Note: This is a revised 2017 video essay script.
Cinema is a boundless art form, for the most part. Filmmakers can tell a story in whatever fashion that they desire, from being straightforward to shaking things up a bit. As a filmmaker my first priority is to be a storyteller, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do something different. A recent difference lately has pertained to story structure, particularly with having circular narrative. This is a look at the cyclical nature of my works.
If you’ve seen my repertoire, when you hear “cyclical”, you will likely gravitate towards assuming that I’m going to talk about ‘Circle’ (2016). That assumption is right, but ‘Circle’ won’t be the only film I talk about.
For those that haven’t seen ‘Circle’, the film is about a person (portrayed by Jordan Morrison) who struggles to connect with people. Over the course of the film, she is forced to learn how to connect with people through two challenging circumstances: her grieving brother Tom, and a person she is temporarily hired to take care of named Tad.
Within the context of the film, repeating the footage from earlier at the end is used to show that Molly will have to connect with people again and again. That change in perspective at the end is that she is now more equipped to do so from one cycle to the next. Repeating footage from the beginning of the film at the end of the film is the most obvious form of showing this cyclical technique.
There are less obvious examples that can be shown such as Molly wandering and Tad wandering when they emerge at different points.
Before I move into the next film, I want to briefly explain the inspiration for this structural styling I utilize frequently. This technique I saw for the first time in ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’, one of the most influential films on my craft. The film is about fathers and sons, and director Derek Cianfrance uses visual representations in the 3rd Act that are similar to those in Act 1 and Act 2. Not only are these visualizations call-backs to earlier moments in the film, but most importantly they help show that the sons end up being like their fathers, ultimately following each of their fathers’ cycles. Cianfrance utilizes the art of cinema instead of leaning on dialogue to communicate this information, making ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ subconscious storytelling at its finest.
The next example is from an older film in my repertoire ‘Bloom & Wither’ (2013). This is to display how long I’ve utilized this technique over my career. For those who haven’t seen the film, it is a postmodern romance about two couples, one blooming in 2005 and one withering in 2020. The postmodern angle revealed at the end of the film is that the couple in 2020 is a reincarnation of the couple in 2005. Joy becomes Ryan, James becomes Rebecca.
Having the railroad tracks to hearken back to over and over helps connect the two relationships, along with a closing montage connecting the two relationships (with the narrator speaking).
There are a lot more films within the JN Films catalog that explores the idea of a cyclical structure. As a filmmaker, we're not exclusively utilizing that structure though. If we did, we wouldn't be "shaking things up a bit."