Understanding Film Narratives: Carroll’s Cognitivist Approach

Noel Carroll adheres to the cognitive psychology position of film narrative; a position that leans towards the empirical and demonstrable aspects of film narrative not concerned with subjectivity or exploration of psychoanalytical theories of the subconscious. Thereby, an unconventional way to look at Carroll’s approach is to apply his theories to a standout film of subjective narrative: David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001).

Key Points of Carroll’s Cognitivist Approach:

The scene analysed here occurs at the Club Silencio, where the two main characters (and those of us watching) realise they have taken part in an illusion, a dream.

Cinema intensifies/transforms our realism by focusing and directing our attention

The use of extreme close-ups on the singer’s face forces the viewer to witness every strain of her emotional pain. All other surrounding visual information is bracketed out: the sheer scale of her face intensifies the realism much more than how it would occur in real life. These close-up shots assist in producing a raw, passionate power by the inability to direct our attention to anything else.

We comprehend images directly

Even the ‘untutored’ spectator can at least understand movie narrative without learning any kind of language. For example, film scholars or children can comprehend that the woman is singing a song. Her strained facial expressions and sad eyes tell us it is sombre. Nobody could watch this scene and see, say, an action packed adventure shot because we comprehend (see) the images directly for what they are.

Movies do not depend on conventions to be intelligible – all viewers use the same cognitive processes

Many would be familiar with the melody of the Roy Orbison song ‘Crying’. The woman’s rendition of Orbison’s song in Spanish is still familiar and comprehensible to anyone who has heard the original song. Regardless of the language (convention) sung in, the cognitive process of seeing (a signer on a stage) and hearing (the familiar ‘Crying’ melody) tell us she is singing the song ‘Crying’.

Overall, Carroll’s objective cognitivist approach can also be applied to subjective narratives because to order cognitive processes, movies use both comprehension (what you see) and interpretation (what you think).

 

Reference Source

Dr Robert Sinnerbrink 2013, ‘Understanding Film Narrative’, Lectures 4 & 5 to third-year students, PHI350, Macquarie University, Sydney.

Leave a Reply