Thursday, 8 April 2010

I didn't mean it

So we're talking about conscious and unconscious desire - particularly in the main character, and particularly in drama.

Character arcs, a character's journey, is where conscious and unconscious desire play a fundamental part in dramatising a story. Characters need dilemmas. Whoever is the central character needs a dilemma. And you have to articulate a problem that is not resolved and one where the outcome can go either way. You have these opposite tensions and the character is going through his journey. And he hasn’t made up his mind which way they are going to go by the end of the film. They might still go for their conscious desire, but they might go for their unconscious desire. We don’t know. That's what keeps us watching. And the choices they make defines them as a character.

Very often, the more they push the conscious desire, the more they chase whatever that is; the more the unconscious desire starts to surface. Act Two fluctuates between conscious desire and unconscious desire. But again the character still cannot articulate what his unconscious desire is. This is why the conscious desire can change. You try to get what you want one way and it doesn’t work. You try and get it another way and it doesn’t work. I’ll do this. I’ll do that. I’ll try anything. The conscious desire, the 'want,' changes. The unconscious desire, what they need, never changes.

This tension of wants and needs is frequently resolved at the Act Two turning point. They have made the wrong choice at the end of Act One, which gives us the drama for Act Two. But at the end of Act Two is the point where their unconscious desire, the dilemma and the choice, is at the forefront. They may still not be able to articulate it, but they are aware of it. You get a very clear idea that the character is aware of it and they make a choice.

If they make the same old choice then they die (either literally or metaphorically) – because they have not learned anything from their experience. It is too late. They will have to suffer; they will either suffer. Not many films buck that. There are not many films where a character is not responsible for his actions. So if they make a wrong choice at the end of Act Two, they either emotionally die or they physically die. It’s tone is firmly tragic.

Tomorrow, in the final part, we will look at a few examples to see how this plays out.

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