Aaron Smith’s Response Journal


Style and Narrativity in Delicatessen and Stranger than Paradise

In her essay, “Toward a Definition of Narrative,” Marie-Laure Ryan highlights the importance of distinguishing literal narrative from metaphorical narrative, given the term’s inflation and misuse. She maintains that assessing a text’s narrativity is not a matter of yes or no, but rather, to what degree? Accordingly, Ryan outlines four dimensions useful in defining narrative – spatial, temporal, mental, and formal and pragmatic.

There is no question that Delicatessen and Stranger than Paradise are strong narratives.

But while both films do satisfy all of Ryan’s eight criteria, making them high in narrativity (how many dimensions they fulfill), where they really differ is in their typology (the prominence of each).

Delicatessen emphasizes the spatial dimension; it is mostly about a post-apocalyptic world and a small, closed community within it. Stranger than Paradise insists on the mental dimension, focusing primarily on the characters’ internal motivations and emotions (or lack there of). Whereas Stranger than Paradise accentuates the characters’ isolation and separation, Delicatessen’s characters are connected and intertwined, as parts of a machine. Delicatessen thus mainly accentuates setting while Stranger than Paradise examines character.

Which brings me to another one of Ryan’s points: “As a mental representation, story is not tied to any particular medium…” (26) This is an interesting statement since both films utilize a style that is unique to film in order to enhance their preferred dimension: fast, rhythmic editing to evoke parts of a machine in Delicatessen and black, interrupting gaps in Stranger than Paradise to evoke the characters’ loneliness and blandness. I wonder, had the two films been without any of this, would we have comprehended these themes as easily? Would we have been as quick to designate Stranger than Paradise as favoring the mental dimension if it included establishing shots of big New York skyscrapers? We might think the film had more of a spatial component, a piece about  America and living in the city.

In other words, the style of the films help us understand them and extract meaning from them, but what would happen to the narratives if you took that style away? Could the stories of Delicatessen and Stranger than Paradise work in a medium other than film?

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