#TypesTuesday – The Dark Knight Rises

the_dark_knight_rises-wallpaper-1152x864Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, is a powerful portrayal of a Power of Truth character. I liked the film a lot.

Nolan’s whole Batman trilogy is remarkably consistent in its emotional and psychological characterizations. In the Emotional Toolbox method, rather than looking at genre, the essential emotional force driving the movie is analyzed. Nolan’s trilogy is a series of complex multi-layered Power of Truth stories.

These kinds of stories are driven by secrets, lies, conspiracies, or concealment. In the opening of The Dark Knight Rises a huge lie is rotting at the heart of Gotham City.

Bruce Wayne/Batman languishes in disgrace, broken and hiding in his cavernous mansion. Harvey Dent, who had become the criminally insane Two Face in the previous film, The Dark Knight, has been put on a pedestal and is revered as a hero. His crimes are concealed and even blamed on Batman.

When the terrorist villian Bane takes over Gotham he exposes the lie. Bane says: “Behind you stands a symbol of oppression; Blackgate Prison, where a thousand men have languished under the name of this man.”

Harvey-Dent-the-dark-knight-9471370-543-359Bane holds up a picture of Harvey Dent and continues, “Harvey Dent, has been held up to you as the shining example of justice …You have been supplied with a false idol to stop you from tearing down this corrupt city. Let me tell you the truth about Harvey Dent from the words of Gotham’s police commissioner, James Gordon.”

Bane quotes Gordon’s letter, “‘The Batman didn’t murder Harvey Dent, he saved my boy then took the blame for Harvey’s appalling crimes so that I could, to my shame, build a lie around this fallen idol. I praised the mad man who tried to murder my own child but I can no longer live with my lie. It is time to trust the people of Gotham with the truth and it is time for me to resign.'”

Bane asks the crowd, “And do you accept this man’s resignation? Do you accept the resignation of all these liars? Of all the corrupt?”

Police Officer John Blake watches the speech on television says to Police Commissioner Jim Gordon, “Those men were locked up for eight years in Blackgate and denied parole under the Dent Act, based on a lie?”

Gordon explains, “Gotham needed a hero …”

Blake is disgusted, “You betrayed everything you stood for.”

The Dark Knight Rises and all Power of Truth stories chronicle the most profound and personal betrayals. These stories also ask: when does betrayal look like loyalty and when does loyalty looks like betrayal? These stories’ twists, turns, treachery, and reversals, changes everything the character believes is true. All the character holds dear is destroyed.

One of the major betrayals at the heart of the film is Alfred Pennyworth’s omission in telling Bruce Wayne what happened just before Bruce’s great love, Rachel Dawes, died. Alfred argues against Bruce re-emerging as Batman, revealing the truth.

2517-27939Alfred says, “I’ll get this (package) to Mr. Fox, but no more. I’ve sewn you up, I’ve set your bones, but I won’t bury you. I’ve buried enough members of the Wayne family.”

Bruce Wayne can’t believe Alfred would leave him.

Alfred explains, “You see only one end to your journey. Leaving is all I have to make you understand, you’re not Batman anymore. You have to find another way. You used to talk about finishing a life beyond that awful cape.”

Bruce argues that Rachel died believing that the two of them would be together; that was his life beyond the cape. He can’t just move on. She didn’t, she couldn’t.

Alfred reluctantly tells the truth, “What if she had? What if, before she died, she wrote a letter saying she chose Harvey Dent over you? And what if, to spare your pain, I burnt that letter?”

Bruce accuses Alfred of just using Rachel to try to stop him.

Alfred is adamant. “I am using the truth, Master Wayne. Maybe it’s time we all stop trying to outsmart the truth and let it have its day. I’m sorry.”

Bruce can’t believe his ears. “You’re sorry? You expect to destroy my world and then think we’re going to shake hands?”

Alfred sadly admits that he knows what exposing this truth means. “It means your hatred… and it also means losing someone that I have cared for since I first heard his cries echo through this house. But it might also mean saving your life. And that is more important.”

Bruce Wayne turns on Alfred and bids him an angry good-bye.

Alfred’s action precisely echoes what Batman himself does at the end of the previous film, The Dark Knight. At the end of that film, Batman takes on the burden of Two Face’s crimes to give Gotham a “hero.” Batman turns himself into someone he’s not in the eyes of the public. Like Alfred tries to “save” Bruce Wayne/Batman from the truth, Batman tries to “save” Gotham from the truth.

movie-review-the-dark-knight-rises-620x413In Power of Truth stories, like Nolan’s Batman triology, things are never what they seem.  The tangled undergrowth of human duplicity catches and pulls at every character in the film.

In The Dark Knight Rises, deep below Gotham, a secret city seethes in rebellion. The terrorist Bane rises from underground to take over Gotham.  His complex subterranean lair tunnels under Gotham and undermines its very foundations. The hidden  criminal enclave is a visual symbol that under the assumptions of the slick shiny city surface dark deceit and a world of pain wait– For Batman and for anyone else in Gotham City.

What is Power?

51F7BV3TWPL._SL500_AA300_I was watching an interesting British mini-series, The Politician’s Wife, last weekend. The series is about a faithful political wife who supports her husband through an infidelity scandal. In this story, unlike The Good Wife, the protagonist exacts painful political revenge over the course of time.

In The Politician’s Wife, a bit of advice from one of her husband’s advisors (and a long time family friend) instructs her: “Power, real power, is invisible and therefore inviolable.”  That is a view of power from a Power of Will character.  Real power need not be seen it only need be felt.

What do other movie or television characters have to say about power:

In Schindler’s List Oskar Schindler tells Amon Goeth what he believes real power is:

Oskar Schindler: Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don’t.

Oskar Schindler: Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don’t.
Amon Goeth: You think that’s power?
Oskar Schindler: That’s what the Emperor said. A man steals something, he’s brought in before the Emperor, he throws himself down on the ground. He begs for his life, he knows he’s going to die. And the Emperor… pardons him. This worthless man, he lets him go.
Amon Goeth: I think you are drunk.
Oskar Schindler: That’s power, Amon. That is power.Oskar Schindler: Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don’t.

Amon Goeth: You think that’s power?

Oskar Schindler: That’s what the Emperor had. A man steals something, he’s brought in before the Emperor, he throws himself down on the ground. He begs for his life, he knows he’s going to die. And the Emperor… pardons him. This worthless man, he lets him go.

Amon Goeth: I think you are drunk.

Oskar Schindler: That’s power, Amon. That is power.

Power, real power, is mercy and pardon according to a Power of Conscience character.

In Death of A Salesman, Willie Loman tells his son what he believes real power is:

“The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want.”

Power, real power, is popularity and personal magnetism according to a Power of Ambition character.

In Gladiator, Maximus tells his fellow soldiers what he believes is power: “What we do in life echoes in eternity.”

To a Power of Idealism Epic Hero power, real power, is honor and the memory of honor.

In Batman Forever, the Riddler flatters himself: “For if knowledge is power, then a God I am.”

To a Power of Reason Character power, real power, is intellectual superiority.

In The X Files, Fox Mulder says to Dana Scully:  “The truth will save you, Scully. I think it’ll save both of us.”

To  Power of Truth character power, real power, is the ability to discern the truth and reality from illusion.

What are your favorite movie quotes about power?  Let me know and I will tell what Character Type the protagonist is.

Thriller Book Excerpt – Power of Truth Conundrums

300px-BigComboTrailerIn a Power of Truth story the conundrums at the heart of the main character’s inner conflict are:

Loyalty vs. Betrayal When does betrayal look like loyalty and vice versa? Who can your character trust? Can a character be loyal to someone as he or she is betraying that person? Can loyalty be an act of betrayal?

Ally vs. Enemy How does the character’s view of “good” and “evil” shift or change? Who is hiding what? Who is working behind the character’s back for good or ill? How does the character work against him or her self?

Pursuer vs. Pursued What is the character running after and what is he or she running from? How does this change or reverse itself?

Truth vs. Lie How does the “truth” move and morph depending on perspective, or new or reinterpreted information? What is really the truth, how does the truth shift or change depending on shifting perceptions? What is delusion, what is misleading and what is outright active deception?

Desire to Suspect vs. Need to Trust How does the character wrestle with suspicion, paranoia, and the aftereffects of betrayal or seeming betrayal? Can your character fully know the heart of anyone? Can your character fully trust him or her self? Can anyone ever be 100% certain of anyone or anything?

Illusion vs. Reality What is real and what is a set-up, a lie, misinformation, a conspiracy, a delusion, or hidden below the surface of things? How much of perception is preconception, prejudice, ignorance, naivety, pretense, paranoia, duplicity, trickery, or a set up?

Certainty vs. Uncertainty What can be pinned down, proven and quantified, and what will always have an element of the unknown, the mysterious, or the unexplained? Is anyone ever all “good” or all “bad”? How does the character deal with moral ambiguity, shifting perceptions, or shades of gray? Isn’t every situation a shade of gray? Aren’t all people combinations of good and evil?

All great Power of Truth stories — mysteries, thrillers, suspense, and detective stories answer these key questions.

#TypesTuesday – The Avengers

The Avengers is a continuing box office smash hit.  The clarity of the characters, their witty on-point interactions, and their specific personal conflicts with each other contribute just as much to the movie’s success as the smash-em-up-whiz-bang action.

The character moments were my favorite parts of the movie because, I confess, the 3-D gave me a splitting headache and the action scenes go on a tad long for my personal taste.

The movie begins with the premise that humanity will be annihilated if Loki, the bitter banished demigod, opens a hole in space to let in an invading mechanized army. Loki is adopted, hates his brother, Thor, and wants to destroy the earth Thor loves and protects.

This crisis brings together the reluctant Avengers teammates.  Each portrays his or her Character Type with nearly pitch perfect attitude and dialogue.

The-Avengers-2012-upcoming-movies-29945637-1280-1024Loki is a Power of Idealism demi-god villain:  Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and these Character Types believe they are meant for some kind of heroic destiny.

He says: I am Loki, of Asgard. And I am burdened with glorious purpose.

These characters are “divas” and want to be seen as special, unique, and extraordinary– something out of reach for Loki, who is always in the shadow of his more perfect “brother” Thor.  It was Thor who got all the glory and Loki is furious about that. A bit of dialogue says it all–

Tony Stark: Loki wants everyone to see what he’s doing.
Steve Rogers: Yeah, I caught his act at Stuttengard.
Tony Stark: That was a preview, this will be opening night. Loki’s a full-fledged diva, everything’s got to be about him. He wants a parade, flowers, anything that’ll bring in an audience. He needs someplace where everyone can see it’s him and he’s doing it, somewhere where his name is up in lights!
[pause]
Tony Stark: Sonofabitch!
[heads to Stark Tower]

Tony Stark: Loki wants everyone to see what he’s doing.

Steve Rogers: Yeah, I caught his act at Stuttengard.

Tony Stark: That was a preview, this will be opening night. Loki’s a full-fledged diva, everything’s got to be about him. He wants a parade, flowers, anything that’ll bring in an audience. He needs someplace where everyone can see it’s him and he’s doing it, somewhere where his name is up in lights!

chris-hemsworth-thor-movie-costume-mjolnir-hammer-488x341Thor is a  Power of Love demigod:  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) uses his strength and power to care for and protect the earth.  Despite everything, he still is attached to his adoptive brother, Loki, as evidenced in the following exchange:

Bruce Banner: I don’t think we should be focusing on Loki. That guy’s brain is a bag full of cats. You can smell crazy on him.

Thor: Have a care how you speak. Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard. And he is my brother.

Natasha Romanoff: He killed eighty people in two days.

Thor: He’s adopted.

Thor is the son of Gaea, the nurturing mother earth herself. In his comic book backstory Thor is a caring doctor, Donald Black, who is willing to defy the might of Asgard for the woman he loves.  Power of Love characters are incredibly strong characters and are ferociously unstoppable when something they love and care for is in threatened.

iron_man_the_avengers_2012_movie-t2Iron Man is a Power of Excitement man-made superhero in his mechanized suit:  In his own words he is Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist. In addition, he’s a jokester and an agent of chaos, who loves to stir things up. He’d especially like to see the Hulk get unleashed.

He says: “Dr. Banner, your work is unparalleled. And I’m a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster.”

Stark speaks frequently in the movie about escape or wanting to escape. Steve Rogers, Captain America, chides him for that saying Stark doesn’t have it in him to make the “sacrifice play” that puts others first. Tony Stark’s rakish push-the-envelop devil-may-care attitude continually presses everyone’s buttons in the story, but his charm, ready wit, and natural talent as an improvisor helps save the day.

Chris-Evans-in-The-Avengers-2012-Movie-ImageCaptain American is a Power of Conscience government laboratory experiment turned superhero: Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a super-soldier who believes in following rules, following orders, and the importance of the chain of command.  He can seem a little stiff and humorless at times but he is 100%  reliable, trustworthy, and always puts the good of the team first. The difference between Rogers and Stark is summed up in this exchange:

Steve Rogers: We have orders, we should follow them.

Tony Stark: Following’s not really my style.

Steve Rogers: And you’re all about style, aren’t you?

Tony Stark: Of the people in this room, which one is A – wearing a spangly outfit and B – not of much use?

Stark surprises Rogers at the climax. And Rogers learns to improvise more, following Stark’s example.

imagesThe Hulk is a Power of Will gamma ray experiment gone-wrong superhero:  Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), in his Hulk state, is all angry impulse. He is primitive. He’s strong. He is a mass of instinctual drives and impulses that only finds satisfaction in “Hulk smash!”  In his normal human state Banner controls his anger enough to be a protector (as a doctor in remote India) rather than a destroyer. But his raw uncontrollable instinctual side is never far away.

Steve Rogers: Doc… I think now is the perfect time for you to get angry.

Bruce Banner: That’s my secret Cap, I’m always angry.

The-Avengers-Black-Widow-Headshot-360x273The Black Widow is a Power of Truth super-spy: Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) doesn’t have super powers per se but she is as skilled a warrior as any of her other Avengers teammates. She lives in a spy vs. spy world that is filled with hidden dangers, secretive enemies, and concealed pitfalls. With the Black Widow– “Things are never what they seem.” “Trust no one.” “Question everything.” “Watch out for secret agendas and hidden pitfalls.” Just when an adversary thinks she is most vulnerable she is actually conducting a brilliant and treacherous interrogation.

hawkeye-the-avengers-01-610x458Hawkeye is a Power of Reason ultra-expert archer:  Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) is a loner and a bit alienated, the perfect combination for his backstory and continuing role as sniper. He is a cold and calculating and spends the first half of the movie under the mind control of Loki.

There isn’t time for very much character development in The Avengers, but what there is is spot on.  Each hero is absolutely true to his or her Character Types in both word and deed. When every bit of dialogue and action has to count as character development, the Character Types will help you be as economical and on target as the characters here.

#ThinkpieceThursday – The Hunger Games & Twilight

Young Adult fiction and the subsequent movie adaptations have been a saving grace for Hollywood over the last few years.  Box office blockbusters based on the Twilight series and The Hunger Games series have smashed opening weekend records.
I thought it would be interesting to compare the characters in the two books and analyze how each story works. The material on The Hunger Games is excerpted from my upcoming book on thrillers, mysteries and suspense story. These are all Power of Truth stories
The Hunger Games is a classic Power of Truth Story Type and protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is a picture perfect Power of Truth Character Type.
Power of Truth stories deal with secrets, lie or conspiracies, what is hidden or concealed, and the larger issues or covert agendas that are secretly manipulating the story world and the characters in it.
In the Hunger Games the Capitol government runs a huge annual televised reality show featuring young contestants who fight to the death.  The fighters are recruited in an involuntary “reaping” from each district. The games are a way to keep the districts separate and in adversarial competition with each other.
The set of the Hunger Games reality show is electronically generated– it is a manufactured 3-D world that doesn’t really exist. The conditions, terrain, rules, and contestants are secretly manipulated to generate the most interesting show and to covertly target contestants the Capitol favors or dislikes.
The games are a metaphor for how the Capitol manipulates and punishes or rewards the various districts as a whole. Nothing is quite real. Nothing is what it seems. Boundaries are artificial and arbitrary. There are hidden traps and pitfalls everywhere. The Capitol sees everything but reveals only what is useful to control the population.
Power of Truth stories also chronicle the most profound and personal betrayals. The story twists and reversals eventually change everything the character believes is true.
Hunger Games contestants form temporary alliances, knowing there can only be one victor. Every one is suspect.  No one can be trusted. Each contestant tries to use others to their own advantage. It is a cut-throat world where loyal is a ploy and betrayal is the norm.
These kind of stories explore the very nature of truth and whether it is ever possible to know or understand the complex mysteries of the human heart.
Katniss Everdeen volunteers in her much younger sister’s place at the annual reaping. Like most Power of Truth Protagonists, Katniss is cautious, wary, and deeply suspicious of everyone and everything. She can be combative and impulsive, shooting an arrow through an apple at the skills demonstration. The apple is in a roasted pig’s mouth in the middle of a feast for the sponsors. Katniss is impatient with the group’s lack of attention.  She can also be silent and withdrawn, keeping her own counsel and playing her cards close to the vest.
Peeta Mellark, the other contestant from her district, is chosen involuntarily. He is scared but seemingly unnaturally happy to be accompanying her. Early on he declares he has been in love with her from afar since they were children.
Katniss can’t be sure Peeta’s declaration isn’t some kind of ploy to gain an advantage or trick her.  Early on in the games he seems to be working against her. Then he saves her and later is willing to die with her and for her. Still she isn’t clear about her feelings for Peeta.  Chronic self-doubting and second guessing are trouble traits for a Power of Truth character. These character don’t trust anyone and don’t even trust themselves.
Complicating matters is Gale Hawthorne, the hunting partner who has helped Katniss prevent her family from dying of starvation in the district.  Katniss has strong feelings for Gale and feels a profound loyalty to him. This makes her doubt her feelings for Peeta.
Gale is a Power of Conscience character and becomes key in the revolution against the Capitol in later books.  Power of Conscience characters are moral crusaders.  They fall to the Dark Side when they became willing to use any means necessary to promote their cause.  Gale does this when he plans an attack on innocents to spread the revolution. He is willing to betray anything and anyone for the good of the cause.
The Hunger Games are a rich, complex Power of Truth world.  The characters have amazing external conflicts and obstacles (in the world of the games), they have intense relationship conflicts (filled with powerful issues of  when loyalty looks like betrayal and betrayal looks like loyalty) and they have deep internal conflict as they struggle between what they want and what they need (and the complex mysteries of the human heart.)
Twilight is a much simpler Power of Love story and less complex characters

katniss-cpYoung Adult fiction and subsequent movie adaptations have been a saving grace for Hollywood over the last few years.  Box office blockbusters based on the Twilight series and The Hunger Games series have smashed opening weekend records as the books topped the best seller charts.

I thought it would be interesting to compare the characters in the two series and analyze how each story works. The material on The Hunger Games is excerpted from my upcoming book on thrillers, mysteries and suspense stories. These are all Power of Truth stories.

The Hunger Games is a classic Power of Truth Story and protagonist, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), is a picture perfect Power of Truth Character Type.

Power of Truth stories deal with secrets, lies, conspiracies, what is hidden or concealed, and the larger issues or covert agendas that are secretly manipulating the story world and the characters in it.

In The Hunger Games, the Capitol government runs an annual televised reality show featuring young contestants who fight to the death.  The fighters are recruited in an involuntary “reaping” from each district. The games are a way to keep the districts separate and in adversarial competition with each other.

The reality show set is electronically generated– it is a manufactured 3-D world that doesn’t really exist. The conditions, terrain, rules, and contestants are secretly manipulated to generate the most interesting show and to covertly target contestants the Capitol favors or dislikes.

The games are a living metaphor for how the Capitol manipulates and punishes or rewards the various districts on a larger scale. Nothing is what it seems. Boundaries in the Panem district states are artificial and arbitrary. There are hidden traps and pitfalls everywhere. The Capitol sees everything but reveals only what is useful to control the population.

Power of Truth stories also chronicle the most profound and personal betrayals. The story twists and reversals eventually change everything the character believes is true.

During the reality show, contestants in The Hunger Games form temporary alliances, knowing there can only be one victor. Every one is suspect.  No one can be trusted. Each contestant tries to use others to his or her own advantage. It is a cut-throat world where loyalty is a ploy and betrayal is the norm.

josh-hutcherson-peeta-mellarkThese kinds of stories explore the very nature of loyalty and betrayal and whether it is ever possible to know or understand the complex mysteries of the human heart. Sometimes loyalty looks like betrayal in the series.  And sometimes betrayal looks like loyalty.

Katniss Everdeen volunteers in her much younger sister’s place at the annual reaping. Like most Power of Truth Protagonists, Katniss is cautious, wary, and deeply suspicious of everyone and everything. She can be combative and impulsive, shooting an arrow through an apple at the skills demonstration. The apple is in a roasted pig’s mouth in the middle of a feast for the sponsors. Katniss is impatient with the group’s lack of attention.  She can also be silent and withdrawn, keeping her own counsel, watching and waiting, and playing her cards close to the vest.

Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the other contestant from her district, is chosen involuntarily at the reaping. He is scared but seemingly unnaturally happy to be accompanying Katniss. Early on he declares he has been in love with her from afar since they were very young children.

Katniss can’t be sure Peeta’s declaration of love isn’t some kind of ploy to gain advantage or trick her.  Early on in the games he seems to be working against her. Then he saves her and later is willing to die with her and for her. Still, she isn’t clear about her feelings for Peeta.  Chronic self-doubting and second guessing are trouble traits for a Power of Truth character. These characters don’t fully trust anyone and don’t even trust themselves.

movies_the_hunger_games_gale_hawthorneComplicating matters is Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), the hunting partner who has helped Katniss save her family from starvation in the district.  Katniss has strong feelings for Gale and feels a profound loyalty to him. This makes her doubly question her feelings for Peeta.

Gale is a Power of Conscience character and becomes key in the revolution against the Capitol in later books.  Power of Conscience characters are often moral crusaders.  They fall to the Dark Side when they become willing to use any means necessary to promote their cause.  Gale does this when he plans an attack on innocents to help publicize and spread the revolution. He is willing to betray anything and anyone for the greater good of the cause.

The Hunger Games creates a rich, complex Power of Truth world.  The characters have amazing external conflicts and obstacles (in the treacherous and shifting world of the games), they have intense relationship conflicts (filled with powerful issues of  loyalty and betrayal) and they have deep internal conflict struggling between what they want and what they need (and the complex mysteries of love, loss, and hope). For more on Power of Truth stories and characters CLICK HERE

bella-swan-twilightTwilight is a much simpler Power of Love story featuring far less complex characters.  Power of Love stories are about lovers or partners who appear to be antagonistic, opposites, or entirely inappropriate for each other. The adversarial partners not only manage to bring out the worst in each other but also the best. The lovers grow and change through the conflict and questions in their relationship. How much must I change to accommodate you? How far can I compromise before I lose myself?

In Twilight, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is a high-school girl who falls in love with a 104 year old vampire, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson).  He is powerfully attracted to her but fears he or his family will harm her. Bella’s blood is sweetly irresistible.

Bella’s love and her confidence in Edward’s restraint is unshakable.  She  refuses to heed his repeated warnings to stay away from him. She stumbles into harms way several times but Edward always swoops in to save her. As a result, when Edward leaves her, Bella seeks out danger to attract his attention.

Bella is a Power of Love character. Throughout the series she is willing to risk injury, death, and the loss of her immortal soul to be with Edward.  When he hurts her while making love to her as a human, Bella refuses to be deterred and wants him to make love to her again.  When she almost dies carrying his child she refuses to save herself and get an abortion. She is so damaged by the birth that finally there is no choice but to turn her into a vampire or surrender her to death. Bella does almost all of the changing and accommodating.

Power of Love characters see their own value reflected in the eyes of their love object. Their philosophy might be stated: “I am nothing without you.” (“And you are nothing without me.”)

20100730010244!Edward_CullenPower of Love characters believe the way to get love and keep love is to be helpful, useful, loving, kind and, above all, necessary to the other person. They fear that if you don’t put others first you won’t have good relationships. If you don’t have close personal relationships, then life isn’t worth living. Bella always puts Edward first, over her safety and over her life itself. For more on Power of Love characters CLICK HERE

Edward Cullen is a Power of Idealism character. He is a poetic, musical, and sensitive young man who is in love with someone forbidden to him.  This longing for what one cannot have is a hallmark of a Power of Idealism character. In contrast, Bella always believes they will eventually be together.  Edward’s appearance, scent, and voice are enormously seductive to Bella, so much so that he occasionally mesmerizes her by accident. She becomes even more compliant and swooning.  Edward’s intensity and his rebellious, slightly dangerous, nature is also typical of Power of Idealism characters. For more on Power of Idealism characters CLICK HERE

jacob-black-stillJacob Black (Taylor Lautner), a shape-shifting member of a local Indian tribe, also competes for Bella’s love.  He is a Power of Conscience character.  He is a fierce defender of what is right and what is traditional. Yet he overcomes his tribe’s hostility to vampires to come to Bella’s aid even after he is rejected by her.  Power of Conscience characters feel a profound sense of responsibility and duty toward others. They value what is the fair, honest, and decent thing to do. For more on Power of Conscience character CLICK HERE

Unlike The Hunger Game, which fully explores Power of Truth territory and deals with many complex levels of conflict, Twilight falls short in creating a well articulated conflict-driven Power of Love story.  Here are the Twilight series shortcoming as I see them:

1. Love interests in a romance should take an instant dislike, have a deep distrust, or be separated by major philosophical, or personal differences. Love interests should have opposite world views and views on what life and love is or should be. They should not agree on anything. Their values should be diametrically opposed. Bella is immediately attracted to Edward and he to her. The forbidden nature of their love story in Twilight has to do only with physical or external differences rather than deep  differences in values, philosophy, or world view.

2. Both love interests must grow or change through their relationship with one another. Something profound should be missing in each love interest’s life, character, and/or personality. This missing piece is an important personal deficiency leading to overall unhappiness. The problem isn’t just that the character is missing someone to love. It should be key to his or her genuine difficulties in life. Nothing, other than love, is missing in either Bella’s or Edward’s personality or character. Neither character needs the other to grow or change.  Bella simply wears Edward down in her insistence to become a vampire. Her transformation is almost entirely physical.  Edward has little real transformation at all.

Bella & Edward3.  In order for a love story to work well the lovers have to overcome obstacles on three levels.

a) The external forces, that keep the lovers apart (i.e. differences in culture, class, status, ethnicity, race, gender, age, religion, or social convention). Twilight gets this right and a human and vampire union is strictly forbidden. It is punishable by death.

b) The conflict with others, that keeps the lovers apart. There is some resistance from Edward’s family but it is fairly easily overcome. There is no real resistance from her own family, because her father is generally unaware of the Cullen family’s heritage.

c) The internal forces, that prevent the lovers from getting together (internal values that make each lover question and reject the initial advances that each receives from the other). This most important obstacle is entirely missing in Twilight. The focus is almost entirely on the physical external difficulties. There is nothing within Bella that makes her struggle with her choice.  Edward struggles more internally but again his dilemma mostly revolves around the vampire-human conundrum.

Romances work best when there is a strong personal impediment posed by a relationship with an appropriate mate. An appropriate mate is a person who, for a variety of external reasons, SHOULD be a perfect match but isn’t.  Jacob also vies for Bella’s love but he’s not a perfect external match (being a shape-shifter) and he is a much weaker contender than Edward. Early on in the first book Jacob is not fully realized as a character. He becomes more important in later books but never stands a credible chance of winning Bella.

In Moonstruck, a near perfect romance, the above three elements work wonderfully. Cher (Power of Love) is no-nonsense, practical, caring, and responsible about all her obligations. This is demonstrated in the opening scenes where she visits her bookkeeping clients. She is so practical she is about to settle for a man she doesn’t love but who is a solid member of the community. During a very unromantic proposal he tells her: “You take care of me.” What she needs is passion, inspiration, and the fiery spark of life.

Nickolas Cage (Power of Idealism) has passion and fire to the extreme. He needs someone to provide more of a stable base and an even keel. He needs to let go of his nearly operatic anger and bitterness and move on in his life. The two lovers challenge and learn from each other. Their exchange of gifts makes each a better, more well-rounded, and complete person.

In a classic love story two imperfect halves come together to form a more perfect whole. Each character brings something that is vitally necessary to the other’s overall well-being and completeness. That critical exchange of gifts is obtained through clash and conflict with the love interest.

Nevertheless the Twilight characters are well enough drawn to compel readers.  Emotion and character development pretty much always trumps plot and story structure, in my view.  That said– The Hunger Games has completely eclipsed Twilight at the box office and on the best seller list. The Hunger Games series has great characters and a rich, complex, well realized Power of Truth story structure—that is an unbeatable combination.

Having problems with your story? Read How to Evaluate Stories and find your story problems and fix them fast. CLICK HERE

The Power of Truth at the Emmys

Before we go any further let’s look at what a Power of Truth story is not.
Erin Brockovich, To Kill a Mockingbird, Silkwood and The Insider all involve some kind of criminal conspiracy.  A crime is committed.  Evidence is falsified or covered-up.  The protagonist wants to expose these crimes and stop or punish the real wrong-doers.  But these stories are not Power of Truth stories.  Why?
Each of these stories deal with the Power of Conscience.  In each case, the protagonist is clear about what happened (or is happening) and what is morally right.  The story struggle is about what to do to right the wrong.  How much responsibility can or should the protagonist take in the situation?  These stories  ask, “If I am my brother’s keeper how far must I go on his behalf?”
The Power of Conscience character’s answer to the above question is:  ”All the way.”  Once the character has decided to right the wrong, the question then is how to prevail.  This character’s pursuit of justice costs him or her dearly.  This protagonist often gives up or loses his or her job, family or other important relationships and suffers  staggering personal and financial losses on the story  journey. These stories are about law vs. justice, answering the call to one’s higher duty, standing up for one’s moral code, and taking responsibility for and sacrificing for another’s welfare.
The Devil’s Advocate, Wall Street, Catch Me If You Can and The Talented Mr. Ripley all involve crimes and cover-ups to a greater or lesser degree.  Active deception is involved in all four stories.  But these stories are not Power of Truth stories either.  Why?
Each of these films deals with the Power of Ambition.  In each  story, the protagonist knows what he is doing is wrong or illegal.  Each man proceeds anyway in order to achieve or maintain the approval, prestige, status, or position he so desperately craves.
These stories are about how far a protagonist is willing to go for material or social gain. These characters let their moral scruples go one by one and they are willing to lie, cheat and steal to get ahead.  They are keenly and acutely aware of their social standing and are willing to use any kind of fraud, trick or deception to maintain an illusion of their social or material success.  At the end, when these characters have nearly lost everything that matters on a human scale, they often reform their ways and “do the right thing.”  If the story is a tragedy they continue in their illegal or illicit ways until they and everything that matters to them is hollowed out or destroyed.
The Godfather Trilogy, Scarface, The Last Seduction and The Sopranos all involve criminal activity, the suppression of evidence and the elimination of anyone who interferes.  But not one of these are Power of Truth stories.  Why?
These are stories are about power.  Each of these Power of Will protagonists does whatever wrong he or she must do to survive, to expand territory or to conquer others.  There is no struggle with morality.  There is no ambiguity or uncertainty.  Might makes right.  The Law of the Jungle prevails.  Win or die.
Never showing a sign of weakness is key to every decision this character makes  and every action he or takes over the course of the story.  These characters say to themselves and others: “I had no choice. I had to protect myself, my empire or my family.”  They sacrifice tenderness, kindness, a sense of mercy and forgiveness to dominate the situation, which leads inevitably to the loss of their humanity, their soul, often their lives.  Those who live by sword tend to die by the sword.
The Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Professional and In the Bedroom all involve crimes and cover-ups. But none of these stories are Power of Truth stories either.  Why?
These are Power of Reason stories about logical deduction, the mastering or attempted elimination of emotion (emotion being the enemy of objectivity) and some profound alienation from society.  Dr. Gregory House, the medical detective and master diagnostician in the television series House, is another great example of this kind of character and story.
Dr. House investigates each medical case with keen powers of observation, a ruthless razor sharp logic and penetrating rational deduction. He is alienated from everyone andmanages to alienate everyone around him.  The patient is more of a puzzle to be solved than a human being to be nurtured and healed.
In Power of Truth stories ambiguity and deception might be hiding the solution to the problem or crime, but the protagonist is absolutely clear-headed (often to the point of near inhuman dispassion).  There is little personal investment in the investigation merely a difficult puzzle to be solved.
I recently watched the film made from the play Equus.  A young man inexplicably blinds six horses at the stable where he worked as a caring responsible stable hand.  He is committed to a mental institution where an experienced psychiatrist tries to solve the mystery and heal the boy.
This isn’t a Power of Truth story either.  The psychiatrist is a disillusioned Power of Idealism character.  He wonders if healing the boy of his passion and madness, only to send him into a dispassionate world and a dull ordinary life, is a noble thing to do.  This film is about the price of passion and whether pain is the price of being truly alive even if for only a horrifying or mad moment.
The trick to all of this is to determine what the mystery brings out in the character.  What is at the root of the crime, the murder, the conspiracy, the unusual phenomena or strange occurrence?  What does the solution, and how it is obtained, say about how the character views the world, his or her philosophy and essential human struggle?

imagesMad Men won its fourth statuette in a row for Outstanding Drama Series at the 2011 Emmy Awards. The show is set in the world of advertising; a world of illusion, sleight of hand and outright deception.

It is a quintessential Power of Truth story and is anchored by a wonderful Power of Truth protagonist, Don Draper/Dick Whitman (Jon Hamm). Surface laughter, glamour and the sophisticated tinkle of ice in a cut-glass tumbler of scotch obscures the dark and tangled subterranean underpinnings of the man, the profession and the era. All is not well in the American “Camelot” and its aftermath.

In addition to issues of perception, illusion and deception, Power of Truth stories are also about the nature of loyalty and betrayal. These stories ask: What exactly is loyalty? What is betrayal? How do we betray ourselves? How do we betray others? Can you be loyal to someone and betray them at the same time? When should you let go of old loyalties and move on?  How is the ground shifting beneath you?  Who or what can you trust? When does loyalty look like betrayal?  When does betrayal look like loyalty?

Tyrion_Lannister-game-thronesThose questions swirl around another 2011 Emmy-nominated drama, The Game of Thrones.  Issues of loyalty and betrayal consume Emmy winning Best Supporting Actor, Peter Dinklage in the role of Tyrion Lannister.  Tyrion has suffered (and will suffer) staggering betrayals in the story.  Like his powerful father, Tyrion also has a talent for political maneuvering, sabotage, conspiracy, treachery and betrayal.

Power of Truth characters inhabit a story world that is a potential minefield, filled with explosive secrets, concealed enemies and unexpected pitfalls. This character’s philosophy might be stated: “Things are never what they seem.” “Trust no one.” “Question everything.” “Everyone has a hidden agenda.”

images-2These story themes could also describe The Good Wife and protagonist Alicia Florrick.  Julianna Margulies won the 2011 Emmy for Best Actress in Drama for her role as Alicia in the series.

Can she trust her husband?   Can she trust herself?  Who is betraying her? Who is she willing to betray?  Who is really an ally and who is really an enemy?  Secrets, lies, and lack of trust all play key roles in the plot twists for each episode.

On a personal level, Power of Truth protagonists are all hyper-aware of shifting alliances and are always on the lookout for possible falseness, duplicity or treachery in any relationship or situation. These characters are very imaginative and perceptive and that creativity and sensitivity can also get them into trouble. They can spin disaster scenarios or conspiracy theories inside their heads that have no basis in reality.

But then again, as Woody Allen famously said:  “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t really after you.”  Power of Truth character often sense something is amiss in the world before others do.  They just can’t prove their suspicions– yet.

The Power of Truth character asks, “What does society demand, expect or value?”—and then often sets out to debunk or disprove the answer. These characters are compelled to uncover the concealed nature and (often rotten) underbelly of things.

A character driven by the Power of Truth is often the protagonist in mystery stories, conspiracy stories, suspense stories, mistaken identity stories, investigative stories and detective stories. In an ensemble cast, these characters are frequently secret keepers, strategists, counselors or advisers. In whatever role they play, they look beneath the surface of things to discover what lies below or is hidden from view.  They ask: “What don’t those in charge want you to see?”

Power of Truth character Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) on The X Files voices his frustrations and the futility of nailing down the ever shifting truth in these kinds of stories: “Why is it that every time I think I know the answers, someone goes and changes the questions?” Nothing is quite what it seems in Power of Truth stories.  Nothing is certain.  The ground keeps slipping from beneath the protagonist.

But not every conspiracy story, mystery, suspense story, thriller or detective story is a Power of Truth story.

ErinBigPicErin Brockovich, To Kill a Mockingbird, Silkwood and The Insider are suspenseful stories all involving some kind of criminal conspiracy.  A crime is committed.  Evidence is falsified or covered-up.  The protagonist wants to expose these crimes and stop or punish the real wrong-doers.  But these stories are not Power of Truth stories.  Why?

Each of these stories deal with the Power of Conscience.  In each case, the protagonist is clear about what has happened (or is happening) and what is morally right.  The story struggle is about what to do to right the wrong.  How much responsibility can or should the protagonist take in the situation?  These stories ask, “If I am my brother’s keeper how far must I go on his behalf?”

The Power of Conscience character’s answer to the above question is:  ”All the way.”  Once the character has decided to right the wrong, the question then is how to prevail.  This character’s pursuit of justice costs him or her dearly.  This protagonist often gives up or loses his or her job, family or other important relationships or suffers other personal losses on the story  journey.

These stories are about law vs. justice, answering the call to one’s higher duty, standing up for one’s moral code, and taking responsibility for and sacrificing for another’s welfare.  At the 2011 Emmys, Kyle Chandler (Coach Taylor) on Friday Night Lights, plays a Power of Conscience character and took home the award for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series.  (He plays a high school football coach and is not involved in a crime story.)

09_talented Mr.RipleyThe Devil’s Advocate, Wall Street, Catch Me If You Can and The Talented Mr. Ripley all involve crimes and cover-ups to a greater or lesser degree.  Active deception is involved in all four stories.  But these films are not Power of Truth stories either.  Why?

Each of these stories deals with the Power of Ambition. Each protagonist knows what he is doing is wrong or illegal.  Each proceeds anyway in order to achieve or maintain the approval, prestige, status, or position he so desperately craves.

These stories are about how far a protagonist is willing to go for material or social gain. Power of Ambition characters let their moral scruples go one-by-one as they  lie, cheat or steal to get ahead.  They are keenly and acutely aware of their social standing and are willing to use any kind of fraud, trick, deception or cover-up to maintain their illusion of social or material success.  All they want is to be liked and to be admired.

At the end, when these characters have nearly lost everything that matters on a human scale, they often reform their ways and “do the right thing.”  If the story is a tragedy they continue in their illegal or illicit ways until they and everything that truly matters is hollowed out or destroyed.

4AE983BBD84FC51BBA3D8692147A9The protagonists in The Shield, Scarface, The Last Seduction and The Sopranos all involve criminal activity, the suppression of evidence and the elimination of anyone who interferes.  But not one of these are Power of Truth stories.  Why?

These are stories are about strength vs weakness.  Each of these Power of Will protagonists does whatever is needed to survive, to expand territory or to conquer others.  There is no ambiguity or uncertainty in their actions. Might makes right.  The Law of the Jungle prevails.  Win or die.

Never showing any sign of weakness is key to every decision a Power of Will character makes and every action he or takes over the course of the story.  These characters say to themselves and others: “I had no choice. I had to protect myself, my empire or my family.”

They sacrifice tenderness, kindness, a sense of mercy and forgiveness to dominate and forcibly control the situation.  These actions lead inevitably to the loss of their humanity, their soul, and often their lives.  Those who live by sword tend to die by the sword.  (A key difference between a Power of Will character and a Power of Ambition character is that a Power of Ambition character really wants to be liked.  A Power of Will character would rather be feared.)

sherlockholmes110914000424The Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Professional and In the Bedroom all involve crimes and cover-ups. But none of these stories are Power of Truth stories either.  Why?

These are Power of Reason stories about logical deduction, the mastering or attempted elimination of emotion (emotion being the enemy of objectivity) and some profound alienation from society.  Dr. Gregory House, the medical detective and master diagnostician in the television series House, is a television example of a Power of Reason character and story.

Dr. House investigates each medical case with keen penetrating powers of observation, a ruthless razor sharp logic and cold rational deduction. He is alienated from others and usually manages to alienate everyone around him.  The patient is more of a puzzle to be solved than a human being to be nurtured and healed.

In Power of Reason stories ambiguity and deception might be hiding the solution to the problem or crime, but the protagonist is absolutely clear-headed (often to the point of near inhuman dispassion).  There is little personal investment in the investigation, merely a difficult puzzle to be solved.  At the 2011 Emmys, Jim Parsons (Sheldon Cooper) on The Big Bang Theory plays a comic Power of Reason character who took home the award for Best Actor in a Comedy Series.  (He is a scientist involved in research rather than in any kind of criminal investigation.)

equus-pictures-daniel-radcliffe-85030_460_300I recently watched the film adapted from the play Equus.  A young man inexplicably blinds six horses at the stable where he worked as a caring and responsible stable hand.  He is committed to a mental institution where an experienced psychiatrist tries to solve the mystery and heal the boy.

This isn’t a Power of Truth story either.  The psychiatrist/investigator is a disillusioned Power of Idealism character.  He wonders if healing the boy of his passion and madness, only to send him into a stupefyingly mundane world and a dull ordinary life, is a noble thing to do.  This film is about the intensity of passion and whether pain is the price of being truly alive, even if for only a horrifyingly insane moment.

The trick to all of this analysis is to determine what the situation and story journey brings out in the character. What is at the root of the crime, the murder, the conspiracy, the unusual phenomena or suspenseful situation?  What does the solution, and how it is obtained, say about how the character views the world, his or her philosophy and essential human struggle?

Power of Truth stories wrestle primarily with certainty vs uncertainty, illusion vs reality, loyalty vs betrayal or truth vs lies or deception. In these stories the protagonist can’t fully trust anyone—not even him or herself.

My new book discusses exactly how to create a rich compelling plot for a Power of Truth story, how to use suspense and reversals to keep the audience engaged and guessing at every twist, how to develop fresh original characters and how to make this kind of story your own.

The book will be available for a short time at a discount to readers of this blog and newsletter.  Send an email to etbscreenwriting (at) gmail (dot) com to get on the list.

Rififi – Day Thirty Nine – #40movies40days

imagesRififi is a 1955 French crime film that is probably the basis of every intricate heist movie you’ve ever seen.  It was recommended to me by a reader and what a delicious surprise!  The plot revolves around a burglary at a jewelry shop in the Rue de Rivoli (a very ritzy shopping area equivalent to 5th Avenue in New York or Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles).  I won’t go into many details because that would ruin the surprise.

According to Wikipedia “The film was banned in some countries due to its lengthy heist scene, referred to by a Los Angeles Times reviewer as a “master class in breaking and entering as well as filmmaking”.  The Mexican interior ministry banned the film because of a series of burglaries mimicking the robbery protrayed. Rififi was also banned in Finland. In answer to critics who saw the film as an educational process that taught people how to commit burglary, the director, Jules Dassin claimed the film showed how difficult it was to actually carry out a crime (and get away with it).”

After he was blacklisted from Hollywood, Dassin, found work in France. He shot Rififi on a low budget and without a star cast.  Although like Fellini, Dassin has a keen eye for wonderful faces.  Authenticity is better than star power any day, in my book.

The film was offered distribution in the United States on the condition that Dassin renounce his past, declaring that he was duped into subversive associations. Otherwise, his name would be removed from the film as the writer and director. Dassin refused and the film was released by United Artists who set up a dummy corporation as the distributing company. The film was distributed successfully in America with Dassin listed in the credits; making him the first director to break the Hollywood blacklist.

What impressed me the most was a 30 minute segment almost completely without dialogue during the tension-filled jewel heist.  It’s choreographed to keep you riveted in suspense.  Sexual jealousy, friendship and betrayal make make this a must see Power of Truth classic.

Yet again a film looks at how we are haunted by our past.  Without examining the past and transcending it we are doomed to repeat whatever it was that got us into trouble in the first place.

Foreign Correspondent – Day Thirty – #40movies40days

UnknownI can’t believe it’s been a month since I started this project.  I am three quarters of the way through now!

Foreign Correspondent, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, is a great complement to The Quiet American. Again, two men fighting for different sides are caught in a triangle over a girl.  Love, war, politics and the urging of America’s greater involvement in a war swirl through the movie. This time it is the eve of World War II.

Here’s a quick summary from Hal Erickson, writing for the New York Times:

Joel McCrea stars as an American journalist sent by his newspaper to cover the volatile war scene in Europe in the years 1938 to 1940. He has barely arrived in Holland before he witnesses the assassination of Dutch diplomat Albert Basserman: at least, that’s what he thinks he sees. McCrea makes the acquaintance of peace-activist Herbert Marshall, his like-minded daughter Laraine Day, and cheeky British secret agent George Sanders. A wild chase through the streets of Amsterdam, with McCrea dodging bullets, leads to the classic “alternating windmills” scene, which tips Our Hero to the existence of a formidable subversive organization. McCrea returns to England, where he nearly falls victim to the machinations of jovial hired-killer Edmund Gwenn. The leader of the spy ring is revealed during the climactic plane-crash sequence–which, like the aforementioned windmill scene, is a cinematic tour de force for director Hitchcock and cinematographer Rudolph Mate. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/18199/Foreign-Correspondent/overview

Again love and politics get intertwined.  Nothing is quite what it seems.  Love both clouds the characters’ judgement and makes it clearer in true Power of Truth fashion.

Love and politics require some great sacrifice in both The Quiet American and the Foreign Correspondent.  The element of sacrifice is sorely lacking in many of today’s films and their storytelling is much poorer for it.

Here is A. O. Scott’s take on the movie:

Devil In A Blue Dress – Day Twenty Three – #40movies40days

d54252bc28dYet another wheezing and coughing allergy day.  I needed to get to work on my Thriller Workshop in New York, so I decided to catch up with Devil In A Blue Dress. This tepid adaptation of Walter Mosley’s novel is a disappointment.  I can only hope the book was better.

Easy Rawlins (Denzel Washington) loses his job and is offered a quick $100 to find a politician’s girlfriend.  She’s a white girl who likes hot jazz and has been seen frequenting an illegal “colored” nightclub.  Denzel quickly gets caught up in murder and blackmail.

In the best thrillers, (Power of Truth stories) the crime or mystery is a way of going deeper into the main character.  While the investigator is chasing someone or something he is usually running from himself. No such thing happens in Devil In A Blue Dress.  It’s a straight forward by-the-numbers episodic investigation.  No larger deeper truth is revealed.  We learn nothing new about the protagonist and he learns nothing about himself as a result of solving the mystery.

Worse, the devil in a blue dress isn’t devilish at all.  She’s just misguided, believing love will trump her mixed race background and she can marry her white prince charming.  She’s a femme fatale on the run without any dangerous claws.

Roger Ebert summed up my feelings perfectly in his review:

I liked the movie without quite being caught up in it: I liked the period, tone and look more than the story, which I never really cared much about. The explanation, when it comes, tidies all the loose ends, but you’re aware it’s arbitrary – an elegant solution to a chess problem, rather than a necessary outcome of guilt and passion.  http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19950929/REVIEWS/509290302

It doesn’t surprise me there was no second movie adaptation of the Easy Rawlins franchise.

Shutter Island – Day Twenty One – #40movies40days

shutter-island-dicaprioI’m going to keep it short because I have a terrible allergy attack today.  Coughing, wheezing and sneezing.  Not fun!

I finally caught up with Shutter Island last night.  I wasn’t interested in the movie when it was released.  Something about the trailer turned me off or was irritating.  I can’t remember what that was.  But I’m preparing for my Thriller Workshop in New York City and thought I should see it.  I’m glad I did.

I liked the movie a lot.  It’s a classic Power of Truth story asking: Who can I trust?  Do I see what I think I see? What’s really going on?  What does it all mean? ** SPOILERS AHEAD **

Shutter Island reminded me very much of Memento.  In both films a man’s wife dies in the aftermath of a violent act.  Each man constructs an elaborate narrative about what happened and who is responsible.  Each man searches for his wife’s “killer.”  After the shock of being confronted with the truth, each man retreats back to his fictional narrative.

The film is an interesting follow up to What The Bleep Do We Know.  That film and my interpretation of it argues:

I am who I say I am.  I am the story I tell about myself– to me and to others.
I chose my story and I continue to chose it consciously or unconsciously every day.
Events in the past do not create or destroy my character– my reaction to, attitude toward and interpretation of those events is what creates or destroys my character.

I am who I say I am.  I am the story I tell about myself– to me and to others.

I chose my story and I continue to chose it consciously or unconsciously every day.

Events in the past do not create or destroy my character– my reaction to, attitude toward and interpretation of those events is what creates or destroys my character.

shutter-island-review4At the end of Shutter Island, the protagonist (Leonardo DiCaprio), chooses madness.  He can’t face his role in the deaths of his wife and children.  He would rather “Die a good man (his fictional self) than live as a monster (and face what really happened)”.  He cannot do the work to process his grief, forgive himself and resolve his loss.

At the end of Memento, the protagonist (Guy Pearce) chooses to kill the only man who has the key to his wife’s killer.  He can’t face his role in her death. The truth is too painful so he “makes up his own truth”.  He cannot forgive himself and resolve his loss.  So he creates a mystery he can never solve.

Reality is the story we choose to tell about ourselves and our world.  Power of Truth characters struggle to define what reality they can accept and what reality they choose to ignore (or to hide).  Although they seek the truth, the person most often lying to them is themselves.

The protagonists in Shutter Island and Memento choose a story that fictionalizes and twists the truth. Each would rather be insane/lobotomized/lost in a haze of distorted memories rather than face responsibility for the death that haunts him.

Shutter Island is a fascinating psychological thriller that unwraps the protagonist’s psyche in a slow tortuous fashion.  The surprise twist is extremely satisfying.   Although the protagonist is judged insane, he makes a choice that proves his sanity in that he is fully conscious of what he’s doing.