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Kristo Kaas


The unreliable narrator is a literary construct that describes the author’s approach to conveying plot to an audience. There is no one storytelling medium or faculty where this concept is more appropriate – it merely describes a toolset for telling a narrative.

Historically, what is an unreliable narrator for? Where and how is an author to employ it? The term has a somewhat variable definition in literature. Ferenz (2009, p.280) puts forward a brief definition of an unreliable narrator through his consideration:”[as an audience] we are presented with a character-narrator who either obfuscates, distorts or perverts the facts of the fictional world”. Compare this to: “… distance … between the fallible or unreliable narrator and the implied author who carries the reader… If he is discovered to be untrustworthy, then the total effect of the work he relays to us is transformed.” (Booth, Wayne C., 1983, p. 158). In the book, Booth describes several forms of distance, but none imply an inherent disconnect between the narrator and the reader (who is intimately connected to the author).

This paper provides only a cursory overview of the unreliable narrator in film and a practical breakdown of the writing process that revolves around multiple layers of unreliability in a fictional crime story. As the primary focus of the work at hand is on the associated screenplay, called “Girl Erased”, and its relevance to modern mainstream cinema, it does not provide a deeper look into avant-garde cinema or the ongoing debate in the academic space over the use and definitions of the unreliable narrator itself, or related terms. Rather, I focus on the effect of a narrator’s fallibility, as they relate to the reader and the practical problems and opportunities that come with constructing an unreliable story space.