Elke Reinhuber: Wind Back the Film of Life

Counterfactuals in Movies

Audio File


The concept of counterfactuals, which has appeared in past decades in science and humanities, has become popular as a genre in fictional time-based and non-linear media and the fine arts. Therefore, I propose expanding the term, which describes retrospective considerations after turning points in life, in order to include the fine arts and encapsulate the research with the term counterfactualism. For future reference, I suggest a detailed categorisation for counterfactual movie narratives.

As a major part of my practice based PhD research, I observed a tendency in popular movies to deal with the revealing of a possible alternative life of the protagonist after a major turning point and the approach to present, to evoke and to stimulate counterfactual thoughts within the audience.

Most of my initial influences emerged from movies and literature dealing with the question of destiny and exploring alternatives for the lives of the protagonists. This paper will explore different approaches to the methods in which concurrent possibilities can be introduced and explained. I will suggest several categories to describe counterfactual movie narratives.

At the same time, this research follows a general observation of real life and cultural practice: the notion of substitutes to actual life in virtual worlds and virtual reality gaming, which can be seen as a reason for the rising popularity of forking-path narratives in other media.


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