Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Great Un-Purge, Day 2: Are there characters whose situations prefigure various fates that might await the hero?

We’re still trying to rescue some questions from the Tone section, which was cut from the book for space.

On appeal: Are there characters whose situations prefigure various fates that might await the hero?

Why it was added: I really like this idea. It’s a great way to subtly add power to your story.

How do the checklist movies answer this question?
  • Alien: Yes, she’s afraid of getting killed like the others, afraid of becoming Ash.
  • An Education: Very much so. She’s terrified of becoming her teachers, her parents, and Helen the moll.
  • The Babadook: The dog for the boy, etc.
  • Blazing Saddles: We see others getting hanged, and the previous sheriff getting killed.
  • Blue Velvet: Yes, he doesn’t want to end up like his father, he’s afraid he’ll end up like Frank.
  • The Bourne Identity: Yes, the other Treadstone assassins for Jason. The dead landlady for Marie.
  • Bridesmaids: The rest of the bridal party provide examples of her concerns: one is unhappily married, one married naively, one is a trophy wife, etc.
  • Casablanca: Yes, Rick is worried that he’s as bad as Ugarte, or as corrupt as Renault. He also sees that he’ll never be as good as Victor.
  • Donnie Brasco: Yes, Lefty, the other inept undercover Fed, Bruno Kirby’s character that gets killed for being sloppy. etc.
  • Do the Right Thing: Will Mookie end up like Da Mayor? Like Sal? Should he be more like Buggin’ Out? Like his sister?
  • The Fighter: Dicky is a cautionary tale for Micky.
  • The Fugitive: Gerard catches and kills the other fugitive.
  • Groundhog Day: Phil keeps running into people he could be: Nice Rita, dopey Larry covering the swallows at Capistrano eight years in a row, the drunks at the bar, etc. How to Train Your Dragon: Lots of people with missing body parts, etc.
  • In a Lonely Place: Yes, Laurel is afraid she’ll be killed like the girl, Dix is afraid he’ll end up like the old drunk.
  • Iron Man: Co-inventor who dies shows him that he will eventually have to choose, Stane represents what he’s afraid he’ll become.
  • Raising Arizona: Her sister and brother-in-law represent his worst fears of becoming a dad, and the brothers represent his worst fears of returning to a life of crime.
  • Rushmore: Not really. Max is one-of-a-kind.
  • The Shining: Yes. The previous caretaker and his family.
  • Sideways: He fears he can’t pursue love without becoming Jack.
  • Silence of the Lambs: Lecter, Chilton and Crawford all share her interest in criminal psychology. Which will she end up like?
  • Star Wars: Not really. Again, these were cut (contrasting Luke with his friends who didn’t leave and his friend who did leave.) Han isn’t really a parallel character because he and Luke haven’t faced the same choices.
  • Sunset Boulevard: Yes, many: the monkey, John the Baptist, Max.
Deliberations: I like those answers! It would be a shame to lose this one.

The verdict: Have you found this question useful? Should I save it? Move it to concept? Move it to theme? Would it need to be rephrased?


James Kennedy said...

This is super-useful -- keep it in!

Except your answer for SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is strained. Both Clarice and the audience have zero fear that she will end up a genius cannibal (Lecter), or a sleazily flirtatious master of a petty fiefdom (Chilton), or a slightly condescending father figure (Crawford).

Also, in ALIEN I don't think Ripley is ever afraid of becoming a robot like Ash. She's by-the-book, but Ash explicitly goes against the book to open the airlock and break quarantine! They share nothing in common that would make one the road-not-taken clone of the other.

Interestingly, in STAR WARS many characters who aren't Luke do have little "double" moments. When we first see C-3P0, there is an identical silver protocol droid walking right behind him that wanders off onto another hallway. A double! If the similarly-shaped-to-R2-D2 robot, the red R5-D4, didn't have a "bad motivator" and blow up on the Jawa used-robot lot, Luke would've bought him instead of R2. A double! When Ben Kenobi is first seen talking to Chewbacca, there is a young star pilot who is not Han Solo in between them who steps aside. A double! It happens enough times that I can't help but feel it's intentional.

Brian Malbon said...

Also the one very big one - Darth Vader. Even in the original film with its lacking emphasis on jedi training he offers that parallel. Obi-Wan tells Luke his last pupil was seduced by the Dark Side, and then a sentence later basically says "let me train you."

I love this question. Is a terrific way of subtly increasing the stakes for the hero.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

It's a great technique, and is used to great effect in Ross Macdonald's novels. In Black Money, a recurring character type was a beautiful woman treated as a possession. The book had several, and their lives were variations on how that theme can play out. There was the poor little rich girl with the dead father and the strange suitors; the working class girl who’s lost to a mobster when her husband bets her in a crap game and decides to stick with the old mobster for his money; the frustrated woman who was seduced by her college professor long ago and now lives out life as a mother of three trapped in a sham marriage; and there may be a fourth, but memory fails. As the story moved ahead, centered on the mysterious doings around another beautiful young woman who is viewed by several men as a prize to be won, those variations on the theme suggested how the story might end without directly foreshadowing it.

He also liked a variation on this, wherein he'd provide many versions of himself in each novel, with a “what if” applied to most of them. For example, Character A is him as he saw himself; Character B is who he would have been if he'd been messed up by World War Two; Character C is a teenager who is who he would have been as a teenager if he'd had better parents; Character D is an old man who is who he would have been if he had never gotten the key breaks in life; and so on.