Last week we talked a little pov basics.
This time, how about we talk the fascinating device called the Unreliable Narrator. For anyone who doesn't know, this type of narration (usually first person in prose, but not necessarily) tells the story in question…but is not necessarily giving an accurate description of what's going on.
The narrator may be evil. Or crazy. Or an alien. Or narcissistic. Or just lying. Or have some other kind of twisted notion of reality that departs from the usual. I don't remember what the story was where I learned of this in high school, but the idea of it fascinated and stunned me at the time. “So…the story isn't necessarily being told truthfully?”
Such a cool idea, and it was left to the reader to interpret what was or wasn't true, and to wonder at all the ambiguities that might be in there. Exciting stuff!
It can be done in other mediums too, of course. The twist ending of film “The Usual Suspects”, that was ripped off endlessly afterwards made use of the device. Another, lesser known one with a pov twist was called “Frailty”, a horror/psychological thriller directed by Bill Paxton (rip). I don't want to spoil it, but there's more going on than first meets the eye.
The technique in Frailty involves what you see, and don't see, and the assumptions the audience will make based on what they see or don't. I don't want to get any more specific than that, but this brings us to comics.
Can the unreliable narrator be used in comics? Of course! There can be as much depth in a graphical story as in any other medium. It can be a more obvious “twist” kind of thing, like in the movies I mentioned, or can be more subtle, with the readers questioning whether the pov character can be trusted.
I believe there's a good way to do an Unreliable Narrator Twist, and a bad way to do it. What do you think? If a story is presented one way, then turned on its head in the last couple pages/minutes, is that a “cheat”? Is it acceptable? It probably has something to do with whether there were “clues” scattered throughout the story that (hopefully) weren't picked up on the first time through, then become obvious after the ending and upon second viewing.
Ah, that reminds me of a masterful job along these lines, in the film “Shutter Island” (the Martin Scorsese version is the one I saw). The clues to what's going on are there, and I noticed at least some of them, but literally shrugged them off as screenwriting/filmmaking imperfections. It made the payoff pretty satisfying!
“Cheated” twists don't have that satisfaction. Much as I enjoyed the movie “Saw” (the original), the ending was pretty much out of nowhere, with a “clue” early on that really wasn't a clue at all.
The worst, since we're on the subject, was probably the late nineties movie “Reindeer Games” with Ben Affleck. Neat idea, but the twists came so furiously at the end I was snorting derisively at the screen (and I'm usually a pretty forgiving viewer I think). And even all these years later, I can find an excuse to mock that turkey of a film.
I don't know if I'm right about this, but I interpreted Deadpool from, well, “Deadpool” to be an unreliable narrator. His ultimate, perfect relationship, the powerful but somewhat corny and dopey version of Colossus…it played to me like Deadpool's version of reality. It matches his fourth wall-breaking character.
Have you ever used an Unreliable Narrator in your comic, or seen it done in comics? Nothing's coming to mind offhand, although I'm sure it's been done, certainly in old horror comics at least.
This has been your Thursday Newspost - or so I'm going to claim!
Banes at 12:00AM, March 8, 2018
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