Late-night narrative revelation

Delicatessen is a good film. More than that though, it is a good narrative.

One of things I was most impressed by was how quickly I accepted the world of Delicatessen for what it was. I didn’t question the plausibility of the situation, and the characters appeared realistic as individuals operating within that fantastic world. The most interesting aspect though, revealed itself when I tried to summarize the film to my suitemates. I was half-way through rambling about a community of tenants led by a butcher that have turned to cannibalism to survive in a sort of post-apocalyptic society when I trailed off at their expressions. One of them politely clarified that I watched this film for a class. I realized that a simple summary (at least as I told it) of the film’s events sounds horrible, like some sort of low-budget, straight-to-video, waste of celluloid.

So standing there, sounding like an idiot in front my friends, I started to fully appreciate the full scope of narrative, that is, how a narrative is not simply the story per se, but rather a complex compilation of performance, visual elements, etc. that establish tone, create mood, and indeed conjure up a whole new world. Now that I write this, it all sounds obvious, but it took a crazed, post-apocalyptic group of cannibals to make me start to understand the distinction. That’s a good narrative.

  1. Leslie Stonebraker’s avatar

    I was similarly struck when trying to describe both films screened Wednesday to friends. When examined outside the screening, the concepts for both films were ludicrously un-funny. Not just in a “you had to be there” way, either. Consider it: the world is so horrible groups resort to structured cannibalism. Recalls a bit to much of the Donner Party to be remotely funny. It’s amazing how simply by surrendering to an environment and set of intrinsic norms, the implausible becomes more than just plausible, it becomes expected. If the gags in Delicatessen, or the wrenching normality of Stranger than Paradise had ended, I would have been utterly dissatisfied and disappointed in the films.

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