Literature and film

Applying characteristics of postmodern narrative to films

The term “postmodernism” refers to a movement of the second half of the 20th century that replaced the era of modernity.

The term postmodernism refers to a movement of the second half of the 20th century that replaced the era of modernity. The name of the movement is made from the word components "post" (the prefix, which comes from Latin, means “after”) and "modern". The age of postmodernism is thus the era of literary history following the age of modernity.

The exact beginning of this postmodern era cannot be precisely given but is generally placed around the middle of the 20th century. Postmodernism developed across philosophy, the arts, architecture, and criticism. Postmodern critical approaches gained popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, and have been adopted in a variety of academic and theoretical disciplines, including cultural studies, philosophy of science, economics, linguistics, architecture, feminist theory, and literary criticism, as well as art movements in fields such as literature, contemporary art, and music.

Postmodern authors deal with the experience that we no longer find a safe place in the modern world, but rather wander through the world looking for roles and life models. This world is too complex and too difficult to comprehend, which is why it is no longer possible for people to grasp reality and commit themselves to the one truth.
Postmodernist film attempts to subvert the mainstream conventions of narrative structure and characterisation, and tests the audience's suspension of disbelief. Typically, such films also break down the cultural divide between high and low art and often upend typical portrayals of gender, race, class, genre, and time with the goal of creating something that does not abide by traditional narrative rules.
Within a narrative, there are a number of features that can be identified as “postmodern”. Often they allow several ways for the reader to read and understand a text. Even the genre of a postmodern story cannot always be clearly defined, as postmodern works often contain a mix of different genres and styles.

A postmodern story is often told from the postmodern protagonist’s subjective perspective and what the narrator says may later turn out to be incorrect. Sometimes it is very difficult to identify the character of the “hero”. They are often a social outsider. The possibility of a character’s positive development is often denied in postmodern narrative, and the main character remains static in their behaviour. Sometimes even the concept of a central protagonist is not clearly followed and the reader is no longer asked to identify with the main character. This is often achieved by the narrator's ironic and distanced attitude towards the protagonist and his or her story.

Postmodern narrative is not exclusively linear, but shows breaks and jumps (flashbacks, interpretations, etc.). There is often a similarity to filmic techniques and editing techniques are used for a variety of effects. Time accelerates and stretches or leaps around and the depiction of different perspectives are characteristic of this. The plot is conveyed by a highly specific and at times unusual use of filmic language, often used in ways characterised by rhythm and beauty. Postmodern authors also play with rhetorical devices and linguistic structures, and often use intertextuality, making references to real historical events and other literary texts. In the context of this intertextuality, references and quotations are often used. However, postmodern authors believe that everything they write is a quotation because someone has written about it before them.

Task 1

  1. Read the text on postmodernism in literature thoroughly.
  2. Choose from the following feature cards by tapping on those that also apply to the film Run Lola Run. You should half colour those characteristics which are partially applicable to the film, and those that you think are completely applicable characteristics should be coloured completely blue. Leave non-applicable features grey.
Film is from the 1990s
The protagonists don’t invite you
to identify with them
Design full of effects from film language
Hybrid character (mixture of different styles)
No claim of
Reality is experienced as highly complex
Protagonists search for their own identity
Identity is experienced as uncertain and questionable
No orientation towards any particular world
views or ideologies
Parodistic treatment of role models and patterns
Intertextuality: allusions to and quotations from other literary works
Variety of possible interpretations
There is a happy ending
The protagonists experience disorientation and uncertainty
Feels like a game
Emphasis on the subjective perception of the characters
Always follows generic conventions
Who or what one can rely on is questionable
Unreliable storytelling (multiple versions of a story)

  1. On the basis of your findings, justify the thesis that Run Lola Run is a postmodern film. Back up your explanations with examples from the film.