Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Storyteller's Rulebook #204: Let Us Empathize with the Motivation, But Don’t Force Us to Empathize with the Logic
We all know you should maximize empathy between your audience and your hero, even if its an anti-hero…but what exactly are we empathizing with? One of many things that Russell wisely cut out in his rewrite are scenes where Mel has the brilliant idea to tap into anti-Arab sentiment:
Not only are these types of scenes way too on-the-nose, they put the audience in a rotten position, because they attempt to lead us by the nose until we to come to the same racist logic that the character does.
Let’s go back to Dallas Buyers Club and another benefit of its many leaps forward: What if we we had seen a moment where McConaughey was stumped: “Hmm, I can’t sell these AIDS drugs through my normal channels, hey wait just a second, I just overheard my buddy say that gay guys do a lot of drugs in their clubs…wow, flash of genius: maybe I should start hanging out there and dealing!”
Instead, Dallas Buyers Club and the final version of American Hustle just cut out those scenes, jumping ahead to show McConaughey in those clubs (which makes us roll our eyes at his bigotry and audacity) and showing Bale with his fake arab (ditto).
In both of these movies, we empathize with the characters’ motivation and goals, but we never identify with their bigoted and short-sighted logic. Just skip over the “I have an idea” scenes. Jump ahead and let us figure out the hero’s next scene in action, then let us decide what we think of it. This makes the plot and the theme more interesting, because in both cases it’s not leading us by the nose into one predetermined path.