Visual Narrative course teaches critical thinking via movies


Students reflect on movies they watch, focusing on technique and certain aspects of film.

A visual narrative is a story told primarily through visual media. As such, it should come as no surprise that in the Visual Narratives English course, students “read” film as literature, identifying creative forces behind the narratives in American films.

Junior Mimi Huelester joined the class because of her love of films and filmmaking. Having a class where she could watch and analyze films drew her in. “I think studying film is different from literature in that film tends to be less up to interpretation stylistically,” Huelster said. “With literature, it’s easier to visualize settings and characters the way you want to (with the story’s details and descriptions, of course). In film, though, you’re presented with images that you can only interpret as much as they show you — it’s harder to fill in the blanks with your imagination.”

She also believes that film is not a “lesser medium” than literature. “While I think film could not survive without literature, I don’t think of it as ‘lesser than’ for it. Creating a film can take just as much energy – if not more so – as writing a novel or series of books,” Huelester said.

One of the best parts about the class is that students get to watch movies for entire class periods and later have discussions. But junior Dylan Tan Stephenson warns students that want to join the class purely to watch movies and relax. “However enticing this class is, I recommend not going into it just on the basis of watching movies,” he said. “Yes, that is the crux of the course, but there is also quite a bit of reading as well. It’s a nice blend.”

While I think film could not survive without literature, I don’t think of it as ‘lesser than’ for it.

— Mimi Huelster

Senior Lulu Priede has always loved to analyze movies. She plans to major in film production in college and was naturally drawn to the class. She believes that film gives a platform to certain types of storytelling that literature cannot express.

“With modern media, film is something that is one of the most internationally accessible forms of storytelling, which gives it a lot of power. Film enables you to understand and apply concepts in your life easily or without any physical barriers. I also think that film can – almost literally- paint an emotion and it is so cool to see how different directors and cinematographers produce that,” Priede said.

Students discuss not only film plots but also their sound, editing, colors, length of takes and other artistic aspects. Stephenson says that the class is very abstract and that his favorite part about the class is dissecting the film choices to see their similarities. He also agrees that films are in no way a “lesser medium” to literature. “Movies are in their infancy compared to written media, so it is absolutely unfair to classify it as ‘less than.’ In fact, I find that I can dissect much more out of movies than books sometimes because of having more senses to work with,” Stephenson said.

The Visual Narratives class has even changed students’ perception of films. Huelster said that the class made her think analytically about film. “It’s also taught me a lot of the more technical aspects of film and I’ve caught myself thinking about those techniques as I casually watch a movie,” Huelester said. Priede learned that people interpret visual stories and anecdotes in various ways. “The way someone may experience a film is different than another and it is critical to have conversations on how multiple creative perspectives affect the viewer.” Stephenson said, “It truly is a wonderful class; the only detraction is that whenever I watch movies, I can’t stop analyzing them.”