POV: Omniscient Point of View

In an Australian government document relating to script development I found the term ‘omnipotent POV’.

In a specialised screenwriting magazine I read “omnipresent POV”(*).┬áBoth are plain wrong.

You’ve got to wonder: if they can’t even get the terminology right, there is reason to be concerned about their understanding of the concept.

The correct term is ‘omniscient’, and means ‘knowing everything’. It is the divine, ‘God’s eye’ perspective.

‘Omniscient POV’ in film means: a point of view outside any of the story’s characters. The audience knows and sees everything that is relevant to know about everybody in the story. Because film relies heavily on empathy with the characters, this is not a POV that would typically be taken throughout the story.

Although the technique sometimes works when told by a narrator and/or when a story is one long flashback, it is hardly ever used consistently throughout a film.

The fact that the term exists, doesn’t mean the technique is to be recommended in film.

The very nature of the omniscient POV goes against the essence of good screen drama, which is firmly grounded in strong emotional empathy with (an) individual character(s).

An omniscient POV suggests a certain distance from the characters, which is exactly what you don’t want. In my view, what most people mean by an omniscient POV is a shifting POV.

Frank Daniel used the term ‘dramatic irony‘, which makes more sense than the phrase ‘omniscient POV’. The irony lies in the fact that the audience knows something the protagonist doesn’t. And usually this information is crucial, it has a great impact on the protagonist’s journey.

The term dramatic irony is also consistent with the notion of ‘dramatic tension’, which is the foundation of all drama.

A great example of dramatic irony is used – and explained – in the movie STRANGER THAN FICTION when literature professor Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman) elaborates on the phrase “Little did he know…”. Because the technique is used as an explicit plot device, the notion of ‘omniscient character’ gets definitely blurred.

Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) may be the writer of the Harold Crick’s (Will Ferrell) life, but is she therefore truly omniscient?

Not in this film…

See also:

Introduction to POV
Omniscient POV
Shifting POV
When to Shift?
POV in Ratatouille’s Deleted Scene
POV as Controller of Tone
Hitchcock and POV

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