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“Whale Rider” – How and why the movie uses narrative structure

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Whale Rider uses narrative structure in many forms to better describe the story to the viewer. It is used to link the plot together mainly using a number of different techniques including point of view, which is based on Pai because of her narrations, but is linked together with scenes of Koro, Nanny Flowers and Porourangi all having the point of view; conflict, with disagreements and argument all forming the story to come; and finally the way the story is divided into three main acts, which are linked together with narrations from Pai, and turning points in the story.

Point of View is used powerfully in this film, especially Pai’s narrations, which blend in with the music and feel of the movie, which is at times sad, anxious or fervent. Even though the point of view is mainly based on Pai, we see parts of scenes which Pai cannot, for example Porourangi’s argument with Koro when he returns from Germany. Point of view changes in this story based on who the centre of attention is, or who the scene is targeting as the most ‘important’character for that scene. Changing POV enhances the effect of showing thedifferent characters’ feelings towards the situation, in this case Pai being a leader or future chief. It also helps to portray the disputes going on in thefamily where Pai isn’t or is minimally involved, for example Porourangireturning and Koro’s expectations of him to become the chief. The changes in point of view added another dimension to the story, because it did not onlyconcentrate on Pai, but used all the main characters’ points of views to bring the plot to life.

Conflict was an important part of the movie, making up the main storyline and forming a plot which carried on right to the end of the movie. Porourangi’sdecision to call his daughter Paikea, with Koro disputing, at the beginning scene, links with Pai showing leadership qualities and Koro’s unwillingness to let Paikea become a leader later on in the movie. This was tied in with other conflicts involving Pai and her leadership, including Koro not allowing her to join his school, his outrage with her when she tries to learn how to use the taiaha, and many other minor disagreements the two of them have. However, conflict does not only happen between Koro and Pai, but Koro and Nanny, Koro and Rawiri, and Koro and Porourangi, all of which are basically about Pai as a leader, or linked to Pai in one way or
another. For e.g. Nanny’s anger with Koro for not turning up to Pai’s speech, and Porourangi’s dispute about how Koro is treating her. This, like the changing POV, was used to include the thoughts and feelings of other characters apart from Pai.

The film was divided into three main acts, but they were blended together so well that it hardly stands out to the viewers, which I think was the desiredeffect. However, the three main acts did help in organising the movie intoan interesting plot. The beginning, or introduction, was the hospital scene, with Pai’s narration in the background. This was used to create a base for the story to evolve and complicate. It introduced some of the main characters; it introduced a small complication-the mother and son dying- which is the inciting incident that would grow to form the story’s main complication of Pai trying to take her brothers place to become the future chief; it introduced Koro’s incongruitytowards Pai as a female leader; and it introduced Porourangi, who calls his surviving daughter Paikea, the name of a past chief – much to Koro’s objection, and his decision to leave and start again.

Act 1 continues twelve years later when things have reached a state of equilibrium, and ends with the first signs of complication: Porourangi’s return. The second act moves deeper into the complication, where Porourangi argues with Koro about him becoming chief, and returns to Europe. It’s mainly about Koro’s school where he trains the male children in the hope that one of them will become the chief in the future. The act targets Pai as she defies Koro, secretly learns Koro’s teachings, and learns Maori arts that are meant for boys, such as the use of a taiaha. The scene ends with Koro’s failure to find a future chief among the boys, which will lead to his acceptance of Pai’s leadership. The third act is the climax, where Koro calls on the ancestors and they do not respond, but when Pai calls on them, the whales beach themselves in response. She then finally proves her worth to Koro by riding the whale out to sea, which saved its life. Her courage and fortitude finally gets through to Koro, who accepts her as his successor as chief. All of the events combined would have the story seem a bit repetitive andcontinuative, but the narrative structure of the three acts enabled the story to flow thoroughly.

These three techniques and others in the movie clearly gave it more rhythm and meaning, which helped the viewers go deeper into scenes than the third person events on the screen. The hidden meaning behind Whale Rider could not have been brought out in the acting, the screenplay, or the storyline without the narrative structure.

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