Thursday, May 28, 2015

Rulebook Casefile: An Ironic Corrected Statement of Philosophy in The Fighter

We’ve discussed many times the idea that every hero should have not one but two statements of philosophy, one at the beginning of the story, and another after the spiritual crisis, about three-quarters of the way through the story.

The initial statement of philosophy is inherently ironic, because it’s wrong. The hero’s words to live by are ruining his life, or at least holding him back. But when the correct statement of philosophy arrives three-quarters of the way into the story, there’s a danger that it will seem preachy or lame, as if it’s “the moral of the story”. One way to get around this is to have the corrected statement of philosophy be delivered in an ironic way.

We’ve looked at two examples of this recently in sitcom pilots. In both cases, the sitcom was trying to maintain an “edgy” tone, and they didn’t want to break that for a moment of sentiment, so they found a way to deliver the true statement or philosophy ironically:
  • In the “Community” pilot, Jeff is delivering a disingenuous speech in order to break up the study-group early so that he can seduce Britta. He doesn’t realize until halfway through that his bullshit is actually something he himself needs to hear.
  • In the “Modern Family” pilot, it sounds as if Jay is delivering a heartfelt summation of the episode in a voiceover, but then we cut to him and he’s reading his stepson’s ludicrous love-letter, shaking his head in derision the whole time.
The Fighter is a much more forthrightly emotional story, and it does have a traditional corrected statement of philosophy (“I want Dicky back, and I want you, and I want Charlene, I want my family. What’s wrong with that??”), but after that there’s another one that’s very ironic. In his big championship fight, Micky’s chosen entry music is Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again”: Just before he goes into the ring, he and his brother touch their foreheads together and sing the lyrics in unison:
  • “Here I go again on my own! Goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known! Like a drifter I was born to walk alone! ‘Cause I made up my mind! I ain’t wastin’ no more time! So here I go again!” 
Then, without another word, Micky goes into the ring and wins the championship. How ironic is that? First of all, any other movie would only use such a cheesy song in an ironic way, so it’s ironic that it’s unironic here. But of course the big irony is that the brothers are merging into one as they sing about how neither one needs the other.

The most fundamental dilemma in storytelling (or life) is individualism vs. solidarity. Every battle that tears  America apart, culturally, economically, and politically, is fueled by that irresolvable dilemma. In this scene, Micky and Dicky finally solve their conflict by embracing a paradox.

1 comment:

j.s. said...

You had me at "it's ironic that it's unironic here." I'm officially convinced that I need to see this film again. Thanks for another great series.