Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Storyteller’s Rulebook #5: The Exception That Proves The Over-Motivation Rule

Before I move on from over-motivation, I wanted to mention a rather humorous example that attempted to break this rule... I mentioned yesterday how they over-motivated the 1989 Batman by having the Joker kill Bruce Wayne’s parents. Well, the 2005 re-boot, Batman Begins, was a much better movie. And one of the things I most admired about it was its determination to restore Batman’s proper motivation.

Early on in that movie, there’s a whole scene devoted to the idea that Bruce Wayne is not seeking revenge. When the crook who killed his parents is about to be released, he waits outside the courthouse with a gun. His district-attorney-love-interest scolds him for the pettiness of that motive: The criminal was driven by poverty, and poverty is driven by corruption. If Bruce wants to stop others from being killed, he must direct his wrath at the socially-connected corruptors who create the conditions that create these criminals. Bruce agrees, throws his gun away, and goes off to become Batman. All right! I was very impressed! Finally a hero motivated by civic values, not just revenge!

But then, an interesting thing happens. It’s not really that bad, but it is pretty funny. Sure enough, that two-thirds point in the movie rolls around… And, sure enough, the producers demanded that obligatory scene where the battle becomes personal…

But how do you do that? It’s already been established that societal collapse killed Bruce’s parents, not any one criminal, right? Well, astoundingly, Bruce’s former mentor turned super-terrorist Liam Neeson comes to town, and makes a shocking admission: His organization specializes in causing societal destruction! Then he comes right out and taunts Bruce about it— (paraphrasing here) “That’s right! We caused the economic collapse that killed your parents!”

Well, at least they tried to fight it... But the producers will not be denied. Two-thirds of the way into every one of these movies, the villain must reveal that they killed the hero’s loved ones. Even if they did it in the most roundabout manner possible!


Unknown said...

Hilarious. And they probably thought they were being deeper and more intellectual: "We have to think BIGGER...more GLOBAL...it's not just about Bruce Wayne's parents...it's about society...AT LARGE!" Wow. That's deep, bringing the larger economic scope into it.

But I agree with you - they deserve some kudos for trying. And it's still fun to watch.

(P.S. And do we really believe that in the heat of passion, he'll throw away the gun...because he sees that it's CORRUPTION that is the problem? I don't know...)

Matt Bird said...

But the thing of it is-- I absolutely love this movie! And I love it because it's so earnest! I watch it over and over. It's just that one line that always makes me laugh.

Whenever I get to a bad line in a good movie, I always just think to myself "Oh, the producer (and/or star) made them add that line. It doesn't count. Let's move on..."

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