Sunday, July 26, 2020

Should I Be Asking About Compassion?

In my first book, I point out that a moment of humanity sometimes involves compassion, and I’ve begun to wonder if BCI discounts compassion too much. Specifically I caught on this exchange in Iron Man.
  • Do you plan to report on the millions we’ve saved by advancing medical technology or kept from starvation with our intellicrops?
Going back ten years, I’ve launched a lot of broadsides against “Save the Cat” and its idea of a big heroic moment at the beginning, but have I gone too much in the other direction? It just makes sense that compassion would play a role in making a hero likeable. I really wish I had been keeping this in mind as I rewatched the first 15 minutes of the 20 movies we’ve done so far, because now it’s hard to remember if there was a lot of compassion in each of these:
  • The 40 Year Old Virgin: Well, I think he generally feels like a compassionate person, but does he really have a moment of compassion?
  • Alien: Not really? She’s the only one who visits Parker and Brett, but not really out of compassion.
  • An Education: Not really?
  • The Babadook: She’s exceptionally kind to the old folks at the home she works in.
  • The Bourne Identity: He seems like a nice guy, but… not really?
  • Blazing Saddles: Not really? His rebellion at the beginning may be showing compassion for the Chinese woman who passes out out, but there’s no indication he even saw that.
  • Blue Velvet: Not really?
  • Bridesmaids: Not really?
  • Casablanca: Well, he cuts off the girl who’s drinking too much?
  • Chinatown: He claims he helps out people who need it, but we’re not sure we believe him.
  • Do the Right Thing: Not really?
  • Donnie Brasco: Not really?
  • Frozen: Again, I think she generally feels like a compassionate person, but does she really have a moment of compassion?
  • Get Out: He checks on the deer.
  • Groundhog Day: No.
  • How to Train Your Dragon: He won’t kill Toothless.
  • In a Lonely Place: He’s nice to the old drunken actor.
  • Iron Man: He talks about feeding the world, but we’re not sure we believe him. Certainly the reporter seems dubious.
  • Lady Bird: Not really?
Inevitably, I’m going to end up rewatching all these, and I’ll look closer for a moment of compassion in each one.  Should I start asking this question on the movies going forward?  Are there moments of compassion I’m missing in these movies?


Joel W. said...

I'm dubious of how widespread true moments of compassion would be, whether obvious (Aladdin's bread) or subtle (can't think of any, except maybe Iron Man as explained below). But there are times when the hero engages kindly or neutrally with others, but if we were there, we would not be so kind/neutral. Or, the hero is in a position where they don't have to do act so kindly but chooses to anyway.

In Alien, if I remember correctly, Ripley actively protests opening the doors, but after Ash forcefully overrides her command, she doesn't act petulant toward the crew, even though we the audience are thinking "Listen to Ripley you fools! If I were there I'd give them a piece of my mind." (Although we at least understand why they opened them, which is good.) This is also sort of the "suffering in silence" concept applied to Ripley. Later, she does confront Ash on his decision but doesn't do so in a petulant manner. (haven't seen this movie in a while, if she is petulant then just ignore this!)

As for Iron Man, famous Tony chooses to take a photo with the modest trooper, but he doesn't *have* to (although it likely feeds his own ego). In fact, it almost seems like a risk or a possible inconvenience, because of his "I don't want to see this on your MySpace page" quip, and his initial rejection of the 'gang signs', until a moment later he "gives in" to the soldier's desires and actively supports the hand sign. Also, it may be important that the soldier is so modest, and his reaction to being allowed the photo is genuine excitement and happiness. Also important: if Tony said "no" to the photo, we would instantly lose a lot empathy & identification with him (partly because the soldier asks so modestly--in that sense the soldier is quite similar to the child beggars that Aladdin gives his bread to). For Tony, the photo is an insignificant choice. But is it really a choice for the screenwriter, narrative/character-wise? I guess you could get away with Tony refusing if it's played for fun or he makes a joke to quickly change the subject so we don't feel any direct conflict. Or the screenwriter could write a totally different situation. But since Tony is a rich man, a war weapons manufacturer, and a womanizer we're already not so willing to like him. His "yes" to the modest trooper is vital.

Anyway, I wanna say go ahead and include this question in your data mining. Of course, I don't know how laborious all this. Good posts in any case, and congrats on the book.

Anonymous said...

I could be mistaken because the 'at the beginning' is a little bit hard to exactly define. Having said that, I remember the moment, in the start (?) of the movie when, in Casablanca, Rick saves the girl from sleeping with Renault. I think it has an impact on the audience. 'Rick saved the poor girl; Rick is good. We like Rick.'

Matt Bird said...

Ooh, good example. That didn't happen in the 20 minutes I re-examined, but I think it may be in the first half?