What’s the Difference Between Restricted vs. Unrestricted Narration in Film_

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What’s the Difference Between Restricted vs. Unrestricted Narration in Film?

Storytelling represents a key element for any film. Specifically, the way the story is delivered, or the narrative, and how the narration impacts what the audience knows can have a pivotal role in how the story develops and how the audience feels about the entire situation. Films use restricted and unrestricted narration depending on the desired point-of-view in which the story is told to the audience, but what’s the difference between restricted vs. unrestricted narration in film?

Understanding the Narrative in Film

The narrative represents a particular chain of events in which there is a particular cause-effect relationship that occurs relevant to the time and space of the story.

Films use a variety of techniques and employ various principles in order to deliver the desired narrative.

For example, film narratives might employ principles of parallelism in order to imply a compare/contrast element of actions taking place in the story. 


The narrative is delivered through narration, which can be either restricted or unrestricted in a film. But what’s the difference between restricted vs. unrestricted narration in film? 

Primarily, when it comes to examining restricted vs. unrestricted narration in film it is important to understand that narration represents how the narrative is delivered.

Or in simple terms, narration is how the story is told.

Restricted Narration in Film

When a story is told through the eyes of a single character and the audience only knows what the character knows the film is employing a technique known as restricted narration.

The viewer faces restrictions from knowing anything more than just what the character knows and shares.

Often times, the viewer or audience will know even less than the character. Because the story is told essentially through the eyes of the character. Which allows them to limit what is shared through narration. 


The use of restricted narration in film piques the curiosity of the audience and may create a sense of suspense.

This type of narration is frequently used in the creation of films that are thrillers or suspense style films such as horror movies.

Restricted narration will leave the audience wondering about certain details and feeling suspenseful.

Particularly with regards to what they know and what they need to know or wish they knew in order to further understand the story.

Unrestricted Narration in Film


When the filmmaker wants to incorporate a range of depth and underlying tone to the storytelling they might choose to use unrestricted narration.

Unrestricted narration in film involves telling the story from a variety of different points-of-view.

Sometimes through the eyes of multiple characters. Or through a narrator that is not a character at all. But which has unlimited details of the story.

A Detailed Account

Unrestricted narration in film will generally deliver more information than is necessary. Or may offer up details about the story background that the characters are unaware of.

The viewer will know more than the character, but they won’t know everything. The narrator supplies information to create a sense of expectation.

It may even create suspense in that the audience will be waiting for a particular character to find something that they already know out.

Or to otherwise come to grips with certain details of the story despite what’s already occurring.

Restricted vs. Unrestricted Narration in Film

It’s important to understand that when it comes to choosing between restricted vs unrestricted narration in film? Sometimes a choice for the entire film isn’t necessary.

In fact, sometimes a film will utilize both restricted and unrestricted narration.

All in order to employ a heightened sense of connection for the audience delivering suspense at times through restricted narration.

And then eliminating some of that suspense with unrestricted narration.

Tough Challenges

For a filmmaker, deciding whether to use restricted vs. unrestricted narration in film can be tough in some circumstances. 

Actually, it’s often hard to choose just how much detail the narrator should deliver. Especially in order to keep the audience uniquely interested in the story.

Without making it too challenge to keep up with or, on the opposite end, without delivering too much detail in which the story becomes boring. 

A Few Examples

When the story makes sense to deliver it from the point-of-view of a single character the filmmaker will choose the unrestricted narration.

However, in the event that multiple characters account for the events of the story and what’s happening?

Or when an all-knowing narrator better delivers a story, an omniscient narrator may be a better choice. 

Because filmmakers frequently find that suspense can be built using both restricted and unrestricted narration. Many filmmakers find ways to incorporate both styles of narration into their films.

We see this in films in which the depth and range of the narrative aims to:

  • Provide mixed knowledge about the events making up the story.
  • Build a story in which the audience knows less than the characters themselves.
  • Create a subjective narrative in which the audience sees and hears what is occurring and examines the character’s inner thoughts.

Additional Types

In fact, while restricted vs. unrestricted narration in film are the two most common forms of narration that are utilized in the industry?

There are additional types of narration which may also sneak their way into the production. Including the use of objective narration or subjective narration.

Objective narration in film allows the audience to see and hear behaviors that take place externally by a character while the camera operates outside the mind of the character.

Whereas subjective narration allows the audience to dive inside the mind of the character and see, hear, or otherwise interact within the mind of the character.

The Takeaway

As you can see, there are a variety of differences between restricted vs unrestricted narration in film and many situations in which one may be chosen over another.

Filmmakers have the opportunity to use one or the other, or both forms of narration in order to keep audiences engaged, interested, and entertained throughout the story.