Artistic Form as a System – The Role of the Repetition/Variation Structure

In the 2006 film, The Fall, by Tarsem, the form of the film follows an elegant repetition/variation structure that reveals unconscious limitations and fears.


Repetition helps us establish order in a film.  We learn how the world usually functions in the world of the story.  Repetition and rhythm, in general, are what give us a sense of control and expectation as our text points out.

In the film, The Fall, the repetition is established quickly by the interaction between the two main characters.  Their relationship is friendly and curious, yet gently, almost comically territorial and guarded.  Their setting and the use of the same character’s in the stories told by the stuntman to the little girl, are also a source of order.

The repetition and order created by the confined world within the hospital, parallels the characters emotional and physical limitations.  The stuntman is paralyzed from the waist down and is suicidal, the little girl has a broken arm and difficulty communicating.  In this case, maybe in all cases, repetition is limitation.


Variation in a film must exist if anything is to develop.  But, because repetition is order, then variation is a form of destruction upon that order.  Variation can be seen as an entropic system, causing chaos within the system of a film.

In, The Fall, the variations begin small and build in intensity until a literal fall, and also an implicit fall of the values, attitudes, and emotions of the characters.

The variations start with small changes in the two character’s routine.  The inciting incident is when the little girl is told to steal morphine to help the stuntman commit suicide.  In the stuntman’s stories, the villains grow in strength and number.  The setting of the stories travel to different and more treacherous environments, paralleling the more treachorous emotional environment that the two character’s are facing at the hospital: the stuntman’s suicide attempt, death of one of the patients, a deranged patient.  The characters react to this variation with anxiety and despair.  But ultimately, this variation is what makes the growth of the characters from their limitations possible.

Variation becomes the mechanism that gives opportunities for each character to break from their respective system.

“Repetition and variation are two sides of the same coin.  To notice one is to notice the other.”

-Bordwell/Thompson p.68

Limits of Understanding:

What I would say is the limit of my understanding, is that I can not see if there is another structure for new growth and creation within an artistic system, that does not use a repetition/destruction/repetition form.  Is this the only form that can create room for new growth and evolution within a system?

This form could be seen as a DEATH/REBIRTH cycle or a DESTRUCTION/REDEMPTION cycle.  I see its existance in every narrative form in one way or another.  Deifference always causes the unexpected in the system by definition, and therefore causes chaos however minute, and destruction of expectations.  This chaos is key to reforming order.

I don’t know if the narrative form can achieve growth within itself without employing this REPETITION/VARIATION structure.  Even a structure that continues to build evenly throughout is breaking its own convention each moment.  It is still using the same form.

My guess, and maybe my hope, would be that there is a sleeker system of growth not yet constructed, maybe still in a larval stage in some experimental films or abstract narrative form.


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