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Who am I?: Memory, Identity, and Unreliable Narration in Film

Rachel Krantz, Ph.D.

Tuesday,  March 6th, 2018 at 4:00 pm
Byrd Center for Legislative Studies Auditorium

“So you lie to yourself to be happy.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  We all do it.” Memento (2000) A great deal has been written about unreliable narration in fictional texts since the term “unreliability” was proposed by Wayne Booth in his Rhetoric of Fiction (1961).  However, surprisingly little attention has been paid to unreliable narration in cinematic discourse.  This presentation addresses that lack by analyzing the effect of untrustworthy storytelling in two recent feature films about identity and memory:  Francis Leclerc’s French-Canadian drama Mémoires affectives (2004) and Tate Taylor’s The Girl on the Train (2016), based on the novel of the same name by Paula Hawkins.  After briefly discussing how unreliability manifests itself differently in written and filmic discourse, I will focus on the functions of this rhetorical device.  In particular, I will contend that the unreliability of these two film narrators makes us aware that there is no “objective truth” where identity is concerned, but only a subjective narrative that is constantly changing to suit our needs.

Dr. Rachel Krantz joined the Modern Languages faculty at Shepherd University in 2004 after teaching French and German for several years in the St. Louis area. Dr. Krantz received her M.A. from the University of Munich in 1993, where she studied French, German and Spanish. After returning to the U.S., Dr. Krantz pursued doctoral studies in French at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, writing her dissertation on Marguerite Duras.  Dr. Krantz’ areas of specialization include 19th- and 20th-century French literature, French and Francophone culture, and film studies.  Several of her recent articles focus on the work of contemporary French filmmaker Anne Fontaine.  She is currently working on a project dealing with the function of “shock horror” in films of the New French Extreme.