow. I begin this study by defining a group of films that exhibit characteristics of more than one mode of narration. Rather than prompting the viewer to ask questions about characters within the diegesis, the narration in these films prompts the viewer to question the relationship between character, narration, and the social reality inhabited by the viewer. I follow this with an analysis of the discourse surrounding one such film, "Mulholland Drive" (2001). In the fourth chapter, I conduct original audience research, screening the 2001 film "Donnie Darko" for 198 undergraduate students and administering a post-screening questionnaire, in order to examine the relationships amongst comprehension, preference, and experience. I conclude by examining the differences between the confusion over meaning in "Donnie Darko" and the confusion over meaning in "Mulholland Drive", as well as the impact this knowledge has on our understanding of comprehension and interpretation.


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