Nonlinear filmmaking is a narration technique where a linear plot is deconstructed to create a gripping storyline for films. Since the ‘silent era’ filmmakers have been drawn towards nonlinear method of storytelling. Some of the most well-known examples are D.W. Griffith’s ‘Intolerance’ (1916), Abel Gance’s ‘Napoleon’ (1927) or Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Rashomon’ (1950).
Defining nonlinear is difficult and has yet drawn filmmakers like Tarantino and Alejandro González Iñárritu to venture into this genre. So, what actually makes nonlinear films so alluring?
Nonlinear breaks the standard notion of a film having chronological scenes. This is done by creating new arrangements of scenes throughout the film that ultimately come together to discover the story of the film, making it compelling. This freedom of spanning across free timeline, which nonlinear offers is what draws great filmmakers to create unique works.
Nonlinear is often confused with the ‘flashbacks’ and ‘flash-forwards’ which is not necessarily the case. In a nonlinear film, the emphasis is generally put on the character as a strategy. The focus may not be on the character’s whole life like in Isadora or Citizen Kane, but have a non-materialistic concept or spiritual thought that drives the actor in a manner that cannot be easily translated. On the other hand, there are films like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs that adopt the nonlinear narration to unravel a complex event.
Another factor that plays an important role in creating of a nonlinear film is the ‘theme’. The theme will define the experience of the film. The more complicated and disjointed the scenes in the film is, the greater the need of the theme will be to hold the film together. The best examples of such films are Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Memento, 21 Grams, Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill, among others.
When it comes to writing a nonlinear script, it is not very different from linear storytelling. They are then rearranged in a nonlinear manner. But before you indulge in your own nonlinear narration, you first need to master the art. Learning from international film schools that have great mentors, will help you achieve mastery in the field of filmmaking.