Thursday, September 20, 2018

Rulebook Casefile: Three Rules vs. False/Corrected Philosophy in 27 Movies

In the comments last time, Patrick asked me to clarify the difference between the three rules a character lives by and the false/corrected philosophy, so I thought I would look at our 25 movies. The answer is that, sometimes the three rules I identify all line up with the false philosophy and get rejected; sometimes they all provide good guidance throughout; sometimes some must be rejected and others not; and sometimes they are hastily rejected and must be rediscovered by the end.

The 40 Year-Old Virgin: In this case, his three rules are tied to his false philosophy, and he must reject all three to become happy:
  • Three rules: Keep your head down, avoid conflict, avoid women.
  • False Philosophy: “I respect women. I love women. I respect them so much that I completely stay away from them! I have a very fulfilling life!”
  • Corrected Philosophy: Well, at the ¾ point, when he’s supposed to adopt one, he actually regresses, but at the end, he does come to reject that philosophy. “I love you.” “I was scared.”

Alien: In this case, her first rule is the same as her false philosophy, but her other two rules turn out to be even more true than she at first realizes:
  • Three rules: Stick to procedure, do it myself, I deserve respect.
  • False Philosophy: “Whatever happened to standard procedure?”
  • Corrected Philosophy: “We’ll blow it the fuck out into space. We have to stick together.”

An Education: In this case, she rejects her three rules early and has to rediscover them by the end. These rules, which turn out to be wise, are different than her false philosophy, which is indeed wrong:
  • Three rules: Study hard, be smarter than others, get ahead
  • False Philosophy: False advice: “My father would say there’s no point to going to concerts.” He also says that Oxford doesn’t want people who think for themselves
  • Corrected Philosophy: In this case she quickly goes too far in the other direction, enjoying going out too much and thinking for her own too much instead of trusting adults who love her, then at the ¾ point she must find a middle ground: Reacting to teacher’s place, “I’d love to live someplace like this…That’s all you need, isn’t it?”

The Babadook: Her rules are the same as her false philosophy.
  • Three rules: I can handle it, don’t tell me how to raise my son, look forward.
  • False Philosophy: ”I’m fine.” There’s no monster. “He doesn’t need a monitor.” “I have moved on, I never mention him.”
  • Corrected Philosophy: To her husband’s ghost: “You’re trespassing in my house.”

Blazing Saddles: His rules turn out to be good guidance throughout.
  • Three rules: I can win anybody over, I’ll shake it off, There’s a smarter way to do this.
  • False Philosophy: When he rejects the advice of his friend not to hit the boss and says “I have to.”
  • Corrected Philosophy: He learns to make friends and influence people, white and black…but he’s still violent to those that need it, so he doesn’t correct that far.

Blue Velvet: For good or evil, he sticks to his rules.
  • Three rules: Look under rocks, you only live once, I can get away with anything
  • False Philosophy: “I’m just real curious” “I don’t want to cause any trouble.” “no one will suspect us because no one would believe two people like us would be crazy enough to do something like this.” He believes that he’s fundamentally different from Frank.
  • Corrected Philosophy: Not really: he remains conflicted throughout. When Detective Williams says “You’re all through with this now?” he responds "Yes sir, I sure am,” but he continues investigating. Later, he says to Sandy, while holding Dorothy, “Forgive me, I love you.”

The Bourne Identity: His rules turn out to be good guidance.
  • Three rules: Identify the exits, identify the threats, avoid capture
  • False Philosophy: He keeps saying “I just want to find out who I am”, but eventually he comes to want more.
  • Corrected Philosophy: He learns to be happy with the present and says that he doesn’t want to know who he is anymore.

Bridesmaids: She doesn’t have rules she lives by. She’s lost in self-doubt.
  • Three rules: Not really. She doesn’t really have much of a self-image, or self-esteem, or set of principles. Maybe: I deserve better. (The most self-destructive rule one can have)
  • False Philosophy: “I’m not looking for a relationship right now.” About being a bridesmaid: “I’m more than happy to do it and it’s not too much.”
  • Corrected Philosophy: “I’m not okay.” “Things are going to change but they’ll be better.”

Casablanca: The first rule is his false philosophy and gets rejected, the second he manages to hang onto a little bit despite his personal crisis, the third remains good guidance:
  • Three rules: Don’t get involved, everything is amusing, don’t buy and sell human beings.
  • False Philosophy: “I stick my neck out for no one.”
  • Corrected Philosophy: “The problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”

Donnie Brasco: We sense that he will try to learn to live without these rules once he uses them to succeed and then returns to his family.
  • Three rules: “Don’t say nothing unless there’s a reason for it.” Always stay in character. Be the colder one.
  • False Philosophy: “I gotta shave my mustache off. Regulations.” He’s trying to play if by the book, in both jobs.
  • Corrected Philosophy: “Fuck the rules.” 

Do the Right Thing: His first two rules are his false philosophy, his third remains good guidance.
  • Three rules: Gotta get paid, don’t mess up my business, don’t put up with mistreatment
  • False Philosophy: “Gotta get paid”
  • Corrected Philosophy: We can sense that the mayor’s words are now echoing in his head: “Always do the right thing.”

The Fighter: His rules remain good guidance.
  • Three rules: “I’m no stepping stone, that’s not who I am, the next one’s gonna show who I am.” nobody better mess with my family. “I’m gonna pick my punches.” “I’m a boxer, not a brawler.”
  • False Philosophy: He starts out with the right boxing philosophy, but he says about his brother, “nobody pushes me harder.” That’s wrong.
  • Corrected Philosophy: He has found a fiancĂ© who pushes him harder in better ways, but he has overcorrected, totally rejecting his brother in favor of his fiancĂ©, but he can only win once he learns to say “I want you both in my corner”

The Fugitive: His rules provide good guidance, though at the very end, after the climax, he realizes that it’s finally time to stop entirely relying on himself.
  • Three rules: Figure it out, help others, rely on yourself.
  • False Philosophy: Kimble: Just barely, but when he finally realizes that they suspect him and he says “How dare you?”, that shows his naiveite. Gerard has a much clearer one: “I don’t care.”
  • Corrected Philosophy: Kimble: Sort of: “I am trying to solve a puzzle here.” (aka I can’t trust in others to find the right answers and I need to rely on myself.) Also: “To see a friend” (aka evil is all around me and I’ve been too trusting.) Gerard: At the ¾ point he says. “That company is a monster.” (aka, “I’ve been looking for evil in all the wrong places.”) At the end, when Kimble says “I thought you said you didn’t care,” Gerard replies, “Don’t tell anybody.”

Groundhog Day: His first rule he may stick with, but the other two are part of his false philosophy.
  • Three rules: Sort of: Be funny, tolerate no sentiment, I deserve a bigger spotlight
  • False Philosophy: Dozens: About Rita: “She’s fun, but not my kind of fun.” “People are morons.” Etc.
  • Corrected Philosophy: At the ¾ point: “Only God can make a tree.” At the end: “no matter what happens tomorrow, or for the rest of my life, I’m happy now”

How to Train Your Dragon: His one rule turns out to be good guidance throughout.
  • Three rules: not really. He’s very open to change. Just one, maybe, something like “I can build something to solve this.”
  • False Philosophy: “Taking down one of those would definitely get me a girlfriend!” “no one has ever killed a night fury, I’m going to be the first.”
  • Corrected Philosophy: “It’s not the dragon I’m worried about.” “I’m not one of them”

In a Lonely Place: His first rule is good guidance, his second and third turn out to be bad (but they’re different from his false/corrected philosophy)
  • Three rules: One day I’ll write something great, I won’t be insulted, I must never show my real emotions.
  • False Philosophy: “She’s right, I am nobody.”
  • Corrected Philosophy: “I lived a few weeks while she loved me.”

Iron Man: Interestingly, he changes, but not as much as he could. He goes from being a bad person to a good one, but he decides that he can still live well, be smarter and be cool.
  • Three rules: Live well, be smarter, be cool
  • False Philosophy: “My old man had a philosophy: Peace means having a bigger stick than the other guy.”
  • Corrected Philosophy: “I’m going to find my weapons and destroy them. I’m not crazy, Pepper, I just finally know what I have to do, and I know in my heart that it’s right.”

Raising Arizona: He has none.
  • Three rules: He thinks he does (he has vague notions about what it means to be a man) but in reality he gets pulled in different directions and talked out of things easily.
  • False Philosophy: Accepts bad advice from Gale: “Sometimes your career (crime) has to come before family.”
  • Corrected Philosophy: “You were right and I was wrong. We got a family here and I’m gonna start acting responsibly.”

Rushmore: Like Tony Stark, he becomes a much better and humbler person, but still retains a lot of cocky swagger, and doesn’t really reject these three rules, which are different from his false/corrected philosophies:
  • Three rules: Do more. Impress everyone. Prove I’m smarter.
  • False Philosophy: ”What are you going to do?” “The only thing I can do: try to pull some strings with the administration.” “When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself.”
  • Corrected Philosophy: ”I’m just a barber’s son.” About his plan for the aquarium (and therefore his crush on Ms. Cross): “I gave it to a friend.”

The Shining: Neither hero has much sense of self.
  • Three rules: No, Jack’s lost and has no self-image. Danny doesn’t really either.
  • False Philosophy: Jack: “That happens to be exactly what I’m looking for.” Danny: “I don’t want to talk about Tony anymore.”
  • Corrected Philosophy: Jack’s philosophy never corrects. Danny’s does, but he doesn’t verbalize it.

Sideways: His love interest never actually asks him to drink merlot, but we sense that maybe he would for her by the end. His other rules are tied into his false philosophy.
  • Three rules: “I AM NOT DRINKING MERLOT!” I’m too good for this (job/girl/situation), etc.
  • False Philosophy: “[Dating is] not worth it, you pay too high a price.”
  • Corrected Philosophy: “This has been a big deal for me.” In this case, the further hardships cause him to regress, not progress, but the progress he’s already made finally pays off much later.

Silence of the Lambs: Her rules provide good guidance throughout.
  • Three rules: Be humble, work hard, get ahead
  • False Philosophy: Bad advice given by Crawford: “Don’t let him get into your head.”
  • Corrected Philosophy: “Quid pro quo, Dr. Lecter” you have to make yourself vulnerable in order to understand evil.

Star Wars: He realizes his rules were false, but then they become true.
  • Three rules: I deserve better, I know what I’m doing, It can’t be that hard.
  • False Philosophy: “It looks like I’m going nowhere.” “I see, Sir Luke” “No, just Luke” (aka, “I can’t be a knight”) Later, he says, “I can’t get involved. I’ve got work to do. It’s not that I like the empire, I hate it, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now. It’s such a long way from here.”
  • Corrected Philosophy: Equally talking to himself: “Come on! Why don't you take a look around? You know what's about to happen, what they're up against. They could use a good pilot like you.” Later accepts advice: “Use the force”

Sunset Boulevard: Life has stripped him of his self-image before the story begins. But he still has a false/corrected philosophy.
  • Three rules: No. He stands for nothing. He has no self-image.
  • False Philosophy: “I heard you were one of the ones with talent.” “That was last year. This year I’m trying to make a living.”
  • Corrected Philosophy: Realizes that it’s not worth humiliating himself to make a living in Hollywood: “I’d take it in a second, but it’s a little too dressy for sitting behind a copy desk in Dayton, Ohio.” But he doesn’t get out quickly enough.

And our new one, Selma: As I pointed out last time, in this movie the three rules are also the special skills and they’re basically the “false” philosophy as well, but the “correct” philosophy is only a slight variation. When King turns back the second march, he decides to temporarily halt demonstrating and resisting until he gets the okay from the courts, and that works, and he wins, but the movie in no way wants to condemn the original trio of skills/rules/philosophy. In this one instance, it made sense to temporarily suspend two of them to get over the finish line, but the original strategy was still a good one and gets most of the credit for the final result. This is not a classic “corrected-philosophy” moment, because King does not now decide he was wrong to demonstrate in the first place.
  • Three rules: ”We negotiate, we demonstrate, we resist.”
  • False Philosophy: Sort of. He acts as if he expects Johnson to do the right thing without pressure, but he’s already planning to apply that pressure (“Selma it is”). His philosophy is basically farsighted and rightheaded from the beginning.
  • Corrected Philosophy: Sort of. He doesn’t frame it as changing his mind, but rather tries to explain his decision as a tactical retreat. But nobody really buys that he hasn’t reversed himself.

Basically, it’s a matter of moral and ethics, which is always a sloppy distinction with a lot of overlap. The three rules have more to do with ethics/tactics, while the false/correct philosophy has more to do with morals/beliefs/outlook. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they don’t.


Patrick said...

Thanks Matt! I saw this the other day but it's taken some time to digest.

I'm seeing some new connections here.

I guess the three rules are tricky because they are usually inferred. False/corrected philosophies are often stated.

Matt Bird said...

Yeah, I usually try to force myself to identify actual dialogue when I identify the philosophies.