A student in my Media and Mind course, hunting for examples of viewpoint flexibility in film, found the opening sequence to Pixar's Finding Nemo. When we watched the clip together in class, it knocked our socks off. The sheer number of viewpoint switches in the 21 seconds of film and the brilliance with which the director and artists planned these viewpoints gave us all a lesson in the power of storytelling in film.
First, we encounter Coral, the mother on the right, and Marlin, the father on the left, in a state or surprise. We don't know what about, because the perspective limits us. We see only an emotion.
We then get a highly informative sense of the size of the Barracuda threat relative to the two Clownfish. This is a distant observer viewpoint purely for intelligibility.
Now, since we come back to the more-or-less same perspective we saw before, we know that Coral's attention is divided. Again, there's some suspense. Is she looking for an escape? Something else? Her motionless head suggests that she's trying to remain out of the awareness of the Barracuda.
We become Coral. We experience the appearance and the emotion of having our future children (the red eggs below) exposed under such threatening conditions.
We leave Coral's body and see her weighing the decision again. This is almost a moral guide to motherhood. Feel motherhood and then see a mother respond.
Coral takes action.
The Barracuda attacks. But it zooms right past the camera. We don't yet know the target. This gives us a sense of the power of the Barracuda while concealing its intent. As the viewer, we narrowly escape death ourselves.
Marlin, the father, intercepts the attack. The observer viewpoint gives us a precise account of the action that has taken place and its result. The Barracuda has been derailed.
We become Marlin. And it's no joke. We face the consequences of his actions, as if we were him. The threat is dire indeed.
After one escape, we leave Marlin's body. But now we are emotionally invested. We stay close to him, as much in the line of fire as before. No backing away now.
In fact, we are so close, that we also have to back up rapidly to avoid the Barracuda's chomp. The camera shakes. We're in the fight with Marlin.
Then, remarkably, we see Marlin get smacked by the Barracuda tail not once, but twice! First, we see him get swiped from the side of the Barracuda.
In the flow of time, Marlin has been hit at this point. But as viewers, we jump back in time, a split second before, to the moment before the tail swipe. We now see Marlin get swiped from behind the Barracuda. The switch in viewpoints happens fast. It's actually too fast for the naked eye to notice at real speed. Time has been circumvented.
We see Marlin collapse into a heap. Notice he is already unconscious at this point. We are awake to witness his collapse.
And then, once again, we become Marlin. We lose consciousness.