Today I thought I would go back in time to an article I originally wrote in 2006 while studying interactive cinema. This looks at a unique piece called Timecode by Mike Figgis that uses split narrative to tell four separate stories at once.

The general idea behind this movie is that is plays out multiple storylines at one time. It achieves this by splitting the screen into four equal sections, which converge at various times throughout the story to various effects.


The separate narratives are introduced slowly allowing you to acclimatise to the odd sensation of watching 4 things at one time. Once they are all in full flow it can be a little troublesome to get involved but you settle into it as time goes on.

Figgis leads you through the separate narratives by panning the sound from one section to another depending on the one with the focus and main narrative drive. I found that it was easy to forget the other three sections when paying attention to the sound and often found myself getting annoyed by the constant thought I might have missed something in another area, especially if I have come back to it and the scene has changed dramatically to what it had been before.

I found I very quickly made connections between some of characters in the differing sections and had figured out how some of the film was going to pan out long before the story actually did so. There were a few connections I didn’t get spot on but I found myself being largely in the right place most of the time.

The connections between sections and characters I found to be the best part of the movie as a whole. One character in particular, starts off in the top left section and smoothly works her way around through to the bottom right before being followed by another character the same way. Many of the links were nicely done with two characters blending together into a common geographical spot (for example two characters who’s stories are, unknowlying to them intertwined bump into each other while out for a cigarette). There were also grander links as you see all quarters reacting to small earthquakes (although this seemed to have little to do with anything other than tying the sections together).

Timecode Narrative Drift

I got a distinctly television feel from the film which I think was a combination of the low budget and some questionable acting. It never once struck me as being a grand event but more of a passing exercise in how to be novel but having said that it’s an exercise still well worth it’s effort.

One of my favourite parts of the film is when a suspicious lover is listening in to her partner making love to someone else through a microphone she has hidden in her bag. I liked this because where in a normal movie the director would be forced into choosing times to cut between these two scenes, the listener and the cheater, here no such compromise had to be made and you could watch both scene playing out and the reactions being had simultaneously. I felt this was where the multiple displayed narratives came into their own. It turns the listener in into almost another audience member as she herself ‘watches’ this section of the other narrative play out realising that in fact it is part of her own.

Overall I found Timecode to be a piece of two halves. One side is an interesting experiment into what can be done with cinema that breaks from the norm and in this capacity it does very well. It’s a really interesting idea and definitely strikes you upon first watch. On the other side though, the actual narrative is left a little sloppy. The story and acting was created around a general structure with the actors improvising which allows moments of slackness to creep in. If you’re going to play with narrative and structure you need to keep a tight reign on things in order to ensure the pieces fit (see the excellent Memento as an example of this).

Timecode shows how essentially the same narrative line can be ‘described’ totally differently depending on the character or personality that is observing/participating in it. Obviously a cheating lover scene will differ in the way it’s viewed if you are seeing it from the point of view of the cheater or the cheated.

This piece was the start of me delving into cinema that was more adventurous that your basic blockbuster. I was looking to research into ‘interactive’ cinema and this was a first step towards that. Throughout the year I hope to revisit such pieces as well as look at what has changed since 2006 when I was originally researching this topic. Is 2012 that much different to then and is 3D a part of the development I was looking into six years ago? Has six years brought about any huge leaps in cinema or are we still striving to find that magic formula to take cinema that one step closer to reality?

See you tomorrow,



2 responses to “Timecode”

  1. Ewan McNulty (@HippieDalek) says :

    I remember reading a review of this film in a newspaper at the time of release, always meant to track it down and give it a go but never got round to it. I’ll have to see if it’s available on Love Film…it is…sorted!

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