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The Difference Between Restricted and Unrestricted Narration in Film

The use of various forms of narration are used in filmmaking to build character. To create suspense among the audience. Or to generate a general sense of curiosity among viewers. In short, narration represents the moment-to-moment flow of information. Which guides the story forward and helps to build out the overall plot. Through various types of narration, the screenwriter can guide the audience using various range and depth to deliver detailed information. But what’s the difference between restricted and unrestricted narration in film?

What is Restricted Narration in Film?

With restricted narration in film, the audience doesn’t know, see or hear any more from the narrator than the characters within the film already know.

There is no additional narrative or information that is provided to the viewer which hasn’t already been provided to the characters within the film. The use of restricted narration keeps the viewer curious and wondering what is going to happen next.

Characters in a restricted narrative are equally aware of what’s happening as the audience is. Through restricted narration, a character’s inner thoughts might be addressed through dreams or memories.

And emotions that are subjective are delivered to the audience so that both character and audience are equally informed. 

What is Unrestricted Narration in Film?

In looking at the difference in restricted and unrestricted narration in film, it’s quite easy to sense that unrestricted narration is profoundly different from the counterpart.

With unrestricted narration, also called omniscience, the audience knows more than the characters in the film. The narrator is able to deliver additional details for the audience. Which causes them to feel as if they could “help” the character if only the two could speak.

Omniscient Narration

We see omniscient narration frequently used in filmmaking to draw the audience in and create suspense, tension and objectivity. For example, with unrestricted narration, the audience might know that another character has been having negative thoughts about a character in the film.

And that they really shouldn’t trust the individual. Or, restricted narration might create a scene in which the audience knows that there is someone hiding behind the door, but the character has no clue.

Thus there is a strong sense of suspense surrounding whether or not the character will see what’s in store for them before it’s too late.

How Restricted and Unrestricted Narration in Film is Used

The use of restricted and unrestricted narration in film is seen in a wide variety of ways. For example, we see restricted narration frequently used in films in which the audience is equally aware or equally as unaware as the characters within the film.

Thus, when a surprise occurs in a restricted narrative, both character and audience are equally surprised. However, when unrestricted narratives are used in filmmaking, the audience might have a “told you so” feeling or “you shouldn’t have done that” sense.

Particularly when a character moves forward with the narrative not expecting whatever came next. This is because the audience knew more about the narrative. And what was going on than the character actually did.

Why is Unrestricted Narration Called Omniscient Third Person?

You might not have heard the terms restricted and unrestricted narration in film before. Perhaps you heard these same scenarios described in a different manner? The term omniscient third person might ring a bell?

Omniscient third person narration is another way of defining or another term used to describe unrestricted narration. And it’s more frequently used in the film industry than restricted and unrestricted narration might be.

Like the definition given for unrestricted narration, omniscient third person narration represents a situation in which the narrator has an “all knowing” perspective on the story. Which is delivered to the audience whereas the characters only know certain things.

Through this type of narration, the narrator assumes an omniscient “all-knowing” point of view. Which is why this type of narrative is frequently defined as omniscient rather than “unrestricted”. Although they both mean the same thing.

Which is Better, Restricted or Unrestricted Narration in Film?

If you’re wondering whether a particular type of narration is better than another, it’s really all a matter of how the story is being told. Restricted narration may not necessarily provide greater subjectivity for the audience.

And doesn’t necessarily provide a better experience than unrestricted narration would. Likewise, the use of omniscience doesn’t necessarily make a film more suspenseful or “better” either. What makes the narration ideal is how it is employed as a vehicle for moving the story along.

Whether restricted or unrestricted narration is used really depends on the framework of the story. And what’s best for the range and depth of detail and knowledge that is to be provided to the audience.

Of course, this detail can be delivered in a variety of manners. If a restricted narrative is to be used, the details are going to be delivered through things like flashbacks, memories, or various other steps.

In Summation

In some films, the screenwriter will use omniscient narration. As a means of delivering the core details of a story to create subjective depths that could not have been produced without this device.

Although a character may describe events in a particular manner, through omniscience the narrator can deliver inner details that can add value to the story. 

When it comes to deciding between restricted and unrestricted narration, films tend to use a mix of both to create profound connections among the audience. While choosing to leave endings open, closed, or ambiguous depending on the nature of the story.