The Conventional Wisdom:
- Nothing radical here. This is a widely agreed-upon part of classic structure, going back to Joseph Campbell, who called it the “Refusal of the Call”
- This is what distinguishes a big, life-changing problem from a small, no-brainer problem. Hesitation proves that the opportunity is intimidating, indicating both high risk and high reward.
- It’s tempting to skip hesitation in order to speed up the first quarter and make the hero seem more forceful, but it’s equally important to cheer for and fear for the hero. A healthy wariness reminds us to worry about the dangers and trust that the hero is not foolhardy.
- Hesitation scenes often establish the role of the hero’s friends, who either encourage or dismiss the hero’s doubts. The friends in Salvador and Juno are dubious, but the more untrustworthy friends in Risky Business and Mean Girls say to go for it. Or, as they say in the dubbed-for-TV version of the former: “Sometimes you just have to say, ‘What the hey!”
- These scenes can also ease the audience into suspension of disbelief by giving the hero a moment to stop and say, “Hey, this is crazy, isn’t it??” As seen in movies such as Back to the Future and The Terminator.
- Another robot-like terminator is Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men. He seems to have no flaws whatsoever, and he doesn’t hesitate at all. Strangely, we still love him, despite his inhuman resolve. There’s simply no time for dithering: he has to change eleven minds in 100 minutes.