The Merging of Mise-en-Scene and Narrative Style (Run Lola Run and Hero)

Cartoon of Lola Running


When it comes to movies, one would find that there are numerous ways for the director to tell his story and just as much ways for him display it on screen. The narrative style of a movie depends mostly on the screenplay of the movie and unlike most people think, movies don’t necessarily have to start at the beginning of the story and end up at the end of it. A plot of a movie can start at any point within the story, and usually the choices the directors or screenwriters make are for the best. However, the plot isn’t the only thing that the director takes under consideration, for movies can be displayed through picture and sound or mise-en-scene in various ways as well. Here one can see the relation between the narrative style and mise-en-scene of a movie. After deciding how to tell a story, the filmmakers usually decide how to display it, and this is where mise-en-scene and the narrative story merge to form a motion picture. The degree of how well these two elements merge often is crucial to how the movie will be received by the audience 


     Narrative styles in fiction movies have two basic categories, the plot and the story of the movie. The story is everything we as the audience know about the characters and the “tale” of the film, while plot is a segment of the story displayed to the audience through the combination of picture and sound. Everything we see and hear on screen from the symbols to music to credits falls under the plot category. The story is basically made up of everything we as the audience can presume or assume from the characters and story of the film. A great example of the clear difference between story and plot can be seen in the 1998 Tom Tykwer movie, Run Lola Run. The story of the movie is very broad for it’s basically the story of a woman who isn’t very well connected with her family and tries to help out her boyfriend with the trouble he’s in. We as the audience know these facts even though they are not displayed to us on screen. We know that Lola isn’t close with her family through several scenes. One is the scene where Lola’s father tells her that he’s leaving them for he is fed up with Lola and her mother; another is a scene that is displayed three times to the audience, it’s the scene where Lola rushes in a hurry downstairs past her mother who is on the phone. The mother doesn’t even bother to panic or react to the situation. During the entire movie, we witness three different ways where Lola tries to help out her boyfriend who lost valuable money, and in on of those alternatives, Lola’s boyfriend tells her that “this time it’s different”, and that it would be impossible for her to help him. The fact that he said “this time”, and the simple fact that he called her during the time of crises makes us assume that Manni (Lola’s boyfriend) has no one else to turn to, and that she has in fact helped him various times before with success. The plot of the movie consists of this one segment of the story displayed to the audience three times, each time with an entirely different outcome. This tells us that the director or screenwriter (in this case both are Tykwer) tried to focus on was Lola’s desperate attempt to help Manni and how the choices she made during that particular time of crises affected the overall outcome of the situation. Through the plot, not the story, Tykwer managed to produce a very simple yet scary theory in life, that the simplest choice, decision, or  interactions you choose to make can change you’re entire life, sometimes it’s for the best, while at other times it’s for the worst


     Just like the narrative style, the mise-en-scene of the movie can greatly affect the outcome of the movie. In film, mise-en-scene has a very broad meaning, for it refers to almost everything that goes into the composition of a movie, this includes sound, costume design, set decoration, editing, and cinematography. An example of mise-en-scene used almost perfectly in film would be Zhang Yimou’s 2002 epic, Hero. The movie basically tells the story of a nameless warrior who manages to kill three deadly assassins that posed a threat to the Dynasty’s emperor. The king or emperor notices some flaws in the warriors’ story as he tells it, and so the story of the nameless warrior is retold differently. The same thing happens again, and we as the audience end up with three versions of how the nameless warrior managed to be where he is at this moment having killed three of China’s most threatening assassins. The movie is a combination of great visuals, cinematography, costume designs, set decoration, and fight sequences making the movie a feast to the eye. This merge of filmmaking factors ends up working so well together producing sequences that feel more visual dreams rather than reality. The movie was intended to be displayed as visual poetry, and the fact that the movie remained beautifully shot after shot with strong vibrant colors standing out in almost every scene makes it feel almost unrealistic. However, the fact that Zhang Yimou managed to maintain those beautiful visuals for the entire duration of the movie where colors serve as symbols, made those impossible visuals very believable, creating a perfect example of mise-en-scene used magnificently in film. Another aspect that served the mise-en-scene during the entire movie are the very well executed fight scenes, for they were choreographed in a way to make the fights seem as if they were dances instead of acts of violence. Somehow the viewer accepts the beauty of the locations and visuals of the movie as realistic. To be more specific, there’s one scene that describes the beauty of the mise-en-scene and that is the scene in which two females face each other wearing red wardrobes and surrounded by yellow and brown leaves. Everything seems to be perfect in that scene, from the visuals, to the choreography to the epic score to the editing and cinematography, they all worked together to display a visual work of art which is what the filmmakers intended the movie to look and feel like


     Comparing these two movies with one another, one can see the very obvious connection between the narrative style and mise-en-scene of a movie. The plot of both movies concern with three different versions of an event, and as the plot of a movie includes the on screen music, and non-diegetic symbolic inputs, one can see where plot and mise-en-scene overlap. The plot is the way the story is going to be told, which in both of those movies’ cases was in three different versions, while the mise-en-scene is the way it is displayed to the viewer through picture and sound. Picture includes the editing, cinematography, symbolic insert, and so forth; the symbolic inserts in the case of Hero were the strong and vibrant colors. Hero and Run Lola Run have almost identical narrative styles in that they have the same basic aspect of three versions of a story, yet they feel so different. The reason for that being is because of the entirely different mise-en-scene in both movies. In the case of Hero, the mise-en-scene was used to display a visual masterpiece and a work of art that was very fitting with the themes of the plot. In Run Lola Run, however, the mise-en-scene was used to produce a different effect on its viewers, the feeling of a rush and adrenalin. This was done through the combinations of clearly over a thousand edits and transitions in its very short runtime, and the combination with techno like music used as the score made the movie feel like a rollercoaster, which was the basic idea and purpose of the entire movie. Through the mise-en-scene we as the audience felt the rush Lola felt after she hung up the phone with her boyfriend. So while the narrative style and mise-en-scene have entirely different meanings, they are both very important in terms of filmmaking, for they determine the way a story is to be told, and the intended effect it should have on the viewer. However, in order for them to work well, as the director is working on one (narrative style or mise-en-scene), the other has to be taken into consideration    


12 thoughts on “The Merging of Mise-en-Scene and Narrative Style (Run Lola Run and Hero)

  1. I have an impression that in the direction films are evolving, plot and story are getting increasingly relegated in importance, and other elements, like some you have enumerated above, coming to fore. Nice and educative.


    1. Yeah I know, directors seem to get more and more control with their pictures. There was a time when producers had dominant control but all that is changing over time. What do you think of the recent digital transformation of cinema? Do you support it? Do you think Avatar will change the way movies are made? I hope it doesn’t…


  2. Digital is good for independent filmmakers, as it allows them to make movies cheaply (or, at least, cheaper than they would with film stock) and allows for distribution on the Internet, if they can’t find someone to finance their movies in the theaters. One movie that couldn’t have been made without the Internet is Sita Sings the Blues. Movies also are more easily stored on digital.

    I hope, however, that film stock continues to be used in making movies, as it is still superior to digital. BTW, Run Lola Run and Hero were both great movies, though I preferred Zhang Yimou’s The House of Flying Daggers to Hero, due to the latter’s seemingly pro-nationalistic message.


    1. Yeah, you’re right digital film allows a lot of opportunities to newcomers but I wish filmmakers like Michael Mann would quit the digital obsession and use film stocks once again. I just think the cinematography of a movie looks much more impressive with film stocks. I love The House of Flying Daggers and as a movie I think I prefer it as well. However, Hero has more beautiful imagery in my opinion which is why I chose it for that particular article 🙂 I still need to see Curse of the Golden Flower. Have you seen it? If so is it any good?


      1. That is a longer story that involves music rights issues… the site has more about that as well, but the upshot is that the use of songs from the 1920s that are still under copyright made it practically impossible to distribute conventionally.


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