Meta-narratives are a complicated and delicate trope, comparable to time travel. Suddenly, acknowledging the audience’s existence can be played for laughs with how off-the-wall it is.
“Deadpool” has the titular character regularly break the fourth wall and deliver wisecracks on the elements of the movie itself.
However, another way that storytelling can be highly aware of itself is using deconstruction. Deconstruction occurs when common tropes of a genre are used deliberately in order to flip them on their heads. Horror movies like “Scream” and “A Cabin in the Woods” depend highly upon surprise, subversion and creativity, which are all qualities that lend themselves to deconstruction.
Some concepts are tailor-made for modeling the idea of fact and fiction being obscured, such as those of “Inception” and “Fight Club,” using it to emulate the fractured psyche of their characters.
Experimenting with the structure of a film can make the character acknowledge their cursory existence. But, if taken too far, these meta approaches can take the audience out of a film by making them question the validity of the story and the overall point of the film. Going too far with the self-referential aspects can deteriorate the faith in the storyteller by relying too heavily on the meta elements.
The closest this has been tested is an animated movie called “End of Evangelion.” Ignoring “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” the anime series requires the viewer to understand the film’s context before watching it, the main writers and director behind it comment upon cultural issues that the movie and series have spawned and have taken part in shaping. In doing this, it delves into psychological and heady philosophical themes that if done incorrectly, would seem pretentious.
But in an era where movies are risk-averse and fail to even consider going the distance, it doesn’t hurt to go beyond the familiar and get weird so long as there is a point.
Even then, some argue “Evangelion” still acts too big for its britches in many respects and only serves to confuse the ideas it has, although it illustrates yet another aspect of writing and presentation that needs careful consideration.