The use of narrative in film

The use of Narrative in film and other forms of media is commonplace; it has become such that the media viewer has not only come to expect it but rely on it somewhat. There are two elements in narrative film today that combine in the engaging of the audience; ‘story’ and ‘production’ elements. One example in the Australian film industry of the use of production and story elements in such a way as to engage the audiences’ attention is the film ‘Two Hands’.

The film Two Hands was directed in 1999 by Gregor Jordan, a then virtual nobody. The film boasts an all-Australian cast and is full of Australian humor and irony. It is a film that was loved by critics and the public alike and has been affectionately dubbed ‘The Australian answer to Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’. The film isn’t your standard linear narrative in the sense that the beginning, middle and end don’t necessarily go in that order.

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In the film the lead character Jim (Heath Ledger) gets himself mixed up with Pando (Brian Brown) and his gang of King’s Cross thugs when $10,000 of Pando’s money goes missing, money that Jim had been given to deliver. Jim is then forced to rob a bank in a desperate attempt to replace Pando’s money however he still manages to fall in love with the sister of one of his friends, Alex (Rose Byrne).

The opening sequence to the film establishes through both Production and story elements the following:
By showing us the characters of Pando and his gang in what appears to be a secluded section of scrub late at night, holding a bloodied and bruised Jim at gun point sets the scene for the genre of film we are about to see. The lighting, more accurately the lack of proper lighting, further implies that the people we are seeing aren’t your average clean-cut businessmen; as the majority of this lighting is being provided by a handheld flashlight.

The dialogue in this scene is the most helpful in terms of establishing the storylines and grabbing the attention of the viewer. We learn that Jim owes Pando $10,000 for which he will soon be killed, we learn that Jim will give Pando $15.000 if he lets him go (“I’m doing a job tomorrow. Let me go and I’ll give you 15″), we learn that Pando is willing to give Jim a chance by letting him try 013, and that Pando really doesn’t want to have to kill him but it seems like he has little choice (“sorry Jimmy”).

The next section of the opening sequence takes us back to what is seemingly the beginning of the film, to the heart of King’s Cross. Jim is standing out the front of a strip joint with a friend of his. It seems the two are employed by the club to entice male passer-buyers into the club. Through their dialogue the viewer can deduce that Jim intends on doing some work for someone name Pando, who incidentally is someone ‘you don’t want to get mixed up with’. The viewer may also conclude that Jim is unhappy with his current line of work and wishes to move up through the King’s Cross ‘hierarchy’, so to speak, by doing this job.

During this scene Jim’s relationship with Pando and Alex are established, or re-established in the case of Pando. Jim’s first impressions of Alex, an Alex’s first impressions of Jim are evident through the production elements involved. Through the use of cuts between and the visual composition of the shots of the pair it is shown to the viewer that these two fancy each other at first glance. The shots cut from a shot of Alex looking at Jim then looking away when Jim notices, to a shot of Jim looking at Alex and giving a smile when he realizes she was looking at him. For the most part of the establishment of their relationship they will be on opposite sides of the screen to each other when filmed in close up. When this is used and with cuts between the two, the viewer is able to further associate them as a couple.

Adversely when Jim meets Pando in this scene the emphasis is on how different they both are to each other. Pando’s car, the first time we see him in ‘The Cross’, slowly moves past the camera stopping at the front passenger seat window to the sound of heavy metal music. The camera is low down, looking up at the face of Pando who slightly pauses for effect before speaking. Jim moves toward the car and bends respectfully to speak into the open window. The sounds we can hear are those of the running engine when Pando first arrives and the conversation between he and Pando afterwards.

Through introducing the viewer to the characters of Pando and Jim and the idea of the missing $10,000 it not only interests the viewer in watching on in order to find out what happens to Jim or how he got into the situation in the first place, it effectively gives more meaning to the following scene. The events of the following sequence are intended to further interest the viewer into watching the remainder of the film. The main contributor to this is the storyline elements yet to be resolved/further explored.

The closing sequence, for the purpose of this essay can be said to be from the time Jim walks through the corridor into Pando’s office until the credits. A lot of the closing sequence is directly linked to the opening sequence in such a way that unless the middle has been left out a lot of the imagery goes unnoticed.

The most obvious example of imagery in this sequence is the angle at which the camera is looking at Jim when he walks into the corridor leading into Pando’s office. The camera is on the floor looking up at Jim as he walks giving him a look of height and of being in a position of power. This is a direct contradiction to the opening sequence in which Jim is being held at gunpoint and the camera is looking up at Pando who is clearly in the position of authority. Jim, having gotten the money is now in the position that the viewer has been anticipating the whole movie. Another feature of this particular scene that conjures up the image of power and control is the music playing in the background. The music is loud, brassy, big-band-type music and it is such that it adds to the effect that the camera work is providing.

Once in the office Jim is instantly pounced upon by Pando’s men. The following minute or so is a struggle between Jim and Acko, one of Pando’s men. In the struggle Jim is trying to get the $10,000 from down the front of his pants while Acko is trying to strangle Jim with the cord from the telephone. The scene consists of numerous almost instantaneous cuts between the faces of Jim, Acko, Pando and the rest of his gang. This scene is quick and is a prime example of production elements being used to draw the viewer into the film. After Jim has returned the money not only have the attitudes of Pando and his men completely been reversed, but all of the storyline elements from the opening sequence that were left unanswered have now been explored if not resolved.

The next scene, the scene after Jim returns to his apartment and is seen at the airport with Alex is another example of storyline elements being resolved. The way in which the pair were portrayed in the Kings Cross scene implied that their relationship in the film would be more than just friends. The assumptions from the scene in the cross made by the viewer have been developed as the movie progressed.

To conclude I would simply like to add that all the things I have been talking about have been purposefully put into the film. None of these things have been done so accidentally as it was the Director, Gregor Jordan’s intention to make the viewer more interested through incorporating the aforementioned combination of Production and Story elements.


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