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Will it Go Round In Circles? Dean's Lecture Series with Erin Sledd

As part of the Dean’s Lecture Series, Erin Sledd, a lecturer in the Department of English, presented her research regarding sustaining narratives and the unique ability that the films, Pan’s Labyrinth and Inception, have at leaving the viewer with more questions than answers. Pan’s Labyrinth and Inception are films that have no pre-existing story for viewers to fall back on. Both of these films leave viewers with an unresolvable question of “what is real and what is a dream?”

To begin to understand how these two films sustain their narratives, Sledd first discussed the importance of the labyrinth as a metaphor and as a physical structure. A labyrinth has multiple paths that divide, multiply and shift. Every path leads to a different outcome, yet where each path ends, it also returns to its point of origin. Without offering spoilers to either movie, this can be seen in the original Greek myth about the Minotaur and the labyrinth. Theseus uses a ball of thread to navigate through the labyrinth in order to kill the Minotaur that had been a curse on his people. Then, he followed the thread to find his way back out of the labyrinth. Theseus began and ended his journey at the same point. In her presentation, Sledd detailed how the ball of thread is a metaphor for a text that can continually be revisited.

Pan’s Labyrinth and Inception use structural recursion as a space that can sustain narrative recursion. For example, the Penrose stairs are an optical illusion where connecting staircases never end, so that anyone travelling on the stairs would be travelling for eternity. In much the same way, a narrative can continue along the Penrose stairs too because the beginning and ending points are the same. According to Sledd, the development of sustainable narratives in these films means that there are an endless number of possible interpretations for how the narratives might continue. It’s those different possible interpretations that continue drawing viewers back to the films, where every time you watch you see something new.

At the end of her presentation, Sledd commented on how even after watching both Pan’s Labyrinth and Inception over 25 times for her research, she still finds new pieces every time she watches, and she cautioned everyone that once you start looking for how the film makers tie in pieces of different fairytales and myths, you’ll become addicted to watching the movies over and over again.


Posted: March 21, 2017



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