In Michael Dudok De Wit’s Father and Daughter, the stage is set with a father and his young daughter riding their bicycles to the edge of what looks to be a lake. The father says goodbye to his daughter and goes down to the water’s edge, there is a moment of hesitation before he runs back up to his daughter and gives her one last hug goodbye. He then goes down to the water’s edge and he rows away as his daughter anxiously looks on. This is the first plot point.
What follows feels rather odd because we are so used to things happening which have significance in themselves but in this film we see mundane scenes of the daughter’s life repeated as she grows up and keeps visiting the lake, hoping that maybe her father will return. Although the scenes in this second act are everyday occurrences they still hold the audience’s interest through the use of interesting actions such as the effect of a very strong wind on the cyclist, cycling through puddles of water and interesting shadow scapes.
The second plot point is reached when the daughter has grown old and is hardly able to cycle any more. She arrives at the lake and puts her bike on its stand, intending to go down to the lake but the bicycle falls over. She picks it up and tries again but it falls once again, she picks it up again and it seems to stay put this time before falling over again. She considers it for a moment before deciding to leave it on the ground. This scene prepares the audience for what is to come.
She is leaving this world and in the final act we see her going through the lake which has now gone dry and become overgrown with tall grass. She finds her father’s boat in the sandy clearing and curls up inside the boat and goes to sleep.
In the final scene we see her waking up and finding her father waiting for her, she transforms to her younger self as she walks towards him and is finally reunited with him.
I think this sad but beautiful film is about the cyclic nature of life, as symbolised by the wheels of the bicycles which run like a thread throug the film. In regards to this film using the “Big Three”, I don’t think it has “outstanding characters” as they are always seen from a afar and because act two deals with her growing old it is better that we don’t have a concrete image of the daughter. But the film does have interesting actions and locations. Although the location is the lake in every scene, each time it is looked at from a different point of view or with interesting lighting effects which helps to keep the audience interested in these repetitive scenes which I think symbolise the often mundane and meaninglessness of life.
The characters in this film are not individuals but symbols hence the film is already missing one of the Big Three: “outstanding characters” so if we were to experiment by removing another one of the big three, lets say interesting actions, then I think the story would still work but the audience may get bored by the repetition of act two.
Could we take out an act and still make the film work? Maybe we could take out the beginning and show the daughter character returning again and again to the lake but the audience not knowing why she keeps returning to the lake. This may make the audience more curious about what it is that draws her back to the lake, but I think the daughter character would need to be made more recognisable, maybe with distinct habits and mannerisms which can be carried through as she gets older.
The second film that I chose to look at for this exercise in narrative structure is Pan’s Labyrinth. A film with many threads running through it but our heroine is Ofelia, a young girl caught up in the chaos of 1944 Spain. She is traveling with her pregnant mother (who has married a murderous captain) to a military post in the country so that The Captain can be present at the birth of his son.
The movie starts with the narrator telling us about a girl from a different world who is attracted by the light of the human world, so much so that she starts to spend too much time there and is lost to here own world, but her parents wait for her knowing that one day she will return.
We are introduced to Ofelia as a girl living in the world of her fairytale books and stories. On the way to The Captain, her mother has a touch of morning sickness and the procession of cars must stop while the mother is recovering. It is here that the seed of the other world is planted. While walking around, Ofelia notices a piece of stone on the road which has an eye carved into it, looking around in the forest she finds the statue that it belongs to and puts the piece back in its place which results in a fairy creature materializing. This creature becomes her herald and once at the military post, leads her through the labyrinth to meet her mentor, the Faun.
Ofelia is called on to perform three tasks to prove that her essence is still in tact and has not been spoiled by living amongst humans. She is committed to perform the tasks and the refusal of the call to adventure comes more from her mother, who has dressed her up in a pretty dress and wants Ofelia to give up her childish books and wanderings.
But our heroine is worthy of the task and disobeys her mother in order to perform the first task assigned to her, which involves her entering the other world via a tunnel at the base of an ancient fig tree. Her task is to destroy a toad which has been poisoning the fig tree, she successfully completes this but in the process her dress is ruined and her mother is very upset with her.
Meanwhile the other characters in the film are on their own journeys and more is revealed about the monstrous Captain and why he is the way he is.
Having completed the first task, the Faun warns Ofelia that the second task is very dangerous and she should be careful not to eat or drink anything in the place which she is about to enter. The little helpers which the Faun has provided seem to show her the wrong keyhole, she finds the correct one by using her instincts. This results in Ofelia ignoring the little helpers as they try to warn her not to give into the temptation of tasting some of the food at the sumptuous banquet table as she is about to leave. Two grapes are enough to awaken the monster guarding the table and two of the three little helpers pay with their lives. On her return the Faun is furious with Ofelia and breaks all contact with her.
Here the heroine experiences a little death and is forced to reflect on what she has done. Everything around her is falling apart, her mother dies while giving birth and she is tormented by the heartless Captain. Having had enough she tries to escape with Mercedes (the sympathetic housekeeper) but they are captured and Ofelia is imprisoned in her room. It is here that the mentor returns and gives her another chance but warning her that this is her last chance.
In the final confrontation, Ofelia has fetched her recently-born brother and taken him to the centre of the labyrinth on the Faun’s orders. Here she finds out that the blood of her brother, an innocent, must be spilled in order for her to be free of the human world. In this climax she refuses to hand over the baby and her step-father emerges from the labyrinth, takes the baby and then shoots Ofelia. Ofelia’s blood, also an innocent, is spilled and she has fulfilled her final test.
She is taken to her father, the king of the fairy world as her body is grieved over by her human friends in the ordinary world. At the king’s court she is reunited with her family and rewarded for her actions.
A clear conformation between Ofelia’s journey in this film and the Mythic Cycle can be seen. Some areas are lightly touched upon but the structure is certainly present and can be readily recognised.
The characters in Pan’s Labyrinth demand a lot of attention, whether it be repulsion from The Captain’s evil acts, the uncertainty about the Faun’s motives or the motherly strength of Mercedes who has become the surrogate mother of Ofelia, they all keep the audience interested in what is going on. Add to that the surreal imagery of the other world, action-filled battle scenes of the human world and the mythological symbolism and we have a film which can be watched a number of times and still there will be more to discover.
As a very carefully thought-out film, I think removing any part of it would make the film suffer, but the story may still work. For example if the character of The Captain or Mercedes were not expanded upon then we would still understand Ofelia’s journey but it would be a less interesting story. If we omitted the slow descent into the other world and Ofelia went from Separation in the human world to her Ordeal in the fantasy world then I think the audience would get a jarring effect.
The Return quadrant of the mythic cycle has already been greatly deemphasised , so too the introduction of the ordinary world which is not laboured on and is only revealed through Ofelia’s brief conversation with her mum in the car as they are leaving for the military outpost.
In order to rewrite this story with some of the structural elements removed, I would emphasise the theme of temptation and take out the Initiation and Return, so our heroine fails to reach her original goal of returning to the fairy world because she has given in to her temptations. The Captain is killed before he can do Ofelia any harm and she survives and takes care of her little brother and finds happiness in doing this in her mortal life.
The above two films have been examples which fit well into the conventional models of narrative structure but many films are not so clean cut. Run Lola Run for example works by breaking with linearity of time and going further and using it as a narrative device.Thirteen Conversations About One Thing also does not follow the conventional structure but keeps jumping back and forth in time and from one character to another but in the end the viewer is left with a complete image of what has occurred.