Publication Date




Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Motion Pictures (Communication)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

William Rothman

Second Committee Member

Christina Lane

Third Committee Member

Anthony Allegro

Fourth Committee Member

Frank Palmeri


Narrative exposition evokes questions about characters and events. A narrative opens gaps when information necessary to interpret the plot has yet to be offered. Some questions perform what Barthes calls primary or “hinge” functions. Narratives revolve around these presiding questions or gaps while secondary questions serve complementary purposes. The opening of gaps and the timing of their closing are the means by which narratives incite our curiosity, foment our interest, and hold our attention. Most narratives aim to achieve resolution and grant a sense of closure by filling the gaps with sufficient certitude. A degree of ambiguity is present in most narratives. However, in the early 1960s, two modernist films broke radically from classical narrative convention by not answering one or more presiding questions, thus imbuing their plots with “openness”. Michelangelo Antonioni’s L'avventura and Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad are the canonical examples of this strategy. Modernist cinema continues to matter in what some call a post- modernist era. The strategy of permanent gaps demonstrates its enduring effectiveness and relevance in the films of contemporary auteurs such as Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon) and Lucrecia Martel (The Headless Woman). I ask, declaring allegiance to a rhetorical and functionalist theory of narrative: what communicative purposes are served by permanent gaps? One consequence applies to every usage: it demands a more complex and active engagement on the part of the viewer since he or she shall construct, project and imagine what is missing. The rhetorical reasons for adopting such a reticent approach to narrative are infinite and can only be properly explored through close reflection on each text. This dissertation will explore the rationale for permanent gaps in the films directed by Antonioni, Resnais, Haneke, and Martel and the effect of their openness in the achievement of narrative closure.


Film Studies; Criticism; Closure; Openness; Narratology; Antonioni; Resnais; Haneke; Martel.