Mental Process Narration door Edward Brannigan

From the very beginning, films sought to represent the dreams and visions of characters. A conservative way to accomplish this was through the use of a dream balloon where the dreamer (suitably dazed or asleep) was shown in the same frame with a second, inset scene representing his dream. The inset could be played out on a second, smaller set on the same stage, or given through superimposition, rear screen projection, matte shots, split screen, etc. In all cases, the inset is linked to a character by juxtaposition (and by other cues). It is also shown to be subsidiary to the character, that is, framed or controlled by the character (it appears and disappears while the character remains in place).

The mental process sequence thus encompasses a range of temporal relations with respect to character, not just the usual dream fantasy.

What is important to the mental process sequence is that new, undefined temporal relations are introduced; time is no longer continuous or simultaneous. For instance, what is the temporal relation between that which slowly appears in superimposition and everything else in the image? When a temporal discontinuity is referred to – justified by – a mental condition of character, then we label it, in the reading, as a ‘subjective’ sequence and when the temporal discontinuity is undefined, that is, neither present, past, or future, then we label it as a form of mental process narration.

So far we have concentrated on the requirement that cues suggesting an undefined time may  be presented either in a simultaneous or consecutive format. There are two narrations: a neutral narration which acts to frame the dream narration or, stated the other way around, the dream narration becomes the object of a larger, neutral narration. Each of these elements, however, are not the same.

The character may also be split apart. Consider the sentence: ‘i imagined that I saw a beautiful woman. The repetition of the linguistic shifter ‘I’ conceals the fact that the two ‘I’s’ are neither instances of a third, transcendent ‘I’ nor are they exact replicas but rather there is a slight difference. The ‘I’ who sees the beautiful woman may be a repressed side of the ‘I’ who imagines. The two ‘I’s’ are mobilized in different contexts and that difference becomes the basis for a production of meaning

Time can also be different. The sound track, too, offers contradictory temeperal markers: voices from the ‘past’ suddenly appear out of context, one after another in a sound montage. The continuity of diegetic music is interrrupted by an unattributed, ominous source of music. In addition, sound from a music box, knocked over by the character in another part of the house reappears at a constant volume _ irrespective of distance and the character’s changing distance from the box. Other characters do not seem to hear the sounds. These sorts of temporal disjunctions lead to an undefined time which is unified, only though a particular character. The objects we see and hear are, the tekst insists, selected, organized and given significance by that character system called mind.

Although a perception structure (POV) may be an integral part of a mental proces sequence and through both involve the mental state of character, the two remain distinct. When we begin to witness ‘impossible’ events and a succession of new, unlikely spaces even if the framing remains from the character’s optical point in space), the temporalitiy of the sequence is called into question. The meaning of space, time, cause/effect are to be found in character. 

Art films of the 1960s discovered and aggresively explored the camera as a subjective marker by employing unusual camera locations, angles and movements > Hitchcock, spellbound – Surrealist sequences

In dream sequences there are myriad subtle differences which may be exploited for meaning; for example there may well be a difference between a dream which occurs while the dreamer is asleep and one that occurs when the deram accidently stumbles upon it being played out, seemingly, in real space and whether the dreamer sees himself, and in wha relationship, may also become significant.

Also, the line between dream and memory may become obscured where an extented sequence represents the return of an amensiac’s memories/nightmares. In The Spider’s Stratagem (Bertolucci, 1969) what appear to be flashbacks evolve as the film progresses into the unmarked fantasies of a character.

What unites dream sequences, indeed permis infinite variety, is the fact that they derrive from certain basic procedures of our reading which are summed up by the six general elements of representation. It is the hypotheses and revisions of hypothes used in our reading as measured against the structural possibilities that are important.The choices depens on a weighing of the evidence.

There are indeed surface differences among the five representations but my contention is that narrative, as well as narration and point of view, are independent of medium and depend on transformational rules, not the formal properties of surface symbols.

Markers may be represented simultaneously or consecutively. For example in Carrie and Possessed undefined temporal markers only appear after we have witnessed a mental process scene. The narration is cunning in its duplicity since the first version included such strong cues of present and continous time as matches on action.
When the scene is reinterpreted in light of it replaying we assign the contradictions and traps, not to the discourse which seems innocent, but to character who will imagine anything because she is posessed and seprate reality from unreality.

A given leven of narration has no meaning in itself but acquires meanings through opposition or difference with other levels within the work or in other works. This explains why the exclusive use of, say, first person narration in a novel or film eventually loses impact for many readers. Ironically the infuence of the convention is so strong that an ‘I’ only becomes ‘personalized’ when distinguished fro another leven of narration within that particular text.

Signifcation for the viewer, however, is purchased at a price. The viewer must accept the illusion – which te text must labor to create – that the text may be in two different places at the same time; that is, represent two different narrators.

If the text is granted this power, it need no longer be comitted to an absolute truth, but may shift narration and hedge its bets by speaking ruth here, lying there, insisting on vagueness, and so on, to create a chain of hesitations – the suspense of the story. Truth may be in the ‘objective’ (what we see independent of character) or in the subjective or in both or neither.
Different meanings allow the truth to be compartmentalized, dispered in measured amounts. It creates a plural faction – may, sides, inexhaustible, replete. While a text does grant a character the authority to tell the story, it makes no claimes as to the reliability of that telling.

By singling out a source for the story, the text is able to keep alive that chain of hesitations leading to the truth. Statements, belies and actions for which the text would rather not take responsibility may be confined to character. In suspicion the text could have shown us exactly what happend between Johnie and Beaky but instead shows us what Linda believes happened.

In sum mental process sequences are generated by a literal or metaphocial framing which links undefined temporal markers and a production of space to a character’s mental state. The sequences are generated from a common structural description and are not defined by lists of material or formal features (which are indefinite in number). The sequences may appear in either simultaneous or extended format. What is important is that a new level of narration appears which, in conjunction with the preceding narration, effectively splits both character and object. One function of this split, or difference, is to suspend the enigmas of the text.


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