Archive for June, 2012
In a word – yes, if you want to write a good hero story. Fear is a response to danger. It is a call to action. The action you take could be heroic or cowardly. That is where your light or dark side shows up. But fear is an instinctual response to danger and thank goodness! To be machine-like and not be able to respond with all the nuance of a human would be the end of us.
Fear tells us to push away from something that could harm us – it is the instinct to avoid pain, be it physical or psychological. The positive response to fear is to get tough, prepare, build your resources, fortify, strategize, collect metrics – reshape the world to produce a better outcome. This is the foundation of many hero movies. The dark response to fear is to deny, blame others, avoid, self-protect. Enter the coward. Put both in your screenplay and watch how the emotion builds. My favourite coward is Cypher from The Matrix.
Fear is the driving force in self-discipline which heroes need to develop in spades. They look at impending doom and decide to do whatever unpleasant task is required to change that outcome into something desirable. Heroes exercise that just-do-it anyway muscle, and it is a muscle. With practice s/he gets really good at it.
Delayed gratification is another crucial part of the fear-driven world. Some thing are only earned after doing the hard work. There is a famous marshmallow experiment where kids were told they could have a marshmallow now or two if they waited until a later time. Some kids couldn’t wait. (Incidentally they were not as successful in life). Putting in effort for something you want later is grounded in an ability to plan for the future. Placing yourself on a time line with a view of the past and the future is part of the fear driven world. When you can use the past and picture the future that you want, you can endure lessor pain now for a greater gain later.
The key when using the fear factor is to make sure everyone is really clear on the real consequences of failure and the rewards of success. The rewards have to outweigh the effort required.
In the face of fear we are also called to be self-sacrificing. Bravery in the service of others develops your self-esteem. The more agency we feel to push back the boundaries of our mortality, the more heroic we are.
These are the elements you want to put in a Hero story.
As my daughter would say, ‘Snow White and the Huntsman was an epic fail’. The only part of the fairy tale genre it nailed was the visual imagery. There are fascinating little creatures in the dark forest and compelling images like the girl on the horse fleeing through the woods, or the raging evil of the queen becoming a flutter of black birds. These images give the movie an enchanted and fairytale feeling.
Red Riding Hood (Amanda Seyfried) was the same with the spikey trees and fur blankets. Great images but they had no idea what the point of the story was so they made the Virgin heroic, in a confusing and half-hearted way. This is a great example of how you can’t tell a Virgin story in the same way that you tell a hero story. They have different drives and outcomes. It is a different very journey.
The point of a Virgin story is to look inside yourself and find your gift. She starts out in a world that diminishes her value for being herself. She has to overcome the external message and connect to her own understanding of her worth. This is an interesting story. Aren’t we all trying to do this?
In Snow White and the Huntsman, Kristin knows her gift in the very beginning. The story was over and we had to stay for another two predictable hours. She is beautiful because of her pure heart. Animals instinctively know this and connect to her. She meets the Huntsman and declares herself to be valuable. Based on what? She meets up with William and says ‘no problem abandoning me and giving me up for dead. There wasn’t much you could do.’ He’s a ninja archer!! He never bothered to check out what happened to her?! There must have been rumors from guards or other prisoners.
It would have been so much more interesting if the circumstances of Snow White’s life had impacted her and she was miserable in her victimhood. Snow White lost her mother, her ‘friend’ murdered her father and put her in a tower where she was deprived of love or beauty. William and his father abandoned her. All those years in prison seemed to have no impact on her. She was just a bit dirty. Why did this have no effect on her feeling of self-worth? Did anyone ever think about her? I`d be wondering.
From a screenwriting point of view, Snow White needs to start with a barrage of words and images that are detrimental to her understanding of her worth. She is eating the poisonous words and actions of others long before she eats the apple. Writers of modern tellings of Snow White like Precious and Black Swan understood this aspect of the story. This is where we, the audience, get hooked on the story.
Also, what was the take home message of the story? Snow White lost sight of her authentic nature and became a killer. Really?! Her gift is the power of love. She calms the raging troll and connects with the great white stag when she is radiating her natural love for others. It is like when Dian Fossey went to live near the gorillas without any guns, only an open and curious heart. We all know the powerful impact that had on gorillas and us. I`m not saying the heroes should not have risen to her defense. They should have! But Snow White needed to kill the Queen with kindness – a nice twist ending would have been for Snow White to give the Queen a kiss of unconditional love. God knows she needed genuine love to melt her icy heart and release her pain. Then she could have gracefully yet rapidly aged and died before our eyes.
I have nothing but praise for the Evil Queen. Charlize was compelling, creepy, topical, and had backstory. She gave an insightful representation of the Hag archetype. I just felt bad that she wasn`t getting more help from the story structure.