Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I Don't Care

Kimble: I didn’t kill my wife.

Gerard: I don't care.

One simple line, delivered with pinpoint precision, by Tommy Lee Jones to Harrison Ford's character in The Fugitive. As a writer, I have been trained to make my protagonist, my hero, if not down right lovable, at least redeemable in some “kiss-the-baby-save-the-cat-confess-undying-love-to-the-girl-with-major-self-esteem-issues” way. In a nutshell, we must care about our hero. But there, Tommy Lee stands defiantly as our hero desperately pleads not to have to do a nosedive into the frigid, icy, hypothermia-inducing waters. And, to paraphrase Rhett Butler: Frankly, he doesn't give a shit.

But we must love the hero, right? I'm not so sure. Okay, then, at least they should be redeemable, right? Well... Not always. Okay, okay, then, they at least have to kiss a baby or a monkey or drive their mother to her yearly mammogram appointments, right? Maybe that last one, but...

What about Michael Corleone? Do you like him? I mean, come on, really? Would you want him as a friend? He killed his own brother and you don't think he'd hesitate to cap a bullet in your ass if he even suspected you betrayed the family? Ah, there it is; he loves his family - he's a family man. Nope, not really; ask Kay how much of a family man he is.

Then why do we like Michael? Because he's perfect - pure perfection. He's human, and it's his flaws that we are drawn to, not the things that make him likable. Sure, he stays to protect his father from some really bad men who are coming there to kill him - kissing his half-comatose father on the head, "I'm with you now. I'm with you." Come on, people, that's not heroic. His dad is not some innocent and virtuous man - he's a mob boss. But, yet, Michael becomes our hero, our tragic hero, and not because of his good deeds, but because of the bad decisions that rapidly cause his life to spiral out of control.

Michael is a subliminal reminder to us what will happen when we stray from the course, when we refuse to be guided by the principals we once held dear. He is not speaking to the goodness in us, or the love in our hearts, or even to the playful side. Michael Corleone is a personification of selling out. It is Michael who has betrayed the family, just as Hamlet ends up betraying his own.

Sure, there are movies where lovable characters rule the day, but maybe, just maybe, you're not writing that one. Maybe your character has no real redeemable character traits other than being human and tragically flawed. If you stay true to your character, your audience will stay true to him, wanting to know how it all plays out in the end. Am I saying that you must write this horrific, ice-cold, savage hero? Good luck with that. No, no one is all good or all bad. We're humans, flawed to a perfection, and in the movie world, as in life, those are the characters that stay with us long after the cameras stop rolling.

1 comment:

xtinehlee said...

Love this post. Yes, it's about complex protagonists.