Narration in movies has a very different function to voice over. The latter is an off screen voice rather than a character with dialogue. Voice overs have a direct message to the audience. The narrator has a more nuanced role in movies.
The simplest role of the narrator is exposition. They summarize key plot points so the movie can rapidly progress to the next scene and keep the story moving forward. Often narrated scenes are either difficult or too expensive to film individually, they contain too much story information and would make the film too long, and finally, narration harmonizes the story pacing and movie rhythms.
The secondary role of the narrator is more emotional, philosophical and spiritual. Narration in movies often explore greater themes and specificities in point of view which underpin the images on screen.
These are the key types of narrator:
FIRST PERSON NARRATOR
This style of narration reveals the inner most thoughts of the character speaking. It can be use to reveal secrets or that which should remain unspoken. First person narration can used to either directly address the audience and invite them to share the character’s point of view.
Alternatively, first person narration allows a character to reveal subtext or irony through what they say compared to what they really feel.
SECOND PERSON NARRATOR
This type of the narration is directed towards another character on the screen. It is an indirect communication between another character designed to highlight conflict and progress plot It is often more grounded in the story plot than greater themes.
THIRD PERSON NARRATOR (OMNISCIENT)
This perhaps, may be the most interesting form of narration. It has a similar function to the CHORUS of Ancient Greek plays. Third person narration explores the thematic content of the story with great wisdom and insight. It answers the central question of the film and reveals the point of the film.
Third party narration may also provide a social commentary and express a view that transcends the boundaries of the film. A third person narrator may even be God-like and poetic in their expression.
An unreliable narrator has a purely disruptive role in movies. They serve to subvert the plot and audience viewpoint, often willingly, through deliberately misleading or outright lying to affect the story outcome.
Sometimes an unreliable narrator unknowingly alters the story course through misinformation or a flawed point of view or belief system.
Narration or voiceover is a stylistic device that is prone to abuse by covering up poor screenwriting, Use narration sparingly.
For in depth Film & TV script analysis visit Script Firm.