In Defense of Character (excerpt)
Posted by Jennine Lanouette on Wednesday, January 16th, 2013
Misconception #3: Character Growth As Hollywood Melodrama “Character transformation is a vestige of the old American redemptive melodrama in which the character must experience a massive change or revelation. But this is Hollywood fantasy because in real life people don’t change.”
Directors and screenwriters who want to challenge the conventional narrative form often share this misconception. In truth, character transformation is simply one way of ensuring that something happens in the course of the story.
The mistake people make is to think that this transformation must be an 180 degree about face. In truth a fully individualized character need not progress 180 degrees in order to transform. They can end up only two degrees further along, but if the shift is significant, the audience will still have the feeling of having arrived at B.
Woody Allen’s 1975 classic Annie Hall opens with Alvie Singer telling us he can’t figure out what went wrong in his relationship with Annie. The film launches into his childhood, his past marriages, and how he and Annie met, fell in love, and moved in together. Tensions take hold and they break up. Then they get back together, and then break up again. When Alvie tries one more time to get her back, she refuses. Years later, he runs into her and they have lunch. As they part on a street corner, he tells us that he now realizes what a great person she is and how much fun it was just to have known her. If the film had concluded with Alvie being refused once and for all by Annie, it would hardly be a satisfying answer to his initial need for understanding. In fact, without the epilogue, the film is merely the chronicle of a doomed relationship. However, when he lets us know that he has come to accept Annie for who she is and feels fortunate simply to have known her, we see that he has traveled a psychological distance from his ruminations at the beginning on what went wrong.
In terms of growth, Alvie’s character did not flip 180 degrees. He is not, for example, happy and committed in a well-functioning relationship. Instead, we see a small internal step. Whereas before he was trying to get Annie to change and resented her for leaving him, now he appreciates the gifts she brought into his life. With this tiny insight, he has let go of his angst and some hope exists, although with no guarantees, that he will appreciate his next partner simply for who she is.
[Excerpted from In Defense of Character: Creating Surpassing Drama with Character Transformation Stories. For the full article, go here.]