Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Storyteller's Rulebook #104: Punish Them By Giving Them What They Want

Movies crave conflict, and the easiest sort of conflict comes from subjecting your hero to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune: Hit ‘em when they’re up and kick ‘em when they’re down. But sometimes, the unkindest cut of all is the one you inflict by taking the external conflict away.Throughout The Apartment, Sheldrake cheats and connives and lies to everybody… until just before the end. Think for a moment about how easy it would have been to have him screw our heroes over again at the end. What if, after all this, he left Kubelik for another woman? Or what if he went ahead and fired Baxter anyway?

Either one of these dastardly actions would have been true to his character, and they could have pumped up our heroes’ motivation, rousing them into a final confrontation filled with righteous indignation. That would have made for a very different ending.Instead, Sheldrake actually does come through on all his promises. After his marriage falls apart, he decides to make an honest woman of Kubelik (though he does vaguely imply to Baxter that he’ll be cheating on her). And he gives Baxter the office he’d always dreamed of. They’ve each gotten exactly what they set out to get from Sheldrake… …but it leaves a bitter taste.

Rather than make it hard on them externally by having Sheldrake say “no” to them one last time, Wilder and Diamond make it hard on them internally by having him finally say “yes”. This forces them to summon up the will to say no to their own wildest dreams, in the interest of doing the right thing.

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