Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Great Guru Showdown, Part 2: What is the Structure of a Problem?

Yesterday, we talked about the reason why most movies have a similar structure: because the structure of a movie is simply the structure of solving a problem, which is something that people have been trying to codify for centuries. Anyone who tries can be considered a “story guru”. Let’s look at a philosopher, for instance. Georg Hegel said that the structure of a problem was this:
  1. Thesis
  2. Antithesis
  3. Synthesis
That’s a different and useful way to re-conceive of “beginning, middle, and end.” What about therapists? They also structure problems. Here was Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s formulation of the structure of a certain kind of problem:
  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance
Grief movies such as Ordinary People use this structure. Here was how Abraham Maslow structured another kind of problem:
  1. Food and shelter
  2. Safety
  3. Friendship and Love
  4. Self-esteem and Confidence
  5. Problem-solving and justice
Survival and exile movies such as Brother from Another Planet use this structure. Everybody is trying to solve their problems, and failing, so everybody is trying to figure out how this process is supposed to work. That’s why we tell communal stories: to pass on parables about problem solving. We’ve looked at some problem-solving-structures we can use that were devised outside the world of drama, but what about those that are made specifically for storytellers? Are they more or less useful? We’ll examine the pros and cons tomorrow...


Unknown said...

Putting Hegler, Kubler-Ross and Maslow cheek by jowl with each other in this context was very helpful! And 'Ordinary People' is one of those rare projects where I felt that the book and the movie were both excellent, even though they deviated from each other. ('To Kill A Mockingbird' is another that fared well in both versions.)

Matt Bird said...

Wait until you see tomorrow: the cheeks and jowls are to be even closer together.