Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Genre Structures, Addendum: Charting the Big Dilemmas

As I searched for the six toughest decisions in the Checklist movies, I played around with rating each one as (in retrospect) either (R)ight, (W)rong, or (U)nclear. The results say some interesting things about genre structures:

Coming-of-age stories tend to be about making bad decisions until the very end:

An Education:
  1. W: Accept the come-on? Yes.
  2. W: Lie to her parents and go to Oxford with him? Yes.
  3. W: Agree to ignore his crimes? Yes.
  4. W: Have sex with him? Yes.
  5. W: Accept the marriage proposal? Yes.
  6. R: Humiliate herself to get back into school? Yes.
In some action films, on the other hand, the hero can make nothing but right decisions:

The Bourne Identity:
  1. R: Speak to the lady at the Embassy? No.
  2. R: Climb down the wall? Yes.
  3. R: Trust Marie? Yes.
  4. R: Continue investigating his past after they discover bad things? No.
  5. R: Leave Marie and return to Paris? Yes.
  6. R: Kill Conklin? No.
Horror movies tend to have a series of wrong decisions followed by a series of right decisions:

  1. W: Answer the distress signal? Yes.
  2. W: Break quarantine? Yes.
  3. W: Remove the face-hugger or not? No. (To be fair, they can’t figure out how)
  4. R: Kill the alien or try to preserve it for the company? Kill it.
  5. R: Blow up the whole ship to kill it? Yes.
  6. R: Go back for the cat? Yes.
But other action movies are less clear. We’re never sure in Blue Velvet if Jeffrey’s investigation did anybody any good or not, so we get a lot of ‘U’s:
  1. R: Come home to help with the store? Yes.
  2. U: Pick up the ear? Yes.
  3. U: Investigate it outside the law? Yes.
  4. W: What to do when Dorothy finds him there? Have sex with her.
  5. W: Hit her when she asks him to? Yes.
  6. R: Finally tell Sandy everything when Dorothy shows up? Yes.
  7. U: Go confront Frank? Yes.
But then a seemingly straightforward movie like Iron Man gets a lot of ‘U’s, too:
  1. R: Agree to build the weapons for the terrorists or let himself be shot? He pretends to agree under false pretense.
  2. U: Let Shinzen sacrifice himself so he can escape? Yes.
  3. R: Get back into the arms business? No.
  4. W: Trust his partner? Yes.
  5. U: Take the next step with Pepper she makes herself vulnerable at the fundraiser? Not yet.
  6. U: Lie to the press about Iron Man? No.
So does Iron Man feel like an art film?  No, not at all, but Tony is harder to trust than Jason Bourne. We’ve had four Iron Man movies now, and in each one his ethics have turned out to be right for the situation, but we’re never sure if that will always be true.  It looks like Tony’s next two appearances (The Avengers 2 and Captain America 3) will finally pay off the possibility that he might be capable of doing more harm than good.  Once again, Marvel plays the long game.

1 comment:

Durand WELSH said...


Do you have any thoughts about how charting these hard decisions and whether they're right, wrong, or unclear relates to your old post "How to Structure a Story"? Following the standard structure, there'd be a midpoint disaster, and presumably this would be the result of a choice that is wrong in hindsight. I noticed that the different films you broke down in this post don't necessarily have a wrong decision at the midpoint. Do you have any thoughts on this?

Also, if the hero would usually become proactive through the later part of the film (doing things the hard way), do you think this would weight the choices more toward being right (in retrospect) during this section? Just curious.