Todorov's Theories

AS Media Main Task Research

Background Information

Tzvetan Todorov was born on March 1, 1939 in Sofia. He is a Bulgarian philosopher and has lived in France since 1963, and has published a total of 21 books about ‘literary theory’, ‘thought history’ and ‘culture theory’.


Todorov suggested that conventional narratives are structured in five stages:
1. A state of equilibrium (stability) at the start.
2. A disruption of the equilibrium by some action.
3. A recognition that there has been a disruption.
4. An attempt to repair the disruption.
5. A reinstatement of the equilibrium.

This type of narrative structure is very familiar to us and can be applied to many ‘mainstream’ film narratives.

1. Equilibrium

The initial stages of the film display a positive element, where the majority of characters are content and everything is as it should be.

2. Disruption

The second part of the story features a problem; something to disrupt the previous positivity.

3. Realisation

This section of the plot is when the characters become aware of the problem and often events have descended into chaos.

4. Restored Order

The characters now try to fix the problem in an attempt to restore order.

5. Equilibrium Again

This is the final section of the plot where the problem is resolved and normality can resume.

Link - Pre-exisitng material

Todorov's theory can be linked to the majority of already exisitng films, and it is especially prominant in the 2005 film 'War of the Worlds' starring Tom Cruise.

The film begins in stage 1, displaying the main character Ray and his two children who have come to spend the weekend with him. Everything seems relatively normal until an unusual and violent lightning storm hits the town, bringing a disruption into the storyline and promptly moving the film into stage 2 of Todorov's theory. Ray goes out into the street and comes face to face with a huge three-legged war machine, which is incinerating everything in it's path and leaving chaos in its wake. This is the beginning of stage 3 and Ray attempts to escape the danger by leaving town with his children in tow. After various battles throughout the film the aliens begin to die from disease-carrying bacteria which humans have long been immune to, thus bringing War of the Worlds into stage 4. The film ends with Ray successfully making it to his ex-wife's house, reuniting the children with their mother and entering stage 5 as normality returns.

Link - My media work

Todorov's theory also relates to the media work I am producing.

I am creating an opening scene of a crime drama titled 'Masked' and my film begins in stage 2 with a disruption caused by robbers breaking into a house and discovering a dead body, so although stage 1of Todorov's theory doesn't link with my movie the rest of the stages do.

My film promptly moves on to stage 3 with the robbers hearing police sirens and realising that there's a strong possibility they will get accused of murder. Panicking, they run from the house bringing an end to my opening scene, but the rest of the film will continue with one of the robbers getting caught and the other escaping. Chaos ensues, with the escaped robber frantically trying to track down the real murderer in an attempt to hand them over to the police to clear his friends name. This is stage 4 of Todorov's theory as the robber is trying to restore order by ensuring his wrongly accused friend is freed from prison. The film ends in stage 5 with the capture of the real murderer, stopping his friend from getting a life sentence and restoring order.