Terminator Salvation vs Star Trek – What Is Fair?

Terminator_Salvation_John_Connor-etbscreenwritingThe Importance of Worldview

I had an interesting question forwarded by a reader on FaceBook. I described John Connor (Christian Bale) in Terminator Salvation as a Power of Conscience character. Power of Conscience characters are most deeply concerned about rightness, fairness and the higher duty involved in anything they do. (See Conscience Blog Posts). The question was: Aren’t all characters to some degree “fair.”

The answer of course is, yes! But the key factor is: How does that particular Character Type define “fair.” That definition varies widely. Each Character Type views the concept of fairness very differently and acts accordingly. Let’s look at Terminator Salvation and Star Trek for examples.

Power of Conscience ETB Screenwriting

Power of Conscience

A Power of Conscience character (John Connor in Terminator Salvation) values doing good, the higher duty and moral correctness most highly. Fairness for this character is doing right by others. Fairness means taking the moral high ground in any decision.

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Power of Idealism ETB ScreenwritingPower of Idealism

A Power of Idealism character (Marcus Wright in Terminator Salvation and James T. Kirk in Star Trek) values individuality, personal excellence and authenticity most highly. Fairness for this character is persevering the unique rights of the individual. Fairness means allowing each person to decide his or her personal destiny according to one’s own uniqueness and standards of excellence (even if the individual choice rebels against the rules, norms or morals of society).

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Power_of_Reason ETB ScreenwritingPower of Reason

A Power of Reason character (Spock in Star Trek) values objectivity, expertise and rationality most highly. Fairness for this character is deciding purely according to the facts and not being swayed by emotion. Fairness means looking at a situation objectively and proceeding logically (even if that decision is personally or socially painful).

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Power_of_Will ETB ScreenwritingPower of Will

A Power of Will character (Nero in Star Trek) values strength, power and territory most highly. Fairness for this character is what preserves the strong, culls the weak and decisively leads the pack. Fairness is the law of the jungle and survival of the fittest. Fairness means the biggest most powerful dog wins. (“Win or die there is no compromise”).

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Fairness Depends on Point of View

These are four very different ways of looking at and defining “fairness.” Each of these characters would make a very different determination about what is fair and would take very different actions given exactly the same set of circumstances.

It is very tempting, individually, to believe that everyone views “fairness” exactly as “I” do. In fact, different Character Types view philosophical concepts like fairness, love and social or personal responsibility very differently. They each have very distinct ideas about how the world works and very specific ideas about what is owed to the self and to others. It is this distinctiveness which will clarify, sharpen and set your characters apart from general stereotypes when you are clear about your character’s type.

Terminator Salvation – Idealism vs. Conscience

terminator-salvation-etbscreenwritingTerminator Salvation is a solid satisfying summer hit. It’s also a great illustration of the difference between a Power of Idealism character, Marcus Wright (played by Sam Worthington) and a Power of Conscience character, John Connor (played by Christian Bale). Although both men (and both Character Types) are honorable, how each views honor is different. Each man’s emotional journey therefore is distinct.

We first meet a morose Marcus Wright on death row. Dr Serena Kogan (played by Helena Bonham Carter), a researcher who is dying of cancer, makes a passionate appeal to him to be part of a larger project or greater vision. Marcus agrees to “sell” his body to science for a kiss. He kisses Dr. Kogan deeply and says, “So that’s what death tastes like.” This doomed romantic moment is exactly what appeals to and defines a Power of Idealism character.

When Marcus awakes decades later, he finds himself in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by a vicious, relentless, red-eyed mechanical army churning through the remains of human-kind. Marcus begins a long tortuous journey to discover who and what he is and how he fits into this horrifying new world.

Power of Idealism ETB ScreenwritingPower of Idealism characters are most deeply concerned about authenticity, personal identity and the individual vs. society. These characters strive to find their place in the world— Who am I and where do I fit in?— while being acknowledged as unique, special and one-of-a-kind.

When Marcus discovers his extraordinary but horrific nature, he rebels. Dr. Kogan tells him he was designed for a unique purpose and that there is only one of him. He is indeed one-of-a-kind. Marcus refuses to be defined by his circumstance or situation. He will not submit to a larger crushing authority or an inescapable technological imperative. He will define himself.

In true Power of Idealism fashion, Marcus defines himself and becomes the stuff of legend through sacrifice. What makes him human is his heart— both metaphorically and literally. He sacrifices his heart so that the Resistance might live. It reminded me of one of the Psalms: “I am poured out like water, And all my bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It is melted within me.” Marcus Wright’s heart melts and he pours his life into John Connor and the hope of the Resistance.

We meet John Connor as the voice and moral authority of those fighting against the machines. At the climax of the movie, the larger Resistance leadership argues to strike a death blow against Skynet when Skynet’s defenses are down. John refuses to do so because such an attack would result in the deaths of masses of human prisoners trapped inside Skynet’s fortress city. John argues that if the Resistance fights with the same cold calculation as the machines– they are no better than machines.

Power of Conscience ETB ScreenwritingPower of Conscience characters are most deeply concerned about rightness, fairness and the higher duty involved in anything they do. Although he wants desperately to end the war, John is not willing to do so at the expense of what he believes is mankind’s higher value of respecting human life. No one is expendable. All human life is precious. He tells those under his command to stand down. They respect John’s moral vision and choose to obey.

Power of Conscience characters believe they are their brother’s keeper. They feel responsible for the greater good and for doing good. These characters wrestle with how far they should go in seeking justice and fairness for others or in standing up against evil. They worry about and struggle with what is the higher duty and what exactly is required of them in response.

Star Trek 2009 – Spot On Character Types

James-Kirk-etbscreenwritingThe big summer hit, Star Trek, (directed by J.J. Abrams and written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman) is a great opportunity to see the Character Types in action. Character Type consistency is a crucial reason why the film has played so well with new audiences and long-time fans of the venerable franchise.

Yes, the slick production values and special effects wizardry are important to the film’s success, but the new envisioning of the story ultimately succeeds because the characters are so true to the original. The creative team took the established Character Type of each well-loved individual and then wrote a younger version of the type.  For example:

James T. Kirk is a quintessential Power of Idealism character. This Character Type is the angry rebellious young man or the passionate idiosyncratic young woman in a Coming of Age Story. Star Trek is fundamentally a Coming of Age story. Although it features a strong ensemble cast, it is primarily the story of how Kirk becomes Captain of the Enterprise and assembles his famous crew.

Power of Idealism Coming of Age stories are about the struggle to grow up, distinguish one’s self as an extraordinary individual and find a place in a world where, at the beginning, the young person just doesn’t seem to fit.

We first meet young Kirk in an act of rebellion. He is a pre-teen speed demon racing down an Iowa road. Kirk grows up to be an intelligent, rebellious and somewhat cynical, young man. He is out of place in the flat Iowa landscape and hangs out at a bar near the Starfleet Academy.

When Kirk takes on a group of young Starfleet Cadets in a bar fight over a girl (Uhura), Captain Christopher Pike recognizes him as the son of an old friend. He challenges Kirk to do something “special and extraordinary” with his life. Kirk, as a Power of Idealism character, cannot help but rise to challenge of a higher calling.

Kirk is determined to distinguish himself in the Academy by beating a test Spock devises. After Captain Pike tells Kirk he could be a Captain in 4 years, Kirk responds to in typical Power of Idealism fashion:

Kirk: I’ll do it in three.

In fact, he earns his Captain’s Chair in the space of a single mission. He cements his place as a legend in the Federation and begins his extraordinary mission to “go where no one has gone before.”

The Power of Idealism eBook describes in-depth how these Character Types are defined in their youth and the book specifically describes and quotes at length how James T. Kirk is defined as an adult in the television series.

Young Spock is a spot on Power of Reason character. These characters play the role of the expert, the technician, the problem-solver, the diagnostician or the analyst in a story. They dominate a story situation by force of their special expertise, independent thinking, superior knowledge, keen analysis and cool self-sufficient self-containment. They are inherently socially awkward, aloof, shy or superior. They dislike or disdain what they would term excessive emotion.

The following exchange with Bones demonstrates Spock’s character:

Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy: Are you out of your Vulcan mind? Are you making a logical choice, sending Kirk away? Probably. But, the right one? You know, back home we have a saying: “If you wanna ride in the Kentucky Derby, you don’t leave your prized stallion in the stable.”

Spock: A curious metaphor, doctor, as a stallion must first be broken before it can reach its potential.

Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy: My God, man, you could at least ‘act’ like it was a hard decision…

Spock: I intend to assist in the effort to reestablish communication with Starfleet. However, if crew morale is better served by my roaming the halls weeping, I will gladly defer to your medical expertise. Excuse me.

Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy: (as Spock leaves) Green-blooded hobgoblin.

The Power of Reason eBook describes in-depth how these Character Types are defined in their youth and the book specifically describes and quotes Spock as an adult in the television series.

Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy is a Power of Truth character. These characters believe danger and disaster potentially lurk everywhere. They wary and skeptical. They are often the voice of potential doom and gloom. This exchange with Kirk demonstrates Bones’ character and his view of the world.

Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy: One tiny crack in the hull and our blood boils in thirteen seconds. Solar flare might crop up, cook us in our seats. And wait till you’re sitting pretty with a case of Andorian shingles, see if you’re so relaxed when your eyeballs are bleeding. Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.

Kirk: Well, I hate to break this to you, but Starfleet operates in space.

Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy: Yeah. Well, I got nowhere else to go, the ex-wife took the whole damn planet in the divorce. All I got left is my bones.

The Power of Truth eBook describes in-depth how these Character Types are defined in their youth and as an adult.

The clarity and consistency of the characters are what make this summer’s Star Trek such an enjoyable voyage. A final thought– “Nature magically suits a man to his fortunes, by making them the fruit of his character.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Reader – Power of Idealism

Memory, loss and disillusionment are all part of a Power of Idealism Coming of Age Story. The Academy Award nominated film The Reader taps into the powerful resonance of this kind of story.
In the film, Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet) shows kindness to a much younger Michael Berg (David Kross). The two begin a passionate affair. Michael delights her by reading aloud and discussing the books assigned in his literature classes. One day, Hanna abruptly leaves– without a note or a goodbye. She simply vanishes from his life.  Michael is devastated.  Years later, when he is in law school observing a war crimes trial, Micheal finds her again. Hanna is a defendant. She is accused of being a Nazi guard who locked hundreds of Jews in a burning church.
Michael is horrified that the woman he loved could be involved in such brutal war crimes. He is also stunned to realize that she is illiterate. Hanna is accused of signing the order and writing the report on the Jews who died in the fire. She would rather be convicted (unjustly) than admit she doesn’t know how to read or write. Just as years earlier, she would rather disappear than turn down a job promotion at the tram company because of her illiteracy. Michael doesn’t tell the court the truth. Hanna is convicted and is sentenced to twenty years in prison.
Trying to come to terms with his feelings for Hanna, Michael begins taping his readings of books and sending them to her.  She teaches herself to read and write by following along with the tapes.  Michael refuses to see her or write to her, although she painstakingly writes to him.  He does find her a flat when she is scheduled to be released but she commits suicide rather than be set free.  On her own she had been reading accounts of Holocaust survivors and their stories.
Years later, Michael (Ralph Fiennes) still hasn’t recovered emotionally from the relationship. All these years he kept the shameful secret of his relationship with Hanna to himself.  It poisoned all his other relationships.  In classic Power of Idealism fashion, the memory of the past continues to exert tremendous power in the present. Youthful innocence is replaced by profound disillusionment about someone who was an icon of his youth. Only by revealing his secret relationship and resolving his loss is the Michael able to move on with his life.
In carrying out Hanna’s last request– that her money be given to the families of those who were killed in the fire– Michael also reconnects with his own daughter.  He tells her the story of his relationship with Hanna. The awful sorrow that defined his life seems to lift.  He is able to remember Hanna’s kindness to him lets go of the rest.  He finally visits her grave and lays flowers there with his daughter.  By conforming to this pattern of loss and understanding, The Reader speaks to the pain of Coming of Age in a universal way.  It reminds us that forgiveness is necessary to a full whole and complete adulthood.

The-Reader-etbscreenwritingMemory, loss and disillusionment are all part of a Power of Idealism Coming of Age Story. The Academy Award nominated film The Reader taps into the powerful resonance of this kind of story.

In the film, Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet) shows kindness to a much younger Michael Berg (David Kross). The two begin a passionate affair. Michael delights her by reading aloud and discussing the books assigned in his literature classes. One day, Hanna abruptly leaves– without a note or a goodbye. She simply vanishes from his life.  Michael is devastated.  Years later, when he is in law school observing a war crimes trial, Micheal finds her again. Hanna is a defendant. She is accused of being a Nazi guard who locked hundreds of Jews in a burning church.

Michael is horrified that the woman he loved could be involved in such brutal war crimes. He is also stunned to realize that she is illiterate. Hanna is accused of signing the order and writing the report on the Jews who died in the fire. She would rather be convicted (unjustly) than admit she doesn’t know how to read or write. Just as years earlier, she would rather disappear than turn down a job promotion at the tram company because of her illiteracy. Michael doesn’t tell the court the truth. Hanna is convicted and is sentenced to twenty years in prison.

Trying to come to terms with his feelings for Hanna, Michael begins taping his readings of books and sending them to her.  She teaches herself to read and write by following along with the tapes.  Michael refuses to see her or write to her, although she painstakingly writes to him.  He does find her a flat when she is scheduled to be released but she commits suicide rather than be set free.  On her own she had been reading accounts of Holocaust survivors and their stories.

Years later, Michael (Ralph Fiennes) still hasn’t recovered emotionally from the relationship. All these years he kept the shameful secret of his relationship with Hanna to himself.  It poisoned all his other relationships.  In classic Power of Idealism fashion, the memory of the past continues to exert tremendous power in the present. Youthful innocence is replaced by profound disillusionment about someone who was an icon of his youth. Only by revealing his secret relationship and resolving his loss is the Michael able to move on with his life.

In carrying out Hanna’s last request– that her money be given to the families of those who were killed in the fire– Michael also reconnects with his own daughter.  He tells her the story of his relationship with Hanna. The awful sorrow that defined his life seems to lift.  He is able to remember Hanna’s kindness to him lets go of the rest.  He finally visits her grave and lays flowers there with his daughter.  By conforming to this pattern of loss and understanding, The Reader speaks to the pain of Coming of Age in a universal way.  It reminds us that forgiveness is necessary to a full, whole and complete adulthood.

Note: Not all films about young people are Power of Idealism Coming of Age Stories. Another universal pattern deals with the Life Lessons of the Power of Ambition character. In these films, a young person, usually someone new to the group, has the opportunity to join the “cool kids.” To do so he or she must conform to the external standards and superficial behavior that ensures success and popularity. Another group of less popular or “loser” kids offers real relationships, based on authenticity and genuine connection. The protagonist must choose. An iconic film about young people that follows this pattern is Mean Girls.

Revolutionary Road – Power of Idealism

revolutionary-road-movie-poster-etbscreenwritingThe film Revolutionary Road tells the story of Frank and April Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet), two Power of Idealism characters who feel trapped in the bonds of a mundane suburban lifestyle. It is a devastating shock to discover they are more like their neighbors than not.

Power of Idealism characters fear living and loving without the passion and intensity of a Grand Destiny. They want their lives to matter and their love to mean something important in the greater scheme of things.

These characters fear not attaining their true pinnacle of excellence, courage or nobility. They worry about not fulfilling their highest potential. These characters fear a lack of deep and true meaning in their lives and love. Consumed by such fears of mediocrity, meaninglessness or mundane-ordinariness, Frank and April become bitter and deeply disillusioned.

Although Frank and April have no special talents, they are convinced they are destined for something extraordinary. When a trip to France doesn’t pan out, because April becomes pregnant and Frank is offered a lucrative new job, their marriage and their lives fall apart. April kills herself in despair, by inducing an abortion at home.

The yearning and the longing “for something more extraordinary” creates a white hot intensity of feeling. In contrast, long-term relationships and the comfortable companionship that committed loving couples (and families) share seems suffocatingly pedestrian to these characters. The sheer ordinariness of day-to-day love is a staggering disappointment to Frank and April.

Power of Idealism ETB ScreenwritingIn order to find salvation, Power of Idealism characters must turn away from the Dark Side of narcissism and the yearning to be “special.” They must learn to find the magic and passion in the small details of life with family, friends and the ordinary miracle of being alive.

Power of Idealism characters often are unprepared to make the ordinary, small, everyday sacrifices real long-term love requires, especially when there are children involved. These characters would rather fantasize about a perfect or “unattainable” love than try to make a less than perfect love work. Their tragedy is failing to accept the limitations of being human. That is the tragedy of Revolutionary Road.

The Wrestler – Power of Idealism

Wrestler-etbscreenwritingThe Wrestler opens with a montage of clippings, photos and playbills extolling the career of 1980’s professional wrestling star Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke).

Twenty-years later, Randy’s glory days are long-gone. He is reduced to a battered battle-scarred hulk self-medicating his psychic and physical pain with a cocktail of drugs, steroids and booze.

Randy is a Power of Idealism Character fallen to the Dark Side.

At their worst, Power of Idealism Characters suffer from delusions of grandeur and, alternately, deep despair. They are self-destructive, self-loathing and self-harming. Randy is locked in a self-annihilating dance with the ghost of his former fame. He is consumed by the fantasy, loss and drama of his stage persona. Randy only feels “alive” in the elaborately choreographed hero’s role he plays in the ring.

Ty Burr, writing in The Boston Globe, contrasts the two main characters in the film: “Pam (Marisa Tomei), (is) an aging stripper whose stage name is Cassidy and who understands far better than The Ram the tensions between selling a persona and living in reality. Both use their bodies for the fantasies of others, but only Pam sees that when the body fails, the fantasy goes with it.”

Pam/Cassidy also realizes her real world and real life is with her son. The fantasy of her stage persona is just a way to make a living– Nothing more. Her true self-identification is as a mother.

Randy can’t embrace the simple reality of ordinary family life. He continually abandoned his daughter for the brief hero-worship of strangers. He breaks her heart yet again by not showing up after a fragile reconciliation. Instead, he chooses to party with a young woman who sees a liaison with him as a novelty retro sex act. Randy also rejects Pam/Cassidy’s real offer of love for the cheering strangers in yet another grimy run-down converted gym/wrestling arena. As he makes his trademarked leap from the top of the ropes, his heart literally gives out.

Burr comments: “(P)ro wrestling has always been a cartoon, and that’s the appeal to performers and fans alike: It resolves life’s complexities with a turnbuckle to the skull. The Wrestler is about the seductions of superficiality and the dull ache of living beyond one’s moment.”

Power of Idealism ETB ScreenwritingIn order to find salvation, Power of Idealism characters must learn to find the magic and passion in the small details of life with family, friends and the mundane, ordinary moments of living. Randy’s tragedy is he finds magic only in the empty choreographed illusions of the ring. He compulsively plays the spray-tanned bleached blond hero to dwindling numbers of cheering strangers.

Slumdog Millionaire – Power of Idealism

Slumdog Millionaire is set in truly horrific circumstances, involving extreme poverty and the foulest kind of child exploitation.  I also discovered it is a Power of Idealism film about the triumph of love and the human spirit.  It is must-see viewing this holiday season.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Power of Idealism films are about the difference between fate and destiny. Chance, God or the Universe determines fate.  It is written.  You can’t change your fate.  It is outside your control. Your destiny is an opportunity that lies before you.  You recognize this chance and choose either to walk away or hurry toward it.  This choice defines who you are.  Seizing your destiny determines how and for what you are remembered.
Dr. Howard Suber, film structure professor to generations of UCLA students, teaches and writes eloquently about the distinction in his wonderful book, The Power of Film.  In brief, Dr. Suber says:  “You seek your destiny; you succumb to your fate.”
In addition to Slumdog Millionaire, two other very diverse Power of Idealism films demonstrate the same principles and choices—Lawrence of Arabia and Ratatouille.
The hero’s circumstances in all three films are determined by his birth.  Fate would have it that these circumstances are impossible to escape.  It is a condition that cannot be changed.  It is completely outside the hero’s control.
In Lawrence of Arabia, young Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) is born an unrecognized illegitimate son of a wealthy man.  Lawrence is eccentric and a social misfit.  In the class-driven British system such an outcast should never rise to orchestrate and lead one of the greatest military campaigns in history.
Young Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) in Ratatouille is born a rat. Chefs consider rats filthy vermin. Remy is also an outcast and should never rise to become a famous chef.
Young Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) in Slumdog Millionaire is born in overwhelmingly dire poverty in Mumbai, India.  He is considered no better than human vermin. Jamal, too, is a social outcast and should never hope to rise above and triumph over his circumstances.
Each of these Power of Idealism heroes has an over-riding passion, a great love that calls him to seize his destiny and attempt the impossible.  Lawrence’s great love is the desert and freedom of the Arab people.  Remy’s great love is gourmet cooking.  Jamal’s great love is the beautiful young Latika (Freida Pinto).
A key scene in Lawrence of Arabia illustrates the difference between fate and destiny.  Lawrence attempts the impossible, to cross the worst desert on earth, “The Sun’s Anvil,” with a handful of Arab fighters.  He aims to launch a surprise attack on the city of Aqaba.  Near the end of the arduous journey Lawrence notices one young fighter (Gasim) is missing.  Gasim’s camel trots along riderless. Lawrence demands they go back into the desert to find him.  Sheik Ali (Omar Sharif) refuses.
Sheik Ali: “In God’s name understand, we cannot go back.”
Lawrence: “I can.”
Sheik Ali: “If you go back, you’ll kill us all. Gasim you have killed already.”
Lawrence: “Get out of my way.”
Another Arab Fighter: “Gasim’s time is come, Lawrence. It is written!”
Lawrence: “Nothing is written.”
Sheik Ali (riding along with and haranguing Lawrence): “Go back, then. What did you bring us here for with your blasphemous conceit? Eh, English blasphemer? Aqaba? You will not be at Aqaba, English. Go back, blasphemer! But you will not be at Aqaba!”
Lawrence (riding ahead he turns back toward Sheik Ali): “I shall be at Aqaba. That is written… (He points at his heart)… in here!”
Lawrence then courageously retraces his steps and finds the half-dead Gasim.  He returns with the young man strapped to his saddle. Lawrence defiantly repeats to Sheik Ali: “Nothing is written.”
Later in the film, Sheik Ali acknowledges Lawrence’s remarkable courage and fortitude, first witnessed in Gasim’s rescue. Sheik Ali says: “Truly for some men, nothing is written unless they write it.”
Nothing is written for Lawrence, Remy or Jamal unless each writes it in his own heart.  For each of these  three characters, seizing his destiny is an extraordinary act of faith powered by an overwhelming passion for one great transcendent love.
The lesson of being an extraordinary Power of Idealism hero is voiced in Ratatouille by Restaurant Critic Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O’Toole).  He writes about the talented rat and chef, Remy saying: “…Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: ‘Anyone can cook.’ But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France.”
Here is how Jamal follows his passion for his great love in Slumdog Millionaire.  At the beginning of the film, Jamal is interrogated by the police. He is a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Jamal makes it to the final round of the quiz show and is in reach of the grand prize.  Before the final round is played, Jamal is kidnapped, arrested and accused of cheating.  Even under torture, he insists that he did not cheat.
The police chief is willing to give Jamal the benefit of the doubt if Jamal can explain how he answered the show’s questions. Jamal tells the story of his life, turning his suffering and pain into an inspiring tale of enduring love.  The film flashes between the questions on the quiz show and Jamal’s childhood.
He recounts how he and his older brother, Salim (Madhur Mittal) grew up in the chaotic squalor of a Mumbai slum.  They are orphaned when their mother is killed during an anti-Muslim riot and subsequent widespread arson. The boys escape the burning slum together.  Despite Salim’s objections, Jamal invites the orphaned Latika to join them.  It is love at first sight.
The three children scavenge in one of Mumbai’s largest dumps until they are taken to an orphanage.  The orphanage is a front for a begging operation that uses horrific tactics to make the children more pitiful.  Jamal is taught to sing.  Salim (a young Power of Will character) is recruited to bully and capture other children.
Salim is not afraid to use violence to help him and his brother survive.  He protects Jamal and stages their escape. When the boys jump on a freight train, Salim lets go of Latika’s hand and she is left behind with the gangsters.  Salim is jealous of Jamal’s love for Latika.
The brothers spend years scamming and stealing from tourists.  Jamal refuses to forget Latika.  He obsessively searches for her.  Jamal finally finds her only to lose her again.  His brother rapes Latika and vanishes with the young girl.  Jamal eventually finds work delivering tea in a call center.  Searching the computer company’s mobile phone records he locates his missing brother.  When he finds and follows Salim he also finds Latika.
Salim and Latika live in the thrall of a powerful Mumbai crime lord.  Latika is one of the man’s concubines. Salim is one of his thuggish enforcers.  Jamal convinces Latika to escape and meet him at the train station.  Salim follows, recaptures and brutalizes her.
To escape his other larger problems, the crime lord is forced to leave Mumbai.  He takes Salim and Latika with him. Jamal attempts to find and reach out to Latika by becoming a contestant on her favorite quiz show, the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
Jamal’s fate is that of a slumdog.  He is poor, uneducated and one of millions just like him.  Fate should dictate that he live and die in the slum, unheralded and unsung.  He should accept his fate as a piece of human garbage, disposable and easily forgotten.
Instead, Jamal turns the pain, humiliation and hopelessness of his life into the answers that complete an epic quest for the love of his life.  Jamal refuses to surrender to his fate or to the gangsters who control the slums.  He chooses instead to seize his destiny and pursue the impossible. The police chief’s reaction is much like Anton Ego’s in Ratatouille.  His preconceptions about Jamal are shattered.  He rips up Jamal’s arrest warrant and returns him to the quiz show to play the prize-winning final round.
Jamal’s destiny is Latika.  However unattainable their love is, Jamal chooses to race toward his passion.  His choice defines who he is.  Seizing his destiny ensures Jamal will live forever as a legend in slums.  He never gives up.  He never gives in.  His unending quest finally inspires the love of his brother, who makes the ultimate sacrifice in recognition of the unquenchable intensity and purity of Jamal’s love.
Jamal and Latika find each other at the train station at the end of the film.  The two have a tearful and passionate reunion.
Latika:  “I thought we would meet again only in death.”
Jamal (shaking his head):  “I knew you would be watching.” (Jamal turns her head to gently touch the scar disfiguring the side of her face, which is Salim’s punishment for her previous escape. She tries to turn away.)
Jamal:  “This is our destiny.” (He kisses her scar tenderly)  “This is our destiny.”  (He kisses and holds her tight)
I am happy to close out 2008 with a newsletter about such an inspiring film. Pearl S. Buck, the Pulitzer-winning American author of The Good Earth and the first American woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature famously wrote:  “The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible—and achieve it, generation after generation.”
I challenge you all to be young at heart in 2009, seize your destiny and aim for the impossible.  As President-elect Barack Obama proved—Nothing is written unless we write it in our hearts.  This year, resolve to write your best self.  Defy the odds.  Fly in the face of your fears.  Make a Leap of Faith.  I will be there with you, every step of the way.

Slumdog-Millionaire-etbscreenwritingSlumdog Millionaire is set in truly horrific circumstances, involving extreme poverty and the foulest kind of child exploitation.  I also discovered it is a Power of Idealism film about the triumph of love and the human spirit.  It is must-see viewing this 2008 holiday season.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Power of Idealism films are about the difference between fate and destiny. Chance, God or the Universe determines fate.  It is written.  You can’t change your fate.  It is outside your control. Your destiny is an opportunity that lies before you.  You recognize this chance and choose either to walk away or hurry toward it.  This choice defines who you are.  Seizing your destiny determines how and for what you are remembered.

Dr. Howard Suber, film structure professor to generations of UCLA students, teaches and writes eloquently about the distinction in his wonderful book, The Power of Film.  In brief, Dr. Suber says:  “You seek your destiny; you succumb to your fate.”

In addition to Slumdog Millionaire, two other very diverse Power of Idealism films demonstrate the same principles and choices—Lawrence of Arabia and Ratatouille.

The hero’s circumstances in all three films are determined by his birth.  Fate would have it that these circumstances are impossible to escape.  It is a condition that cannot be changed.  It is completely outside the hero’s control.

In Lawrence of Arabia, young Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) is born an unrecognized illegitimate son of a wealthy man.  Lawrence is eccentric and a social misfit.  In the class-driven British system such an outcast should never rise to orchestrate and lead one of the greatest military campaigns in history.

Young Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) in Ratatouille is born a rat. Chefs consider rats filthy vermin. Remy is also an outcast and should never rise to become a famous chef.

Young Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) in Slumdog Millionaire is born in overwhelmingly dire poverty in Mumbai, India.  He is considered no better than human vermin. Jamal, too, is a social outcast and should never hope to rise above and triumph over his circumstances.

Each of these Power of Idealism heroes has an over-riding passion, a great love that calls him to seize his destiny and attempt the impossible.  Lawrence’s great love is the desert and freedom of the Arab people. Remy’s great love is gourmet cooking.  Jamal’s great love is the beautiful young Latika (Freida Pinto).

peter-otoole-lawrence-of-arabia-etbscreenwritingA key scene in Lawrence of Arabia illustrates the difference between fate and destiny.  Lawrence attempts the impossible, to cross the worst desert on earth, “The Sun’s Anvil,” with a handful of Arab fighters.  He aims to launch a surprise attack on the city of Aqaba.  Near the end of the arduous journey Lawrence notices one young fighter (Gasim) is missing.  Gasim’s camel trots along riderless. Lawrence demands they go back into the desert to find him.  Sheik Ali (Omar Sharif) refuses.

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Sheik Ali: “In God’s name understand, we cannot go back.”

Lawrence: “I can.”

Sheik Ali: “If you go back, you’ll kill us all. Gasim you have killed already.”

Lawrence: “Get out of my way.”

Another Arab Fighter: “Gasim’s time is come, Lawrence. It is written!”

Lawrence: “Nothing is written.”

Sheik Ali (riding along with and haranguing Lawrence): “Go back, then. What did you bring us here for with your blasphemous conceit? Eh, English blasphemer? Aqaba? You will not be at Aqaba, English. Go back, blasphemer! But you will not be at Aqaba!”

Lawrence (riding ahead he turns back toward Sheik Ali): “I shall be at Aqaba. That is written… (He points at his heart)… in here!”

Lawrence then courageously retraces his steps and finds the half-dead Gasim.  He returns with the young man strapped to his saddle. Lawrence defiantly repeats to Sheik Ali: “Nothing is written.”

Later in the film, Sheik Ali acknowledges Lawrence’s remarkable courage and fortitude, first witnessed in Gasim’s rescue. Sheik Ali says: “Truly for some men, nothing is written unless they write it.”

Nothing is written for Lawrence, Remy or Jamal unless each writes it in his own heart.  For each of these  three characters, seizing his destiny is an extraordinary act of faith powered by an overwhelming passion for one great transcendent love.

ratatouille-etb-screenwritingThe lesson of being an extraordinary Power of Idealism hero is voiced in Ratatouille by Restaurant Critic Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O’Toole).  He writes about the talented rat and chef, Remy saying: “…Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: ‘Anyone can cook.’ But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France.”

Here is how Jamal follows his passion for his great love in Slumdog Millionaire.  At the beginning of the film, Jamal is interrogated by the police. He is a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Jamal makes it to the final round of the quiz show and is in reach of the grand prize.  Before the final round is played, Jamal is kidnapped, arrested and accused of cheating.  Even under torture, he insists that he did not cheat.

The police chief is willing to give Jamal the benefit of the doubt if Jamal can explain how he answered the show’s questions. Jamal tells the story of his life, turning his suffering and pain into an inspiring tale of enduring love.  The film flashes between the questions on the quiz show and Jamal’s childhood.

He recounts how he and his older brother, Salim (Madhur Mittal) grew up in the chaotic squalor of a Mumbai slum.  They are orphaned when their mother is killed during an anti-Muslim riot and subsequent widespread arson. The boys escape the burning slum together.  Despite Salim’s objections, Jamal invites the orphaned Latika to join them.  It is love at first sight.

The three children scavenge in one of Mumbai’s largest dumps until they are taken to an orphanage.  The orphanage is a front for a begging operation that uses horrific tactics to make the children more pitiful. Jamal is taught to sing.  Salim (a young Power of Will character) is recruited to bully and capture other children.

Salim is not afraid to use violence to help him and his brother survive.  He protects Jamal and stages their escape. When the boys jump on a freight train, Salim lets go of Latika’s hand and she is left behind with the gangsters.  Salim is jealous of Jamal’s love for Latika.

The brothers spend years scamming and stealing from tourists.  Jamal refuses to forget Latika.  He obsessively searches for her.  Jamal finally finds her only to lose her again.  His brother rapes Latika and vanishes with the young girl.  Jamal eventually finds work delivering tea in a call center.  Searching the computer company’s mobile phone records he locates his missing brother.  When he finds and follows Salim he also finds Latika.

Salim and Latika live in the thrall of a powerful Mumbai crime lord.  Latika is one of the man’s concubines. Salim is one of his thuggish enforcers.  Jamal convinces Latika to escape and meet him at the train station. Salim follows, recaptures and brutalizes her.

To escape his other larger problems, the crime lord is forced to leave Mumbai.  He takes Salim and Latika with him. Jamal attempts to find and reach out to Latika by becoming a contestant on her favorite quiz show, the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Jamal’s fate is that of a slumdog.  He is poor, uneducated and one of millions just like him.  Fate should dictate that he live and die in the slum, unheralded and unsung.  He should accept his fate as a piece of human garbage, disposable and easily forgotten.

Instead, Jamal turns the pain, humiliation and hopelessness of his life into the answers that complete an epic quest for the love of his life.  Jamal refuses to surrender to his fate or to the gangsters who control the slums.  He chooses instead to seize his destiny and pursue the impossible. The police chief’s reaction is much like Anton Ego’s in Ratatouille.  His preconceptions about Jamal are shattered.  He rips up Jamal’s arrest warrant and returns him to the quiz show to play the prize-winning final round.

Jamal’s destiny is Latika.  However unattainable their love is, Jamal chooses to race toward his passion.  His choice defines who he is.  Seizing his destiny ensures Jamal will live forever as a legend in slums.  He never gives up.  He never gives in.  His unending quest finally inspires the love of his brother, who makes the ultimate sacrifice in recognition of the unquenchable intensity and purity of Jamal’s love.

Jamal and Latika find each other at the train station at the end of the film.  The two have a tearful and passionate reunion.

Latika:  “I thought we would meet again only in death.”

Jamal (shaking his head):  “I knew you would be watching.” (Jamal turns her head to gently touch the scar disfiguring the side of her face, which is Salim’s punishment for her previous escape. She tries to turn away.)

Jamal:  “This is our destiny.” (He kisses her scar tenderly)  “This is our destiny.”  (He kisses and holds her tight)

I am happy to close out 2008 with a post about such an inspiring film. Pearl S. Buck, the Pulitzer-winning American author of The Good Earth and the first American woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature famously wrote:  “The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible—and achieve it, generation after generation.”

I challenge you all to be young at heart in 2009, seize your destiny and aim for the impossible.  As President-elect Barack Obama proved—Nothing is written unless we write it in our hearts.  This year, resolve to write your best self.  Defy the odds.  Fly in the face of your fears.  Make a Leap of Faith.  I will be there with you, every step of the way.

#ThinkpieceThursday – McCain and Obama: Character Consistency in Storytelling

Obama Mccain ETB ScreenwritingThe U.S. election drama has me riveted.  It is an amazing opportunity to see two Character Types play out their roles on the world stage.  Here are two articles that demonstrate how consistently Character Types are viewed.  The same basic qualities are highlighted in nearly every analysis and review of the candidate’s campaign performance.

Here is what the co-author of McCain’s memoirs said about the stories McCain loves and how they connect with his own story:

The John McCain (as he describes himself in) “Faith of My Fathers,” for example, bears more than a little resemblance to the fictional Robert Jordan of “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Mr. McCain later celebrated (this Hemmingway hero) in another book (about himself) with Mr. Salter, “Worth the Fighting For,” which was named for a line of Jordan’s dying thoughts. (Jordan) was “a man who would risk his life but never his honor,” Mr. McCain wrote with Mr. Salter, a model of “how a great man should style himself.”

Each book is heavy with premonitions of mortality. Robert Jordan and John McCain each confront great tests (the temptation to escape a doomed mission for one, the offer of early prison release for the other) in the service of a lost cause (the socialists in the Spanish Civil War, the Americans in Vietnam). And in accepting his fate, each makes peace with his father and grandfather.

Mr. McCain’s admirers, like Mr. Timberg, have often puzzled over what drew him to Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage.” It is a convoluted psychodrama about a young man with a club foot; he seethes with resentment over his disability and nearly ruins his life in the thrall of a waitress-turned-prostitute who rejects him. But the character’s final realization could fit almost as well near the conclusion of Mr. McCain’s memoir: “It might be that to surrender happiness was to accept defeat, but it was a defeat better than many victories.”

“That explains it,” Mr. Salter said when he heard the line. “Perfect McCainism.”

The full New York Times article can be found at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/13/us/politics/13mccain.html?hp

Power of Idealism characters have a sense of doomed destiny.  They reject the offer of ordinary escape (and a happy life) in favor of the valiant, but doomed attempt.  They embrace glorious defeat (or death on the battle field) in order to live out their own scenario of courage and personal honor.

Here’s what a recent article by a conservative New York Times columnist said about Obama:

“(O)ver the past two years, Obama has… shown the same untroubled self-confidence day after day. There has never been a moment when, at least in public, he seems gripped by inner turmoil. It’s not willpower or self-discipline he shows as much as an organized unconscious (or I might add the collective unconscious). Through some deep, bottom-up process, he has developed strategies for equanimity…

They say we are products of our environments, but Obama, the sojourner (on his quest), seems to go through various situations without being overly touched by them. Over the past two years, he has been the subject of nearly unparalleled public worship, but far from getting drunk on it, he has become less grandiloquent as the campaign has gone along.

…It could be that Obama (as a president) will be an observer, not a leader. Rather than throwing himself passionately into his causes, he will stand back. Congressional leaders, put off by his supposed intellectual superiority, will just go their own way. Lost in his own nuance, he will be passive and ineffectual. Lack of passion will produce lack of courage. The Obama greatness will give way to the Obama anti-climax.

We can each guess how the story ends. But over the past two years, Obama has clearly worn well with voters. Far from a celebrity fad, he is self-contained, self-controlled and maybe even a little dull”

The full New York Times article can be found at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/17/opinion/17brooks.html?hp

Power of Imagination characters are humble and self-effacing quite naturally.  They seek greatness from others and draw their inspiration and power from the bottom up (rather than display it from the top down like John McCain does).

Obama’s grass roots campaign and masses of small individual donations also displays this Character Type’s bottom up view of things.  The danger is they are always collecting allies and consensus and avoid stepping out decisively or with passion on their own, ahead of the crowd, to really lead.  They can be a bit dull and do seem quite ordinary.  Their leap of faith is to move away from the unity of the crowd and make hard decisions that could be divisive.

John McCain – Three Factors of Character Type

john_mccain ETB ScreenwritingI’ve written extensively on the differences in Character Type between John McCain and Barack Obama.  Both candidates’ response to the recent American financial crisis is tremendously revealing of all aspects of their Character Types.

A Character Type is made up of three key factors:

1. Immediate Tactics: This is how a character reacts to a specific challenge, opportunity or threat.  It is a character’s immediate tactical response or maneuvers to deal with a specific problem or obstacle in the short-term.

2.  Long-term Orientation: This is how the character views the world, sees his or her role in it and is what a character believes is true about life and love.  It is a character’s overarching personal philosophy and view of self.

3.  Strategic Approach: This is how a character goes about leading or getting things done over the long haul.  It is how a character works with others overall. It is how a character takes charge or commands to achieve a larger goal.  Strategy deals with the art of of obtaining a grand overarching objective.

Each of these key factors is motivated by the fight, flight or embrace/submit response.  These are the three possible biological reactions to anything.  A character can confront something (fight).  He or she can withdraw from something (flight).  Or a character can embrace or submit to something.

Today let’s look at John McCain.  He is a classic Power of Idealism character.

1. Immediate Tactics: Power of Idealism characters embrace an opportunity, challenge or threat as a personal test of courage. They see difficulty or opportunity as an individual call of destiny. When presented with a challenge or threat, their first response is to move toward it as a mission or personal call to greatness.

These characters believe their immediate tactic must be a grand gesture or bold move. They want to display individual heroism or do something uniquely dramatic. They believe their extraordinary actions will somehow inspire others to follow their lead.

When confronted with a challenge, opportunity or threat, John McCain opts for a big “game-changing” response. When financial crisis seemed inevitable, McCain boldly announced he was suspending his campaign. He parachuted into the middle of the crisis in Washington, calling for a Presidential level meeting of the candidates and Congressional leaders. He made a dire and dramatic pronouncement that “the country could be plunged into another Depression by Monday.” He then claimed victory for himself as the leader of his party before the actual vote.

2. Long-term Orientation: Power of Idealism characters view life through a very idiosyncratic lens. They withdraw from the crowd, popular opinion or conventional wisdom to protect or promote their own individuality and special distinctiveness. Their philosophy is to follow their own personal star or individual sense of destiny regardless of the cost.

Noteworthiness, individuality or personal eccentricity is what these characters value most highly in themselves and others. John McCain proudly calls himself a maverick or an outsider. He is especially proud of his special or unique status as a Viet Nam POW.

These characters are lone wolf heroes. If they must go down in flames to prove their heroism so be it. McCain has often said: “I would rather lose a campaign than lose a war (in Iraq).” He sees his position on an unpopular war as a heroic offer of personal sacrifice for the nation.

McCain most often uses the word “I” in his campaign speeches. “I would fire the SEC chairman.” “I am suspending my campaign.” “I will follow Bin Laden to the gates of hell.” He sees leadership in terms of a singular heroic action leading the charge.

These characters believe that passion is everything. At their worst, Power of Idealism characters suffer from delusions of grandeur. They can be self-destructive and/or self-harming. In their Dark Side they are narcissistic, melancholy, self-pitying, cynical and embittered.

3. Strategic Approach: A Power of Idealism character’s overall method of working with others toward a goal is to step back or withdraw for personal reasons. These characters delay taking action until they are certain how they feel about something. They must feel sufficiently inspired, encouraged or affirmed in order to act or move forward.

When impassioned or inspired, these characters lead best in short bursts of intense activity or creativity. They engage others by a personal appeal to valor and courage or a romantic call for patriotic action. But they are not overly concerned about the consequences of their bold gesture.

They withdraw from the tedious small tasks involved in the daily execution of a command. These character’s greatest liability as a leader is that they often lack the patience to see through the practical application of their dramatic appeal. They don’t always adequately follow-up. They are often unprepared (or not inspired) to make the niggling, routine or ordinary small sacrifices long-term leadership requires.

Power of Idealism characters are rarely interested in sticking around for the clean-up after their big moment is over. They would rather withdraw into the glorious memory of the grand occasion or glorious battle. These characters need to act in the normal and ordinary course of things. They need to learn that everything doesn’t have to be individually suited to their personal sense of destiny or their passionate individual temperament.

John McCain took a long time to recognize the financial crisis. When he felt a call to action was necessary, he took the problem on personally, made a grand gesture and then said very little in the Presidential level meeting he so urgently called. His bold interjection of personal Presidential politics actually derailed an early accord that was building in Congress.Then he withdrew and left it to others to complete the task.

McCain’s actions during the crisis seem erratic because the dynamic opposites of his Immediate Tactics (embrace) and his Strategic Approach (withdraw) pull him in two different directions. He has been criticized for a lot of “sound and fury” that is followed by very little of the detail-oriented and painstaking leadership that solving a complex problem requires. He has admitted that the details of economic policy are not his strong suit. All of this has produced a whipsaw effect that makes him seem unstable.

Tomorrow I will look at the dynamic opposites in Power of Imagination Barack Obama’s Immediate Tactics and Strategic Approach. Interestingly, Obama’s dynamics are exactly the same: Immediate Tactic (embrace) and Strategic Approach (withdraw). This combination manifests itself very differently because a Power of Imagination character’s overarching personal philosophy and view of self is poles apart from that of the Power of Idealism character.

Long-term Orientation is the prism through which a character sees everything. The same tactics and approach can create totally dissimilar strengths and weaknesses, problems and opportunities because the two characters view the world so differently.

Raising the Bar – Not Bochco at His Best

raising-the-bar-etbscreenwritingAccording to Media Post Publications: “TNT’s Raising the Bar (Steven Bochco’s new legal show) rocketed to a record-setting 7.7 million viewers in its early September premiere. But in the most recent outing–week four– the show’s viewer balloon has much less air–now down to 2.3 million viewers in its most recent outing (this past week).”

Why aren’t viewers more enthused? Want a quick take-away line: The audience needs to be actively concerned about a character’s sanity, safety or soul to be truly engaged.

Power of Idealism

Mark-Paul Gosselaar plays the show’s hero and nominal protagonist, Jerry Kellerman, a lawyer in the New York City public defender’s office. He is a classic Power of Idealism character. Kellerman is rebellious, passionate, intense, short-tempered and given to explosive dramatic grandstanding on principle. Think of a late-twenties, at the beginning of his career, John McCain with floppy (slightly greasy) hippie-length hair and a baggy suit. Not a pretty sight, and for my taste, an over the top portrayal. There’s too much flailing about and not enough deep smoldering danger, which is key to the most delicious angry young man characters.

Power of Conscience

Jane Kaczmarek, plays Judge Trudy Kessler, Kellerman’s nemesis with an Ann Coulter-style mean streak. Judge Kessler is a Power of Conscience character gone a bit to the Dark Side. She is smart, inflexible, harsh, a stickler for rules and proper conduct and very concerned with “judicial process.” She’d be much more interesting if her desire to rise in elective office were driven by duty and sense of mission rather than the desire for personal accomplishment. She’s a bit blurry right now. Hillary Clinton at her steely best would be a good model here.

Power of Ambiton

Melissa Sagemiller plays Michelle Ernhardt, Kellerman’s girlfriend, and a young prosecutor. She is a beautiful highly-motivated Power of Ambition character who will do anything for a “win.” She is willing to bend the law until it breaks, play fast and loose with the facts and wants to rise quickly in the prosecutor’s office. Not suprisingly, Ernhardt and Kellerman repeatedly clash but their arguments are predictable.

Not Enough Personal Urgency

Unfortunately, everyone is pretty much a stock character without the deep rich internal conflicts so viscerally present in Bochco’s sensational NYPD Blue. There is little personal urgency for any of the characters. The audience doesn’t need to worry for principal character, Jerry Kellerman, like they worried for Andy Sipowicz. The wrenching internal struggle for the character is absent and so the audience’s emotional bond is weak.

The setting has urgency and certainly, crime and punishment is always a high stakes arena. That’s not enough. The audience needs to be actively concerned about a character’s sanity, safety or soul to be truly engaged. The audience should be forced to tune in because personal disaster is always right around the corner. It’s like cheering for your favorite sports team– if you don’t tune in and personally “will” them to victory they could lose! And if they lose, then next time they need you all the more!!

Lack of Complexity

Equally problematic for Raising the Bar, are its rather pat simplistic stories. Everything gets wrapped up neatly in less than 44 minutes. I understand the need to have “stand alone” episodes for commercial reasons but short-cutting story and tidying loose ends in a hurry can cripple authenticity and credibility. Too often the show does this and doesn’t “feel” real. The iconic Law and Order, an endless replayed staple on TNT, does this much better.

The degree of “innocent” accused criminals also hampers authenticity. It is stereotypical to portray everyone represented by the public defender’s offfice as guilty. But it begs credulity to believe so many of those charged are somehow “not guilty.”

Most of the cases have a racial angle and reach for social significance, a Bochco trademark. But in Raising the Bar the really tough questions of racism and the wrenching struggle to protect the rights of individuals vs the safety of society are not tackled in a complex, emotionally gut-wrenching way. NYPD Blue had a much more intense, multi-layered and explosive take on racism that brought the topic alive and made it feel real and very urgent to the story.

At this stage, the show lacks sufficient authenticity and personal urgency to be a hit. I don’t feel compelled to tune in and it looks like many viewers who initially gave the show a look aren’t compelled to come back. Raising the Bar has a second season order but Bochco and company will have to dig deeper if they want a third season.