In a New Yorker piece called “The New Disorder,” David Denby discusses the trend of dense, complex, interwoven plots in movies from Pulp Fiction to Babel.
“The Guillermo Arriaga-Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu films are hardly the sole topsy-turvy narratives out there,” he notes. “In recent years, we’ve had movies, like Adaptation (written by the antic confabulator Charlie Kaufman), that are explicitly about the making of movies, and others, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (also written by Kaufman), that move forward dramatically by going backward in time.
“Then, there is a related group of clogged-sink narratives, like Traffic, Syriana and Miami Vice, which are so heavily loaded with subplots and complicated information that the story can hardly seep through the surrounding material. Syriana made sense in the end, but you practically needed a database to sort out the story elements; the movie became a weird formal experiment, testing the audience’s endurance and patience.
“Some of the directors may be just playing with us or, perhaps, acting out their boredom with that Hollywood script-conference menace the conventional ‘story arc.’ But others may be trying to jolt us into a new understanding of art, or even a new understanding of life. In the past, mainstream audiences notoriously resisted being jolted. Are moviegoers bringing some new sensibility to these riddling movies? What are we getting out of the overloading, the dislocations and disruptions?”