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Cinemanarrative dissonance

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Cinemanarrative dissonance
Bergman, Fischer, Nilsson 1952.jpg
Ingmar Bergman, Gunnar Fischer, and Josefin Nilsson on a film set.
Years active2010-Present
Major figuresDan Olson, Chris Franklin, Lindsay Ellis, Ben Abraham
InfluencesLudonarrative dissonance

Amazon.com Logo.png Search Cinemanarrative dissonance on Amazon.

Cinemanarrative dissonance is the juxtaposition or conflict between a film’s narrative told through the plot or story, and the narrative expressed through the cinematography. This can arise to due to lack of communication between branches of a film’s production. The concept is based on ideas of Ludonarrative dissonance, which is "the conflict between a video game's narrative told through the story and the narrative told through the gameplay".[citation needed] The term has begun to be used in online critiques, blogs, reviews and articles as a negative strike against films as evidence of the movie’s lack of quality. The potential positive use of cinemanarrative dissonance as a technique for symbolic purposes within films is currently being debated.


Ways in which a film can become cinemarratively dissonant could be through misinterpreted satire, miscommunication between production staff, disagreements between individual creatives, or lack of foreknowledge. How a film can be labelled as cinemanarratively dissonant can be through framing a shot or blocking a scene that does not align with the intentions of the screenplay, as Dan Olson points out in his video essay titled "Ludonarrative dissonance"{Citation needed|date=September 2019|reason=Previous reference here was to a YouTube video, which is WP:UGC. Please replace with a WP:RS}}, "the story told by the camera does not agree with the one being told by the script." It may not necessarily reflect two disparate parties, however, as Olson points out further, it may be that "whoever has lead the project has failed to keep everyone pointed towards the same thematic, tonal goal." At the same time, as Ben Abraham points out in his article "Film-O-Narrative Dissonance?"[1], the definition of this concept can be expanded to encompass the ontology and epistemology of film itself, as he uses it to suggest that the fact that a film is designed by a creator, robs it of any suspense or mystery in how situations will turn out for their characters as their paths are predetermined. Abraham's ideas of cinemanarrative dissonance provides critics a way to explore grander more theoretical ideas to do with film that push outside the realm of mere blog posting and movie reviews and into the field of academia.

Notable Examples[edit]


In Dan Olson's video essay on "Ludonarrative dissonance", he points to Michael Bay's Transformers (2007) as notable example of a film which suffers from cinemanarrative dissonance:

Megan Fox, star of Transformers, is photographed in a provocative position, much like her film's counterpart.

By the text of the script… the character of Mikaela Banes [sic] is smart, funny, talented, driven, hard-working, quick-thinking, courageous, and mature. She is an active agent in the plot, she comes up with plans, and her personal arc meshes with the rest of the film. … However, the camera treats Mikaela as a piece of meat. People perceive her as being superfluous eye candy, as nagging, as irrational, because that is how she is consistently framed. The cinematography is not… bad. It is, in its own sphere, competent and well-executed. Mikaela’s writing simultaneously is not bad, but they are not in agreement with each other.

American History X[edit]

In her video essay "Mel Brooks, The Producers and the Ethics of Satire about N@zis"{Citation needed|date=September 2019|reason=Previous reference here was to a YouTube video, which is WP:UGC. Please replace with a WP:RS}}, Lindsay Ellis outlines an idea called "The Satire Paradox", which was first outlined in Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History, “Episode 10: The Satire Paradox”. Using analogies such as The Stephen Colbert Report, “The Satire paradox” refers to the idea where the intention of parody can only come if the viewer is already aligned with the author politically. Ellis then discusses “The Satire Paradox” in relation to American History X (1998), and uses the frame of cinemanarrative dissonance to point to her conclusion.

The text of the film is explicitly anti-Fascist; a cautionary tale that unmistakably condemns white supremacy. But you know what group loves the imagery in American History X? Neo-Nazis. Neo-Nazis love the imagery in this movie. The text shows Neo-Nazism and white supremacy as bad, but isn’t it also kind of badass? Isn’t it cool the way he’s framed? Isn’t Edward Norton a badass when he’s an uncut, Neo-Nazi alpha?

Blade Runner[edit]

In their blog article titled "Cinemanarrative Dissonance: The Ludonarrative of Video Games and how we can apply that to talking about Movies"[2], 'The Hipster Llama' discusses Ridley Scott's treatment of sexual assault in Blade Runner (1982) as a conflict between the romantic framing of the scene, and the dark underlying horror of its consequences. Describing the music as "lilting", and the faces as "singled out from the blackness by warm light highlighting the lipstick" and "the emotions of eyes", 'The Hipster Llama' asserts that this scene is "shot like a love scene". In actuality, 'Hipster Llama' suggests that the moment depicts the film's protagonist, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) "bullying, breaking" and "emotionally manipulating Sean Young's" character. 'The Hipster Llama' ends their analysis by suggesting that "this is a rape scene framed as a love scene", and that it is "a particularly egregious example of cinema-narrative dissonance" due to "how disturbing the disparity is". 'Hipster Llama's' deconstruction of Blade Runner is notably important as it reinforces how harmful the technique can be in shaping an experience in the mind's of the audience: "it is a duplicity, a hypocrisy of intended message and presented text."

(500) Days of Summer[edit]

Ben Abraham's review for the film (500) Days of Summer (2009) extends the definition of cinemanarrative dissonance beyond the traditional notions of the term to encompass the ontology of film as a mechanism itself. In his article, he suggests that the audiences’ knowledge that they are watching a film creates a dissonance between the film and its narrative, as the potentially coincidental nature of the ‘meet cute’ ending of the couple - a common trope of the romantic comedy genre or 'chick flick' - is undermined by the fact that the film is an author’s vision, and is thus, predetermined.


The first known instance of cinemanarrative dissonance as a concept emerging within film criticism, was in Ben Abraham's article under the term 'Film-O-Narrative Dissonance', a play on the term ludonarraive dissonance.

The actual term 'cinemanarrative dissonance' wasn't coined until Chris Franklin's video essay "The Debate That Never Took Place"{Citation needed|date=September 2019|reason=Previous reference here was to a YouTube video, which is WP:UGC. Please replace with a WP:RS}} was uploaded to YouTube in 2015, as a part of his series Errant Signal. Franklin also first describes the elements that constitute the concept. His video was used as a tool to dismantle the idea of ludonarrative dissonance as a concept, and used the hypothetical idea of a cinema-narrative dissonance to point out the flaws in this form of criticism, suggesting that he didn’t believe that this was a valid concept. In attempting to prove the lack of validity of ludonarrative dissonance, this analogy also depicts his argument against cinemanarrative dissonance.

Soon after, in 2017, Dan Olson expanded on the concept of cinemanarrative dissonance, providing an example through deconstructing Michael Bay's Transformers as a way for viewers to understand the ideas thoroughly. Olson's video essay also serves to counteract Franklin's arguments regarding whether or not cinemanarrative dissonance should be taken seriously as a concept.

Franklin and Olson's videos serve as predications for future critics to utilise the concepts explored and analyse other films under this lens. Critics constantly point back to and reference these two as laying the groundwork for the concept of cinemanarrative dissonance.

Current usage in film criticism[edit]

Cinemanarrative dissonance has since remained in online spheres, mostly confined to blog posts, online articles and video essays. The term has cropped up in reviews for recent movies such as Captain Marvel (2019), in Faraz Talat's blog post titled "Captain Marvel is merely a fun pit stop to a promising Endgame"[3], and Mary Queen of Scots (2018), with Sebastian Wurzrainer's article "‘Mary Queen of Scots’ wastes potential due to choppy writing"[4]. Cinemanarrative dissonance is also being used as a reflexive tool to look back on past films and analyse their faults, such as in Lindsay Ellis' exploration of American History X, or in Romain Boileau's theoretical article regarding "dissonance and narrative"[5]. While in journal articles and reviews the term has largely been unquestioned in its usage, some critics and forum users have begun to ponder the legitimacy of cinemanarrative dissonance, and whether or not it can be used for symbolic purposes within a film's narrative.

Debates on the legitimacy of the notion[edit]

In Chris Franklin's initial video essay, "The Debate That Never Took Place", outlining the concept of cinemanarrative dissonance, he immediately discredited it as a legitimate form of criticism. Franklin came up with cinemanarrative dissonance as an analogy for the illegitimacy of ludonarrative dissonance, and framed the aforementioned concept in a negative light:

… story and play both exist in service to the overall work, not as two forces in conflict with one another. So… why do we frame them that way? It’d be like going to the movies, and then, afterwards, talking with friends about how the film worked as a story, and then talking about how the film worked as an example of cinematography, but never at the same time. You’d never do that, and definitely not in a way that would posit a film as “cinemanarratively dissonant.

In response to Chris Franklin's video essay, Dan Olson's video "Ludonarrative dissonance" expanded on the concept of cinemanarrative dissonance and discussed the positives in utilising it to criticise both video games and films. Olson argues for the validity of cinemanarraive dissonance by, first, addressing Franklin's issues against video game criticism and ludonarrative dissonance.

... that video as a whole makes a great point about the need for games criticism to accept games as a 'whole text'. We should evaluate games, not as a collection of systems on one side and a collection of fiction on the other, but as a coherent whole that either works or doesn't. In particular, Chris is concerned with this approach to games criticism, especially the form... that exist in reviews, that very much compartmentalise the two faces of the game in a way that will lead to discussing games as: "great gameplay, but the story sucks", or, "great story, shame about the gameplay".

Dan Olson goes on to say that, while this is accurate for video games, the same cannot be said for films, as Chris's attempts to set "up a counterexample, accidentally created a great mechanism for criticism, because there are absolutely are films that I would describe as 'cinemanarratively dissonant'." Through his example analysis of Michael Bay's Transformers, Dan Olson asserts that

right there is a great conceptual tool for critics to use to describe why something that is technically proficient on the whole isn't working. ...[T]he idea... is a valuable tool that compliments a wholistic approach... rather than detracts from it, because it makes it easier to describe when the story is telling one message, and the mechanics are telling another.

However, Olson goes on to admit that, it is "less common in film" because "film as a medium is more mature" than video games, with the "language... more established, and the production methods have generally worked out most of the kinks; in terms of getting everyone on the same page, and in terms of theme and tone." Debates regarding the legitimacy of cinemanarrative dissonance has appeared elsewhere in blog posts, interviews, articles and forums. In an article by Matt Peckham from Time titled "'The Witness' Creator Jonathan Blow on Science, Language and Reality",[6] it discusses the fallibility of ludonarrative dissonance as a concept and uses film as an example of its illegitimacy, proving the lack of validity of cinemanarrative dissonance in the process. In the interview, Jonathan Blow accuses ludonarrative dissonance as being "unnecessary jargon", arguing that:

You can more broadly look at any work of art or even things that aren’t art and see when they’re being hypocritical or self-defeating or inconsistent...

You can have a movie that’s supposedly about love and family or something, but the screen time the movie devotes to those subjects is 15 minutes, and the remaining hour and 20 minutes is the guy being an action hero kicking guys off the top of trucks driving down the freeway or something. And it’s like, ‘Okay, well, this movie isn’t really about love and family, because those other guys have families and stuff, right?'

And the movie in fact wants to dehumanize those guys so it’s okay to kick them off the tops of moving trucks. And the business model of the movie is to have this kind of action excitement, and that’s why you’re in the theater. So if the family part is just the thin veneer to justify the action scenes, then it’s really a deeply hypocritical movie in some way, or at least parts of it are.

Forum users on The Escapist's website discussed, in a thread titled "You're (probably) using Ludonarrative Dissonance all wrong", whether or not cinemanarrative dissonance can even exist. One user, going by the name of 'Casual Shinji', suggested that Disney's Beauty and the Beast (1991)is an example of cinemanarrative dissonance as it is about how "Belle has Stockholm Syndrome"[7]. A separate user counteracted the notion by suggesting that cinemanarrative dissonance cannot exist because "Beauty and the Beast doesn't have gameplay and therefore doesn't have ludonarrative...".

Debates on the potential positive symbolic use of the notion in film[edit]

The inherent negative connotations of cinemanarrative dissonance as a concept has lead people to ask whether or not it can be used for positive purposes; whether instead of detracting from a film, it could, rather, elevate it. Dan Olson, via Twitter, responded to this notion when a user mentioned to him that they "missed positive examples of cinemanarrative dissonance from [his] latest essay, e.g. "Hot Fuzz", "Burn After Reading", etc." The thread details Olson's clarification that

Those aren't dissonance, though, or not this kind of dissonance, because the contrasting elements are still in agreement.

They're doing something "technically wrong" to create humour, so they are telling the same story.

This gets into the swamps of intent, but CND [cinemanarrative dissonance] and LND [ludonarrative dissonance] can't really be used intentionally b/c once there's intent, that's now your narrative.

It's Stanley Parable again: there's no *actual* disconnect because fighting w/ the narrator *is* the story.

The sand trap here is mistaking any sort of contrast or dissonance for CND/LND.

No other notable examples of users debating the positive symbolic use of cinemanarrative dissonance exists online.


  1. "Film-o-narrative Dissonance? – ben abraham dot net". Retrieved 2019-05-08.
  2. "Cinemanarrative Dissonance: The Ludonarrative of Video Games and How We Can Apply That To Talking About Movies". The Hipster Llama. 2017-08-01. Retrieved 2019-05-08.
  3. "Captain Marvel is merely a fun pit stop to a promising Endgame". Retrieved 2019-05-08.
  4. "'Mary Queen of Scots' wastes potential due to choppy writing". The Dartmouth. Retrieved 2019-05-08.
  5. "fantastic Cinema : dissonance and narrative – Blog About Film Studies". Retrieved 2019-05-08.
  6. "Interview With 'The Witness' Creator Jonathan Blow". Time. Retrieved 2019-05-22.
  7. "The Escapist : Forums : Gaming Discussion : You're (probably) using Ludonarrative Dissonance completely wrong". www.escapistmagazine.com. Retrieved 2019-05-08.

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