Friday, 7 September 2012

The Cinephile’s Guide to The Galaxy

Jermain Kaminski and Michael Schober’s blog Movie Galaxies offers a quantitative analysis of popular films, drawing the social structure of each subject.

Every screenwriter uses a unique narrative structure in storytelling the same way the audience chooses a character they sympathize with while watching a movie. As previously seen in our X-Men article, fictional social structures share features with real-life ones.

In terms of network analysis, the density of a social structure has a strong impact on how a story unfolds. The definition of network density is the proportion of edges in a network relative to the total number of possible edges. The term – also used in sociology – shows how much an individual identifies with the group or people surrounding him/her, and is an indicator of social capital as well. But what does this have to do with movies?

Similar to sociology, narratology has strong emphasis on group membership, and the social and behavioral patterns that keep these companionships in tact. In a high density group most of the members are in constant contact with one another, the same way they are in a classic romantic flick. In contrast to this, a movie – like The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – operating with a larger cast has a lower level of density. This makes networks in the romantic genre smaller with larges dots and stronger edges. The story usually revolves around the main conflict between the female and male lead, that plays out directly, or through confessions to each parties closest friends.

The following picture represents an interesting aspect of the research:

The infographic shows how various directors deal with their characters as narrative time passes, and how their direction affects the density of the social network within the movie. Oliver Stone and Steven Spielberg obviously like to resolve their conflicts by the end of the movie, eliminating irrelevant story lines and characters, thereby increasing the density of the network. Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch however, like to confuse their viewer even more with adding some extra storylines to the movie around half-time, lowering density.

The site offers various movie social networks with films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Twin Peaks, Pulp Fiction and many more. The seconds picture shows Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic, Magnolia. Those of you who have seen it know, that its storytelling uses the colliding storyline technique that was made popular by Thornton Wilder who first connected seemingly unrelated storylines in The Bridge Of San Luis Rey, and has since been mastered by directors like Akira Kurosawa or Alejandro González Iñárritu in Babel. It is instantly obvious, that the various storylines and the characters they operate form clusters connected by a single edge each.

For more movie networks, check out the site.


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