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Since the turn of the century a mode of narrative storytelling has been appearing in increasing numbers at local art house cinemas and even large cineplexes. It has been called both hyperlink cinema and mosaic film. Call it what you will, films of this type are being made in ever increasing numbers. For the sake of clarity, I will use the term, “mosaic film.” Mosaic films are films which involve multiple interwoven plots, multiple characters (none of whom could really be called a protagonist), and most interestingly, a fairly complex temporal structure. Films like Steven Gaghan’s Syriana, Steven Soderburgh’s Traffic, Gaspar Noe’s Irreversable, and Don Roos’ Happy Endings are frequently cited as examples of this mode of storytelling.

Also cited are the films Amores Peroes, 21 Grams, and Babel, all directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu and written by screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga. In thinking about mosaic films, it strikes me that the temporality in the films of Innaritu and Arriaga functions differently than the temporality in not only traditional Hollywood films, but it functions differently from films that are considered mosaic films, as well. The temporal complexity isn’t in place to hide a mystery, like in puzzle films, nor is it in place to illuminate contemporaneous stories. One thing to bear in mind while thinking about these films is that the stories that are told are relatively simple stories. 21 Grams, for example, is essentially a melodramatic revenge story.

This raises several interrelated questions that one should be able to address in a research paper. First, how does temporality operate in these films?  Second, does the temporal discontinuity effect how viewers understand the narrative, and if so how? Finally, how does the audience’s knowledge of the authors work shape their comprehension of the temporality found in the texts?

In my research paper I will attempt to argue that there is, in fact, a logical temporal structure that is shared by all three films. I believe that this temporal structure, while not necessarily foreign to film, is unusual to see in modern films but by no means a new development in the way that people tell stories. I also assert that this temporal structure is designed to make syuzhet secondary to the emotional tension found in the narrative, and that this emotional tension is actually heightened as a result of the confusing structure. Finally, I think that audience interaction with the text is influenced by previous knowledge of the work of Innaritu and Arriaga, and that once one has a grasp on the temporal discontinuity one is more inclined to read the emotional arc of the films and cease to read them as temporal puzzles that need to be pieced together for complete comprehension of the narrative.

The library offers a wealth of resources to utilize. Much has been written about temporality in narrative, including in some of the materials we have used for class. In addition to those materials I will use literary theory collections, additional narrative theory books, and books on modern film to try and uncover how the temporality in the films I have mentioned operates, and to see how it fits into narrative traditions in film and literature. I also plan on scouring film periodicals for scholarly work done on the films mentioned. I also plan on looking at scholarship written on similar films to see what kinds of similarities and differences exist between Innaritu/Arriaga’s films and other films that engage in temporal discontinuity.


Booker, M. Keith. Postmodern Hollywood : What’s New in Film and Why It Makes Us Feel So Strange. New York: Praeger, 2007.

Bordwell, David. The Way Hollywood Tells It : Story and Style in Modern Movies. New York: University of California P, 2006.

Currie, Mark. Postmodern Narrative Theory. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1998.

Doane, Mary Anne. The Emergence of Cinematic Time : Modernity, Contingency, the Archive. New York: Harvard UP, 2002.

Ermarth, Elizabeth Deeds. Sequel to History : Postmodernism and the Crisis of Representational Time. New York: Princeton UP, 1991.

Grodal, Torben. Moving Pictures : A New Theory of Film Genres, Feelings and Cognition. New York: Oxford UP, 1999.

Heise, Ursula K. Chronoschisms : Time, Narrative, and Postmodernism. New York: Cambridge UP, 1997.

Herman, David, ed. Narratologies : New Perspectives on Narrative Analysis. New York: Ohio State UP, 1999.

Richardson, Brian, ed. Narrative Dynamics. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State UP, 2002.

One Response to “Research Proposal”

  1. This is a good proposal, with a clear scope, focused research questions, and a solid research base. Bordwell has written about these films in the context of “network narratives” in his newest book, Poetics of Cinema. Do you think the use of atemporality in these films is different than Murphy’s discussion of Reservoir Dogs? It might be useful to categorize a few different paradigms, then explain how the Innaratu/Arriaga films fit or break these molds. Good luck!

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