Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Big Idea, Addendum: More Thoughts on the Ironic Concept

As I organized the book, one thing that become clear was how often I came back to the subject of irony. “Oh, by the way, this element has to be ironic. And that one. And this other one.” I soon realized that I had to figure out how many separate ironies I was dealing with and how they interacted. Let’s spend the next several posts doing that.

I first addressed the need to have an ironic concept here and then followed it up here but both concern themselves more with things that aren’t ironic, rather than things that are. One problem I have with ironies, and with all advice that’s practically universal, is that it’s hard to pick out specific examples, and they wouldn’t be very useful anyway, because exemplary cases aren’t the point: I’m talking about how this should be everywhere, but without being the center of attention.

In many such cases where I wanted to prove that something was true across all types of movies, I’ve found myself, more and more, data-mining the 15 checklists. So let’s see how each of the movies we’ve looked at has an Ironic Concept:
  • Casablanca: The least patriotic American has to save the Allied cause.
  • Sunset Boulevard: The nation’s most glamorous people are psychotic lowlifes.
  • In a Lonely Place: A writer adapting a crime book finds himself living it.
  • Alien: They go to answer a distress signal sent by a creature that wants to kill them.
  • The Shining: A recovering alcoholic rededicates himself to his family, then finds that himself compelled to kill them.
  • Blue Velvet: An idealistic amateur detective discovers he’s just as creepy as those he investigates.
  • Silence of the Lambs: The only way to catch one serial killer is to work with another.
  • Groundhog Day: A man who just wants to get his least favorite day over has to live it again and again.
  • Donnie Brasco: An undercover FBI agent finds his pitiful targets more sympathetic than his bosses.
  • The Bourne Identity: A spy with a conscience becomes the latest target of his own agency.
  • Sideways: A man celebrates his upcoming wedding by looking for love.
  • How to Train Your Dragon: A dragon killer in training succeeds by befriending a dragon.
  • Iron Man: Arms dealer is targeted by his own clients, declares war on arms dealing.
  • An Education: A bored girl rejects the idea of getting “an education”, but learns another meaning of that phrase in the process.
  • Bridesmaids: A group of friends planning a happy day go to war against each other.
So, yeah, all of them. But this is not to be confused with an Ironic Finale, which we’ll look at next time…


X.G. said...

Do you have a good explanation for or could you elaborate on "an ironic answer to the hero’s question?"

Is it just inappropriate to ask this question? Why was it deleted?

Matt Bird said...

You scared me for a second there, but I checked and It's still there, as the sixth question under "Story Fundamentals". The examples I gave include (1)"The Terminator" where Sarah Connor is miserable at her job and drops her dishes, causing her co-worker to ask "In a hundred years, who's gonna care?" and (2) Marty McFly in "Black to the Future" wondering why his parents are so lame. In both cases, a wild set of circumstances happen to the heroes that is neither what they hoped for nor feared, but which provides an ironic answer to their original question. It's ironic because this seemingly-rhetorical question turns out to have a definitive answer.


Is that clearer

X.G. said...

I meant that my comment was deleted. I wrote a comment before that had the same question.

But thanks for elaborating. That makes it clearer.

Matt Bird said...

Ah, how strange! I didn't do it, so a Blogger glitch must have eaten it.

Scooter Downey said...

What is this movie "Black to the Future"? Sounds really cool.

James Kennedy said...

Oh man. Either Scooter is trolling, or I'm much older than I thought I was.

Scooter Downey said...

Naw, Matt just had a funny typo:

BLACK To The Future

Matt Bird said...

Ah! I think both James and I failed to spot the typo both in my original comment and in your first comment pointing it out. Alas, I can't correct the spelling here in the comments.

James Kennedy said...

BLACK TO THE FUTURE sounds like it has legs. Marty McFly toggles between white and African-American every time he time travels. When he goes back to the fifties, he discovers that not only are his parents dweebazoids, they're also unreconstructed 50s-style racists. Call Zemeckis!