Friday, 9 April 2010

I just want you back for good

In concluding our look at the wants and needs of our protagonist, we'll examine two examples, Amores Perros and Insomnia. (Spoilers for those two movies.)

In Amores Perros, Chivo is a father who is estranged from his daughter and he’s an assassin. His conscious desire is to be a killer. That’s who he thinks he is – a cold-blooded murderer. His unconscious desire is to be reunited with his daughter and find love with his family.

His end of Act One decision is there is a guy and he needs to assassinate him – he walks past the window, not sure, not sure, then makes a clear decision and shoots him. It is a wrong decision. The guy is a ruthless killer, and then he takes this dog in. He has lots of dogs that he rescues. He loves dogs, he loves animals, but he cannot articulate his unconscious desire. He wants love, wants to give it so he gives it to dogs, this is his unconscious desire. We can see it but he cannot. So the Act Two climax is a dilemma, it is a choice. And it is a choice that directly challenges his conscious and unconscious desire. This other dog he takes in kills all his dogs.

He has a decision to make – and he decides not to shoot the dog. And it is a powerful choice, it is not a chance, off the cuff decision. It shows that his unconscious desire is winning out. The unconscious desire has been validated in that scene because up to that point he has been killing without question. His Act Three decision is that he is given another assassination job and what he does is bring the two people together, the one who he has to shoot and the one who wants him shot and puts them together and says off you go, you sort it out between you. The change in him has been confirmed. He can’t kill the dog because he is just doing what a dog does. His Act Three choice is he chooses not to kill and takes the money and puts the two guys together and this is confirmed when he shaves his beard off and cleans up and goes to see his family.

In Insomnia, Al Pacino’s back-story is that he’s sabotaged a case to vindicate himself – to get himself off – he has corrupted the law. That gives him the anxiety that he doesn’t want to be found out. He doesn’t want to be seen as corrupt. So he decides when he accidentally kills his partner, I am going to say it wasn’t me. He could have said it was him. He is anxious because if he says it was him there are consequences because his partner is the main evidence in the case against him corrupting the previous case. No one will believe it’s an accident, they are going to say he did it on purpose because you are under investigation and you wanted him out the way to stop you getting convicted.

His Act One choice is to tell the truth about whether he shot his colleague or not or lie and save his own neck. His conscious desire that is to uphold the law and save the innocent. His unconscious desire is to corrupt the law to save himself. So he lies.

His unconscious desire is a way of providing empathy because you know why he has taken this decision to lie. He has a rationale and he is convinced he is doing it for the right reason. His rationale is if I’m uncovered then everything is going to fall down. So he thinks he is doing it consciously for the right reasons – you have to bend the law and he thinks he is doing it to save other people. But he’s not he’s doing it to save himself.

So the act climaxes are about directly challenging who is to benefit, you or somebody else. Act One is are you going to save yourself or his friend/colleague. Act Two is the same thing again. Act Three an innocent boy is going to get put away and he still decides he is going to save himself, rather than the other person, because ultimately his unconscious desire is that he wants to save himself. The choice he makes in Act Two has to be confirmed with the choice he makes at the end of Act Three. The resolution is he will suffer and it’s too late to go back. (A lot of tragic characters have choices and decisions and at the end they try to redeem themselves – they suddenly want to repent at the Act Three climax but it is too late, because they made the wrong choice at the end of Act Two.)

He avoids the unconscious and focuses on the conscious desire all the time and this is how they vindicate themselves, live with themselves, how they perceive themselves.

The audience perceives a deeper character – perceives who they fundamentally are and they are given the opportunity at the end of act climax to reveal who they are and how they are going to conduct themselves in the story. We empathise with the character or any character who may seem bad, violent or anti-social because we understand the reason behind his actions. We understand why he’s doing it, but because he makes the same choices through the story he is irredeemable as a character – he doesn’t learn so he dies.

Hillary Swank admires him, then she finds out he is guilty and does nothing about it she makes the wrong choice– she feels the gun on the back of his trousers. At the end he helps vindicate her by saying don’t throw the gun away. So she finds salvation so it is a positive story for her, but a tragic story for him.

***(Once again thanks to Gary Sutton, whose fascinating lecture formed the basis for the last 3 posts)***

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