I have recently started writing a series for publication that analyses well known films in terms of structure and monomyth (Joseph Campbell). As always with these projects, I surfed around the web to see what else has been written – partly for inspiration but mostly because there is no point in re-inventing the wheel.
What has struck me most in this research is that writers, even professionals, have difficulty in identifying the Hero or protagonist. Many people identify the central character as the hero and these two are not necessarily the same. Similarly, there is also often confusion between inciting incident and call to action; while these two are often the same points, in a significant number of films, they are not. These two confusions are often linked.
The first time I realised this was when researching “V for Vendetta” the fabulous adaptation of an Alan Moore graphic novel. Ninety percent of writers on the film identify V as the hero, while he is anything but. I’ll explain.
In order to identify the hero, we must refer to both Syd Fields’ Three-Act-Structure and Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Having looked at these, a number of questions arise, some are listed here:
- What is the Inciting Incident and who does it affect most?
- Who receives the call to adventure?
- Who is initially reluctant to become involved.
- What is the act one plot point that drags the hero into the story?
- Who crosses into the world of adventure?
- What is the midpoint crisis and who does it affect?
- Who takes the final action at the climax of the film?
Note that the inciting incident and call to adventure, while they may be the same incident, are very often separate. The most notable to me is Star Wars, which causes vast debates on the internet. The inciting incident is Leia’s capture, despite the contradictory commentaries; without this event, there would be no story, the droids would never find Luke and the adventure would not begin. However, Luke’s purchase of the droids and his discovery of the message from Leia is the Call to Adventure.
Asking the above questions in reference to V For Vendetta reveals that Evey is clearly the hero of the film. V is sometimes a mentor, sometimes a tormentor, always a shape shifter and shadow figure but not the hero. The Fingermen’s intended Rape of Evey and her rescue is the inciting incident. At the end of act one, she pepper sprays Dominic and is knocked unconscious – this drags her into the adventure. the mid point crisis centres on Evey’s imprisonment. It is Evey who commits the final act that ends the story.
Similarly with The Usual Suspects. Ask those questions and you will see that, despite what ninety-five percent of the commentators tell you, Verbal is not the protagonist. You can work the rest out for yourselves.
Watch out for my in depth analyses of these two films to be published shortly.
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