Metanarrative works use a manipulated version of storytelling that involves a higher degree of the viewer or readers interaction than a typical narrative. By using unconventional story lines that show multiple perspectives or jump between different times and places, metanarrative stories are able to demand that the person engaging in the work be a full participant in the story. Examining movies and podcasts like those directed by Christopher Nolan or reported by Sarah Koenig, shows that the success of this form of narrative can be clearly seen. These two creators have mastered the art of creating stories that require interaction from the viewers. When a viewer cannot just mindlessly take in a story but instead has to fully engage to understand the depths of the narrative there is a much higher level of appreciation for the work being created. Christopher Nolan’s early films like Memento (2000) show cased his metanarrative brilliance which captivated audiences into consuming more of his films like later film Inception (2010). Sarah Koenig similarly amazed audiences with her podcast Serial (2014) when the first season was released concerning the case of the murder of Hae Min Lee. Her later seasons of the Serial (2015) podcast gained similar momentum and were heavily listened to as well. Both creators explored and manipulated typical storytelling and created very successful forms of relaying narrative. It is clear from their advancements that viewer engagement is a key aspect of the success of metanarrative works. To show this more in depth, I will be analyzing Memento (2000) and Inception (2010) directed by Christopher Nolan and analyzing the first two seasons of the Serial (2014) podcast by Sarah Koenig.
Memento (2000), directed by Christopher Nolan, is about a man named Leonard Shelby, played by, Guy Pearce who has suffered a severe head trauma and now has no ability to form short term memories. The trauma occurred when his wife was brutally attacked and murdered in their home and he was knocked unconscious by the attacker. When he recovers from his injuries, he sets out to find his wife’s murderer by collecting polaroid’s and tattoos of the facts of his wife’s case. He does this so that every day when he wakes up, he can hopefully pick back up where he left off. The movie jumps around in its timeline and it is unclear when certain facts are discovered. This is done to give the viewer the same illusion of memory loss that Leonard lives daily. Leonard’s ultimate goal is to be able to kill the man that killed his wife but to do so he must be absolutely sure he has the right guy however pin pointing the culprit proves to be a difficult task for both Leonard and the viewer.
Click the Polaroid of Memento (2000) to dive deeper.
Inception (2010), directed by Christopher Nolan, follows a man named Dom Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who is able to go inside of other people’s dreams to plant subconscious messages into their minds. Cobb and his team are hired by extremely wealthy business owners or politicians to hack into the minds of their competitors. While also following the story of Cobbs own life and experiences within the dream world the movie also follows his work where he goes into the minds of others. The team ends up not only in the dreams of the people they are attempting to sabotage but also the dreams that lie within those dreams. They are able to go up to three dreams within dreams creating a very taxing watch for the viewer however engaging. The dream worlds and realities of all parties involved meet and become conflated at some parts of the movie. This film is a clear example of metanarrative and shows the manipulation of time, as well as reality.
Click the Polaroid of Inception (2010) to dive deeper.
The Serial (2014) podcast by Sarah Koenig has multiple seasons of investigation into different cases. The first season called The Case Against Adnan Syed, discusses the story of how Adnan Syed was accused and put in prison with a life-long sentence for the murder of his high school girlfriend. Since his prosecution he has continued to plea his innocence claiming that he did not murder his girlfriend Hae Min Lee. The podcast showcases many different perspectives of this event and expects the listener to keep track of everything that happens. Once the listener has gathered all of the information along with Sarah Koenig, they are able to form their own opinion on what the truth is and if Adnan deserves to be retried for the murder of Hae Min. The second season of Serial (2015) follows the possible crimes of veteran, Bowe Bergdahl, in a similar fashion. The sides and perspectives of the accused and the accuser are heard in both of these seasons of Serial (2014).
Click the Polaroid of Serial (2014) to dive deeper.
In conclusion, the metanarrative techniques used by Christopher Nolan and Sarah Koenig in their individual works have aided tremendously in the success of the media they have put out. Both of these creators have produced content that has been seen, heard, and loved by millions across the globe. These high numbers were achieved because of the advanced use of metanarrative storytelling within their productions. Without the incorporation of audience participation and the need for the audience’s engagement in their media the narratives they created would not have been as captivating and widely appreciated. Memento (2000)and Inception (2010) showcased metanarrative through their manipulation of time and the use of unconventional storytelling. Christopher Nolan plays with these aspects of storytelling to specifically call upon the audiences to engage. Serial (2014) also showcased metanarrative in its many seasons through the switching of perspectives within one story to give the listener a well-rounded view of the truth. Sarah Koenig pulls her audience in by asking them to not only listen to the stories she shares but investigate them alongside her. Nolan and Koenig have both been pioneers within the film and podcast industries and have shown the world how the incorporation of different narrative techniques can make a story much more interesting and become a worldwide sensation.