Why is the Cop on the Job?

In a serialized cop drama the mechanics of “How” a crime is solved is so much less important than “Why” the cops are doing what they are doing and “Why” they are affected by the job. If there is no “Why” it’s just cops going through the motions, which can make a serialized story feel by-the-numbers and hollow.

The “Why” provides the emotion, passion, and inter-personal conflict between the individuals in the story (and all the internal conflict within the character). Too often writers simply project their general idea of being a cop and use the mechanics of “How” to put the cops through their paces— Instead of being specific about “Why” one particular individual is a cop and “Why” he/she does the job in a particular or unique way.

There are four basic categories of “Why” anyone becomes a cop (or a doctor, or any other professional):

1. It’s a job. Being a cop is solid union employment and a dependable way to make a living and support a family. The cop does what is expected and punches out. The cop puts in the time and is concerned and responsible on the job. But he or she doesn’t take the job home and retires as soon as is feasible.

2. It’s a career. Being a cop is a good opportunity for advancement. The cop is working to achieve something else. The job is a means to an end (rising through the ranks, running for political office, becoming a consultant, etc.) It is a stepping- stone to something else and worth the hard work and extra effort to achieve a larger goal.

3. It’s a vocation. Being a cop is a life mission or a higher calling. The cop is there to make a difference, have an important impact, or change people’s lives. The work is a consuming passion for the cop. There is no dividing line between work and personal life. Work is the cop’s life.

4. It’s a mistake. Being a cop is not a good fit. The individual is a cop for the wrong reasons or the wrong motivations. Or the reality of the job doesn’t conform to the ideal of the job or the fantasy of being a cop. In any case, the individual puts in the time and effort, got the job, and now is trapped.

Any kind of employment, but particularly policing, has a variety of people who look at the “Why” of doing the job very differently. All individuals naturally assume their “Why” is the most valid reason or, if everyone else was honest, is the real motivation for anyone doing the job. This is a great opportunity for personal conflict in a story. Too often in cop shows (or shows featuring the medical profession) everyone is doing the job for the same reason. That isn’t the case in life and it shouldn’t be the case in drama.

Layered onto “Why” someone is employed as a police officer (it’s a job, a career, a vocation, or a mistake) is the “Why” of the individual’s Character Type. Looking down on nine different police officers toiling away long into the night it might be easy or convenient to believe they are all working hard for the same internal motivation or with the same value system and world view in mind. But every one of the Nine Character Types sees the world very differently, believes very different things about how the world works, and sees the primary role of a cop from a unique perspective.

1. Power of Conscience cops believe policing is an important duty and carries with it the responsibility of making the world a better place. Doing the right thing is crucial to these kinds of cops. Their struggle is what is the higher duty or the most right—law or justice. (These two principles are not the same thing). Hill Street Blues‘ Joyce Davenport (Veronica Hamel) is this kind of character. Howard Hunter (James B. Sikking) is the comic version on the same show. Homicide’s Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor) is also a Power of Conscience character. Rylan Givens (Timothy Oliphant) in Justified is a more recent example. Although not a cop show, the sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) in The Walking Dead, was a Power of Conscience law enforcement officer.

2. Power of Will cops believe policing is a matter of strength and the ability to dominate the situation. The use of power is crucial to these kinds of cops. Their struggle is what actually constitutes strength or power— excess or restraint. (Does compassion and tolerance make you stronger or weaker?) NYPD Blue’s Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) is this kind of character. A more recent example is Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) on The Shield.  In The Walking Dead, Shane Walsh (Jon” Bernthal) is a Power of Will law enforcement officer.

3. Power of Ambition cops believe policing is a matter of winning or losing. Appealing to other’s self-interest is the way to get things done. Their struggle is with short cuts vs. the long hard patient slog—results or process. (If no one else plays by the rules why should they?) Hill Street Blues‘ John “JD” LaRue (Kiel Martin) is a Power of Ambition character. A more recent example is Lieutenant Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick) on The Wire.  Shane Vendrell (Walton Goggins) is another example of this kind of cop in The Shield.

4. Power of Love cops believe policing is caring for others and helping them succeed. Compassion and understanding is crucial to how they get the job done. Their struggle is when to employ “tough love” or just give up on someone. (When does empathy or understanding simply enable bad or destructive behavior?) NYPD Blue’s Bobby Simone (Jimmy Smits) is this kind of character. Another example is Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) on Hill Street Blues. Woody Harrelson as Detective Marty Hart in True Detective is a Power of Love cop.

5. Power of Idealism cops believe policing is a matter of individual style and personal excellence. Use of unique talents and refusing to buckle under to stupid bureaucrats is crucial to their method of policing. Their struggle is how to maintain their individuality and still be part of a larger organization. (When does being a maverick or a rebel cause more harm than good?) Homicide’s Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher) illustrates the Power of Idealism character as a cop.  Another example is Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) on The Wire.

6. Power of Reason cops believe policing is a matter of keeping personal self-control and maintaining the social order. Objectivity, expertise and a depth of knowledge are crucial to getting the job done. Their struggle is to connect with their own emotions. Dexter’s title character (Michael C. Hall) is one of the best recent examples of this kind of character on the police force. Monk’s title character (Tony Shalhoub) is the comedic example. Sofia Helin as Saga Norén in the Swedish series The Bridge is another great example of this kind of cop.

7. Power of Truth cops believe policing is a matter of uncovering secret agendas and avoiding hidden pitfalls. Establishing trust, knowing who your friends are, and being attuned to conspiracies are crucial to getting the job done. Their struggle is to accept the ambiguity of the job and the possibility of never finding real certainty. (Is the “truth” a moving target or something fixed and certain?) Homicide’s conspiracy obsessed Steve Crosetti (Jon Polito) is this kind of character. Hill Street Blues’ loyal to the core Frank Furillo (Daniel J. Travanti) is another example.  Kurt Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) on the UK version of Wallendar is a Power of Truth detective so is Matthew McConaughey as Detective Rusty Cohle in True Detective.

8. Power of Imagination cops believe policing is a matter of listening to your instincts, following hunches, or special intuitive clues. Often access to what others cannot see or hear or a quirky special kind of insight is crucial to doing their job. Their struggle is how to interpret their unusual intuition or how best to communicate it to others. (Do they take me seriously or do they think I’m crazy?) This kind of cop is rare on television. Hill Street Blues’ Michael (Mick) Belker (Bruce Weitz) is an uncouth ruffian version of the Power of Imagination character.  Another example is police consultant Allison DuBois (Patricia Arquette) in Medium.

9. Power of Excitement cops believe policing is an adventure and a thrill ride. Their charm, good-humor and ability to get themselves in and out of traps is crucial to how they do their job. Their struggle is in following orthodox rules when it is so much more interesting to play fast and loose, improvise, and shoot from the hip. (Are we having fun yet?) Beverly Hills Cop’s Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) is the quintessential example of this character.

The “Why” of policing combined with Character Type creates a variety of complex and interesting individuals. It would be possible, for example, to create four very different Power of Conscience characters depending on whether they view policing as a job, as a career, as a vocation or as a mistake.

Their values and their world views would not change but their attitudes would clash. For example: How these characters define their “higher duty” or what is the “most right” is hugely influenced by the reason they are on the job. Those different perspectives provide enormous potential conflict. Here is the breakdown:

1. A Power of Conscience cop who sees policing as a job would probably believe the higher duty is owed to family. This cop would follow the rules, be conscientious, but not take the job home.

2. A Power of Conscience cop who sees policing as a career would probably believe the higher duty is owed to the organization or society. The higher the cop rises, the more effective the position becomes to do good and improve the larger situation. This cop would be relentless in seeking opportunities to advance a larger moral agenda.  And the issue of “how much bad am I willing to do in service to a good cause” would be a recurring personal theme.

3. A Power of Conscience cop who sees policing as a vocation probably believes the higher duty is owed to the victims of crime. This cop’s passion would be justice for the victims and punishment for the criminals. His or her personal life would be consumed by this life mission.

4. A Power of Conscience cop who see policing as a mistake would probably believe the higher duty is owed to one’s self. Policing can be a dirty murky business where there often is no right answer and true justice is hard to find. This lack of clear-cut black and white or right and wrong would probably be an unbearable burden on this individual– giving rise to external moral outrage and internal guilt or self-loathing. How can I be good or worthy in a cesspool?

Creating an ensemble which clearly addresses “Why” the cop is on the job combined with Character Type provides an endless source of internal and external conflict. Making use of the full variety of human experience in specific combination creates memorable partnerships, unforgettable enemies, and extraordinary individual characters.

Vladimir Putin and the Power of Will

putin and horse

Valdimir Putin,  the President of Russia, has been much in the news lately, specifically regarding the Russian invasion/annexation of the Crimea.  The New Republic magazine has an interesting analysis of Putin’s personality and goals.  He is described in the magazine and in other news reports as a classic Power of Will character.

Putin, sees the world according to his own logic, and the logic goes like this: it is better to be feared than loved, it is better to be overly strong than to risk appearing weak, and Russia was, is, and will be an empire with an eternal appetite for expansion. And it will gather whatever spurious reasons it needs to insulate itself territorially from what it still perceives to be a large and growing NATO threat.  New Republic Magazine

From the LA Times this week:  Across a resurgent Russia, Stalin lives again, at least in the minds and hearts of Russian nationalists who see Putin as heir to the former dictator’s model of iron-fisted rule. Recent tributes celebrate Stalin’s military command acumen and geopolitical prowess. His ruthless repression of enemies, real and imagined, has been brushed aside by today’s Kremlin leader as the cost to be paid for defeating the Nazis.

As Putin has sought to recover territory lost in the 1991 Soviet breakup, his Stalinesque claim to a right to a “sphere of influence” has allowed him to legitimize the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine and declare an obligation to defend Russians and Russian speakers beyond his nation’s borders.

Power of Will characters believe that expanding their power base, extending their territory, protecting and defending what is rightfully theirs (according to them) and swiftly avenging any wrong (or perceived wrong) is how one gets along, gets ahead and stays ahead in the world.

These characters take what they want, fight for every inch of turf, refuse to show any weakness themselves and pounce decisively on the weakness of others. They have a kill or be killed framework for everything. They believe absolutely in the Law of the Jungle and divide the world into aggressors and victims, hunters and prey, and the strong and the weak. They believe it is better to be feared than to be loved. They never want to be seen as “soft” or vulnerable. They show no mercy and they expect none.

Power of Will characters fear showing any sign of weakness or vulnerability. They fear that remorse, compassion, empathy, compromise or forgiveness leaves them soft and open to possible attack by others. These characters believe there is no mercy in the jungle that is the world. There is only survival of the fittest. The biggest, toughest, meanest dog wins. Might makes right. Speak decisively and back it up with big guns.

For more on the Power of Will character visit the ETB Screenwriting Shop.

 

Vladimir Putin and the Power of Will

Valdimir Putin,  the President of Russia, has been much in the news lately, specifically regarding the Russian invasion/annexation of the Crimea.  The New Republic magazine has an interesting analysis of Putin’s personality and goals.  He is described in the magazine and in other news reports as a classic Power of Will character.

Putin, sees the world according to his own logic, and the logic goes like this: it is better to be feared than loved, it is better to be overly strong than to risk appearing weak, and Russia was, is, and will be an empire with an eternal appetite for expansion. And it will gather whatever spurious reasons it needs to insulate itself territorially from what it still perceives to be a large and growing NATO threat.  New Republic Magazine

Power of Will characters believe that expanding their power base, extending their territory, protecting and defending what is rightfully theirs (according to them) and swiftly avenging any wrong (or perceived wrong) is how one gets along, gets ahead and stays ahead in the world.

These characters take what they want, fight for every inch of turf, refuse to show any weakness themselves and pounce decisively on the weakness of others. They have a kill or be killed framework for everything. They believe absolutely in the Law of the Jungle and divide the world into aggressors and victims, hunters and prey, and the strong and the weak. They believe it is better to be feared than to be loved. They never want to be seen as “soft” or vulnerable. They show no mercy and they expect none.

Power of Will characters fear showing any sign of weakness or vulnerability. They fear that remorse, compassion, empathy, compromise or forgiveness leaves them soft and open to possible attack by others. These characters believe there is no mercy in the jungle that is the world. There is only survival of the fittest. The biggest, toughest, meanest dog wins. Might makes right. Speak decisively and back it up with big guns.

For more on the Power of Will character visit the ETB Screenwriting Shop.

 

Nigella Lawson and her Recent Troubles

Nigella Lawson’s admission she used cocaine in a fraud trial of two sisters who were her personal assistants has caused a sensation in the British press.  The intimate details about her relationship with her husband, multi-millionaire Charles Saachi, was further fuel for scandalous gossip.

The story reminded me to look back on an article I wrote about celebrity chefs and their Character Types.  (The full article is here http://www.etbscreenwriting.com/celebrity-chefs-character-types/)

Below is my analysis of Nigella at the time:

POWER OF LOVE

Nigella Lawson is a Power of Love character.  She is a food seducer.  Cooking is a sensual pleasure and the opportunity to nurture.  She is  often described as being “sexy and flirty” while working with or presenting food.  She celebrates her own voluptuous curves and says she takes her greatest joy in “feeding others”.  Here is how she describes her philosophy in one of her books:

The trouble with much modern cooking is not that the food it produces is not good, but that the mood it induces in the cook is one of skin-of-the-teeth efficiency, all briskness and little pleasure. Sometimes that’s the best we can manage, but to others we want to feel not like a postmodern, post feminist, overstretched modern woman but, rather, a domestic goddess, trailing nutmeggy fumes of baking pie in our languorous wake. So what I’m talking about is not being a domestic goddess, exactly, but feeling like one. – Domestic Goddess

Lawson’s culinary efforts have been described as decadent, succulent, passionate, luscious, and lavish.

Lawson’s sexy roundness mixed with her speed-demon technique makes cooking dinner with Nigella look like a prelude to an orgy.  – The New York TImes

Her appeal is further described here:

Women like her, she says, “because I’m not thin”, while men who lack the domestic skills to unwrap a chip supper can watch her licking a fingerful of her signature Slut Red Raspberries in Chardonnay Jelly and wonder what they have been missing.  – The Telegraph

Power of Love characters, regardless of what they look like are innately sensual and sexy.  They are Earth Mothers or Nurturers regardless of their gender.  In her many television shows like Nigella Bites and Forever Summer with Nigella, Lawson presents food as a comfort, a pleasure and the abiding warmth of true sustenance.  Cooking is her way of giving pleasure to others.  When she is criticized it is for creating a kind of “Food Porn” that is a too voluptuous or too much the over-stuffed sensory feast.

POWER OF LOVE AND POWER OF WILL

Earlier in the year, her husband, Charles Saachi, famously grabbed Nigella by the throat in the outdoor patio of a London restaurant.  She testified she saw a young woman with a “sweet looking” baby and said she “was so looking forward to having grandchildren”.

She says her husband then grabbed her by the throat and told her he was the only person she should be concerned with and that he should be the only person giving her pleasure.  Saachi contended in the press that he grabbed his wife by the throat with one and then two hands in order to make her focus on the conversation they were having (and presumably on him).

After photos of the incident were published Saachi was cautioned by the police for assault.  A police caution is a serious formal warning but stops short of actual prosecution.  Very soon after publication of the photos Nigella filed for divorce.

She says her husband has been continually emotionally abusive.  Why didn’t she leave him before then?  Power of Love characters tend to be very forgiving in their relationship with Power of Will men.  It’s typical of a Power of Love character to believe if she just loves her man enough, or in exactly the right way, he will have to love her back.

Power of Will men are controlling, often have anger and temper issues, are extremely jealous, and are very physical. They see their partner as belonging to them and them alone.  In a strange way, this possessiveness and aggressive behavior can “feel” a bit like love to Power of Love characters.  He may not be treating her kindly but he has a powerful connection to her and she had a big emotional impact on him.

Saachi insists he still deeply loves Nigella and is “devastated” by the divorce. He said in court, “I adore Nigella, and I’m absolutely brokenhearted to have lost her”.

As this sordid saga plays out in court and in the press, I’m sure we’ll see other testimony that supports and further defines this battling couples’ Character Types.

 

#TypesTuesday – Archetype or Character Type? Wizards in Harry Potter

dumbledore-etbscreenwritingI was having a conversation with a friend the other day about archetypes. I must admit, I am not a fan. To me an archetype is a job description: a wizard, trickster, mother, hero, outlaw, seductress, judge, or mystic simply do different kinds of work in a story.

Let’s take the first job on the list, wizard. The Harry Potter book and film series features many different wizards. Each has his or her own individual kind of wizardry and distinctive personality.

That’s the problem with archetypes. There is no one way to be a wizard. There are lots of different ways to play that role in a story. Different wizards view their role or job differently, believe different things about the world, and frame their responsibilities very differently. In a story, a character’s job or role is much less important than how the person sees the world, understands that role, and fulfills his or her duties.

That’s where Character Type comes in. Character Type determines how a person views the world, sees his or her place in it, and develops a philosophy of life and love, Character Type creates innate strengths and weaknesses and determines the lessons to be learn over the arc of the story. Different Character Types are concerned about very different aspects of their role or job. For example:

A Power of Will wizard is most concerned with using his or her abilities for vengeance or to expand and defend a personal domain or to bend others or the elements into submission.  Lord Voldemort is a great example.  “There is no good and evil, there is only power…and those too weak to seek it.”

A Power of Conscience wizard is most concerned with the justice and ethics of magic and how it is most rightly or properly used.  They do not break rules or tolerate misbehavior.  Minerva McGonagall is a great example:    ‘Now, I must warn you that the most stringent anti-cheating charms have been applied to your examination papers. Auto-Answer Quills are banned from the examination hall, as are Remembralls, Detachable Cribbing Cuffs and Self-Correcting Ink. Every year, I am afraid to say, seems to harbour at least one student who thinks that he or she can get around the Wizarding Examinations Authority’s rules. I can only hope that it is nobody in Gryffindor.”

A Power of Ambition wizard is most concerned with the flash, dazzle and showy presentation required to be impressive, gain prestige, status, being popular, or acquiring a grand reputation.  Draco Malfoy is a great example:  “My father told me all the Weasleys have red hair, freckles, and more children than they can afford… You’ll soon find out some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter. You don’t want to go making friends with the wrong sort. I can help you there.”

A Power of Truth wizard is most concerned with divining oracles and prophesies or delving into deep dark hidden secrets.  They are secret keepers and it’s hard to know where their real loyalties lie.  Severus Snape is a great example:  “What made you think he’d really stopped supporting Voldemort, Professor?”  Dumbledore held Harry’s gaze for a few seconds, and then said, “That, Harry, is a matter between Professor Snape and myself.” Snape has the most surprising reveal in the story, which changes our whole view of him at the end.

A Power of Reason wizard is most concerned with the magical formulas or precise processes that lead to specific knowledge or expertise.  Hermione Granger is a great example:  “That’s what Hermione does. When in doubt, go to the library.” She is a little off-putting and can be very condescending but she is one of the smartest and best informed young wizards in the group.

A Power of Excitement wizard is most concerned with adventurous exploring, wild experimenting or creating the chaos that makes magic fun and surprising.  They hate being bored or trapped. Sirius Black is a great exmple:  “Personally, I’d have welcomed a dementor attack. A deadly struggle for my soul would have broken the monotony nicely. You think you’ve had it bad, at least you’ve been able to get out and about, stretch your legs, get into a few fights…. I’ve been stuck inside for a month.”

A Power of Love wizard is most concerned with relationship magic, bonding spells, and creating mutual alliances.  These Character Types are stalwart friends and are self -sacrificing for others.  Harry’s best friend Ron is a good example:  “We’re nearly there,” Ron muttered suddenly. “Let me think — let me think…” The white queen turned her blank face toward him. “Yes…” said Ron softly, “it’s the only way … I’ve got to be taken.” “NO!” Harry and Hermione shouted.”That’s chess!” snapped Ron. “You’ve got to make some sacrifices! I take one step forward and she’ll take me — that leaves you free to checkmate the king, Harry!”

A Power of Idealism wizard is most concerned with creating magic that is completely unique, entirely special, and is a reflection of his or her deepest passions.  These are the truly exceptional wizards, those who are the legends.  Dumbledore is a good example:  “Professor Dumbledore, though very old, always gave an impression of great energy. He had several feet of long silver hair and beard, half-moon spectacles, and an extremely crooked nose. He was often described as the greatest wizard of the age.”  Harry Potter is also such a legendary wizard, specially marked, and charged with a unique and extraordinary destiny.

A Power of Imagination wizard is eccentric, slightly dreamy and live in a world of their own.  Although unassuming, these Character Types have enormous heart and bravery.  These kinds of wizards can see and hear things others don’t or simply miss.  Luna Lovegood is a great example:  “Oh, yes,” said Luna, “I’ve been able to see them (winged horses) ever since my first day here. They’ve always pulled the carriages. Don’t worry. You’re just as sane as I am.”

Each type of wizard looks at the role of magic through very different personal lens of Character Type. Resorting to an archetypal “wizard” too often leads to stereotypical behavior that is cliched. There is no one way to be a wizard just as there is no one way to be a cop, a nurse, a priest, a mother, or a fool. Each Character Type makes the role, the job, the archetype entirely his or her own.

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Power and The Game of Thrones

Soap Operas were the first television broadcast formats to use non-linear narratives. These programs have always featured interrupted story lines, shifting character focus and point of view in various episodes (and a large cast with whose characters regularly drop in and out of particular story lines), as well as alternating story arcs which advance separate but related story lines, or different characters that deal with different aspects of the same plot. There is frequent use of flashbacks, dream sequences, and other disjointed uses of time.

Popular and critically acclaimed Prime Time programs that are perceived as innovative and highly original use a combination of many of the same storytelling techniques. Why do shows such as The Game of Thrones feel fresh, inventive, and avant-garde to television audiences while Soap Operas often feel tired, old fashioned, and provincial? The answer can be found in two words– Great Characters.

If you look at the structure of The Game of Thrones it is about 80% eating or drinking and talking, walking and talking, having sex and talking, or riding and talking.  A few spectacular set pieces or violent action sequences do punctuate all of the talking but the show is primarily about relationships and power, relationships and love, or relationships and trust or betrayal.  This kind of relationship drama is the foundation of a soap.

The Game of Throne brings its relationships to life with complex characters that have a specific point of view and whose actions are always consistent with their particular way of looking at the world, their role in the world, and their philosophy of life, love, and power.

Let’s take a look at the main Game of Thrones characters in relationship to how they understand power and its use.

The first major character introduced in the series is Eddard “Ned” Stark. He is the lord of the Wintefell and head of the House Stark. He is a Power of Conscience character.

These characters know instinctively if something is wrong, unfair, or improper. They have a keen sense of justice and feel responsible for doing the greater good. In Ned’s own words: “The law is the law.” “You think my life is such a precious thing to me, that I would trade my honor for a few more years …of what?”  These characters look at power as their sworn duty to do right and take responsibility. Ned is tested by an offer to save his children by confessing to a treason he did not commit.  He believes his higher duty is to his family rather than his word.  He is beheaded any way and his children hunted down or dangerously trapped.

Catelyn Tully is the wife of Ned Stark and Lady of Winterfell. She is fiercely protective of her family. Catelyn always follows her heart rather than her head where family matters are concerned. She is  jealous of Ned’s bastard son, Jon Snow. She resents that her husband brought the boy into HER family.

Later in the story, Catelyn is consumed with avenging the deaths in the House of Stark. She is a formidable adversary and, like most Power of Love characters, wields an iron fist in a velvet glove. She finds her power in protecting and pushing her family forward.

Robb Stark is the eldest child of Lady Catelyn and Lord Eddard Stark. He is declared King in the North by his bannermen and family allies after his father’s execution.  He is leading forces in a rebellion to break the North from the control of the Iron Throne.

Robb is a Power of Idealism character.  He is a warrior/savant called “The Young Wolf” and instinctively knows how to strategize and win battles.  Like Jaime Lannister, another Power of Idealism character, Robb is an extraordinary warrior and believes the rules don’t apply to him.  And like Jaime, Robb is in love with someone forbidden to him.  He is a doomed romantic who secretly weds a woman who will cost him his life and his war. His power is his ability to inspire others and in his extraordinary fighting abilities.

Jon Snow is Ned Stark’s second son.  He was born of an undisclosed romantic liaison.  He, like his father, is a Power of Conscience character.  Jon feels unworthy as Ned’s bastard son and joins the Rangers to find a good and moral purpose for his life.  But, like all Power of Conscience characters, the issue soon becomes what is the higher duty or most important moral purpose?  Does he try to help and save his brother, Robb, and the Stark family?  Or does he remain true to the vows he took as a Ranger to protect only the Wall and hence the entire realm.  Jon finds power in being a good and righteous man, he often doesn’t know what such a man looks like in the dark and complicated world he faces.

Sansa Stark is the elder daughter of Catelyn and Eddard Stark. She is raised as a true high-born lady with all the traditional feminine charms and graces. Sansa is also a Power of Love character. She is a young romantic and lives for day she will marry her handsome prince and have his children.

When her Prince Joffery turns out to be a cruel little sadist she, like most Power of Love characters, believes if she loves him long enough and well enough he will have to love her back. These characters often see their own value reflected in the eyes of another.  Sansa sees her power as a dance of romance and courtly love.  But she too, over the course of the series, reveals the strength of steel inside her velvet glove.

Arya Stark is the third child and second Stark daughter. She is a rebellious, high-spirited girl who doesn’t fit in with the other young ladies of the court. She wants to excel as a swordsman and fighter.

Arya is a Power of Idealism Character. These characters want to find their special place in the word, be extraordinary, and be called to some great destiny (often as a warrior). They reject the demands of  traditional authority to maintain and protect their own individuality and personal freedom. Arya seeks the power of having the ability to be fully and truly herself.

Brandon is the fourth child and third  Stark son. He is a Power of Imagination character.

These characters can see, hear, or “feel” things others cannot. Bran has a mystical connection with his direwolf, has prophetic dreams, and has a growing access to the “old magic” as the story goes on.

He is seemingly small, insignificant, and a cripple due to a fall. But he has great inner powers yet to be revealed.  Brandon’s only access to power as a connection to the mystical, magical, and the divine.  “You can’t kill it you know, the raven is you.”

Robert Baratheon is the (late) King of Westeros. He took the Iron Throne in a war known as Robert’s Rebellion. He is a Power of Will character.

Tywin Lannister, another Power of Will character, lusts for domination and control, but King Robert lusts for wine, women, hunting, and eating.

He is a Power of Will character in the tradition of Falstaff. Robert is volatile, dangerous and is entirely ruled by his appetites.  Power to Robert is living large and lustily and answering to no one.

Cersei Lannister is the wife and later widow of King Robert. Cersei is the only daughter of Lord Tywin Lannister.  The House of Lannister is one of the wealthiest and most influential families in Westeros.

Cersei is another Power of Love character.  She exercises power through her son, Joffery.  Although she know how dark and cruel his heart is she still loves him as fiercely as a mother lion.

“Tears aren’t a woman’s only weapon.”  “Everyone who isn’t us is an enemy.”  She finds her power behind her son’s throne.

Ser Jaime Lannister is a knight of the Kingsguard, a position he has held for twenty years since he was made the youngest Kingsguard ever. He is the eldest son of Tywin Lannister and is his sister’s incestuous lover.

He a Power of Idealism character and is acknowledged as one of the best warriors in the land.  Jamie is unique and extraordinary. He makes his own rules and follows his own peculiar code of honor.  His power is in his extraordinary and unique abilities.  “There are no men like me. Only me.”

Tywin Lannister is Lord of Casterly Rock, Shield of Lannisport, and Warden of the West. He is one of the most powerful lords in Westeros and father of Jaime, Cersei, and Tyrion Lannister.

He is a Power of Will character. These characters take what they want, fight for every inch of turf, refuse to show any weakness themselves, pounce decisively on the weakness of others, and swiftly avenge any wrong (or perceived wrong). “Do you think I’d be where I am if I had lost a battle?” These characters show no mercy and expect none.  His power is in his strength and ruthlessness.

Tyrion Lannister, is the third and youngest child of powerful Lord Tywin. Tyrion is a dwarf, and is sometimes mockingly called The Imp or The Halfman. He is a Power of Truth character.

Unlike Varys who is a sly secret-keeper, Tyrion is a bold skeptic and cynical truth-teller. He often says what others are too afraid, too embarrassed, or too timid to say.

The major theme in his story going forward is betrayal or seeming betrayal by nearly everyone. Power is an illusive thing for Tyrion, it resides in loyalty and trust.  Both are so rare in Westeros as to be almost nonexistent.  He survives by his keen wit, cynical nature, and his powers of perception.

Varys is a eunuch, a secret keeper, and the Master of Whisperers (the head of the royal Spy Network). He is an advisor on the king’s small council.

Varys is a Power of Truth character. These characters believe the world is filled with hidden dangers, illusive enemies and concealed pitfalls. His philosophy might be stated: “Things are never what they seem.” “Trust no one.” “Watch out for secret agendas and hidden pitfalls.”  He believes power is “a trick, a shadow on the wall”.  Power is perception.  “It resides where people believe it resides”.

I liked what the AV Club has said about the series– “Each storyline is separated into roughly equal-sized chunks, then split between episodes. Every week, viewers drop in on one of those storylines for a few minutes, hopefully departing enticed to come back the next week by a cliffhanger (or two). Some episodes focus more heavily on certain characters, but each hour goes out of its way to drop in on as many characters as possible, just to keep the audience aware of what’s going on. As in soaps, this creates stories that don’t so much build as exist in an eternal present. The show has climaxes and traditional stories, but it seems to constantly be moving forward. There’s always something else coming, and the series has to maintain the illusion that whatever finality there is offers more of a comma than a period.”

I would add that the gaining or losing of power and how power is best used are the underlying theme that tie all the far-flung action of the show together.  This theme provides a sense of continuity to what’s going on in every part of the world and across all the battle fronts (foreign and domestic) on which the war is being fought.  Power is what binds the characters to the story and also binds the disparate action of the episodes together.

Brave from Pixar – How Good is Good Enough?

Pixar_Brave_1I saw Brave this weekend along with a surging box office crowd.  It’s Pixar after all and their first film with a female protagonist in the studio’s 17 year history.

Settling down in the theater seat I saw what seemed like a dozen trailers for upcoming animated films. There is a lot of competition out there!

All of the visuals for the coming attractions looked great, and so does Brave.  Every review of Brave (even the bad ones) wax poetic about  the lush scenery, the gorgeous colors, the spectacular hair, the realistic fur, and the impressive claws!

Folks, I’m here to tell you– The technology war is OVER. How much more realistic can you make rippling water, wind-whipped tresses, galloping horses, and  sleek bear pelts?  Great visuals are now the norm. Every animated studio film has them and the incremental improvements, unless they are game-changing, don’t add up to very much in my book. Are technological advances in fur, hair, and water really the reason why we go to movies? Is it to watch a fabulous moving painting?

We go to movies for the same reason people sat around the castle hearth in 10th century Scotland– for a great story filled with memorable characters! Brave, set in that very time and place, repeats over and over “Legends are lessons.” That is true of the best stories. They tell us what it is to be human in all our fragility and strength, blindness and insight, and selfishness and transcendence.

What story exactly is Brave telling? What is the lesson in this legend? The film’s very muddled narrative adds up to a lack of complexity and not enough heart. If the film’s visuals were on a par with the story we’d be watching stick figures.

I knew Brave was in trouble from the first few words spoken in voice over as the film began. Merida (Kelly Macdonald) uses the words “fate” and “destiny” interchangeably.  This muddle-headedness is at the heart of the film’s problem.

What’s the difference between fate and destiny? Philosophers through the ages have distinguished the two based on choice. Fate is something that happens TO you. Destiny is something that happens BECAUSE of you.

Fate is at the root of such words as “fatal” and “fatalistic.” It implies LACK of choice. Philosopher Rollo May says fate is what we are born into, something that cannot be changed and that we have no control over, such as race.

May says destiny is what we create based on what we were given. Destiny is all about CHOICE. It’s what we choose to do with what we have.

imagesMerida is born a princess. She can’t change that. Her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), is grooming Merida for a role as future queen. After a long series of wars King Fergus (Billy Connolly) has united the four clans. Merida’s duty is to help keep the clans unified though a judicious marriage.

Merida is a wild rebellious child with special talent as a rider and archer. The demonstrations of her skills are absolutely breath-taking.  She is unique and extraordinary and initially looks very much like a Power of Idealism character.

These kinds of characters are driven by their passion. They abhor what they consider to be a mundane, boring, or mediocre life. They want to seize some grand destiny that is uniquely theirs.

The film starts out like a Power of Idealism Coming of Age story. The deeper human questions at the heart of these stories are: How can I be true to myself and find my rightful place in the world? What is my own special destiny?

Well drawn female protagonists in this vein are:

Paikea (Keisha Castle-Hughes) in Whale Rider. This film, for those who haven’t seen it is described on IMDB as “A contemporary story of (family) love, rejection and triumph as a young Maori girl fights to fulfill a destiny her grandfather refuses to recognize.”

Jess Kaur Bhamra (Parminder Nagra) in Bend it Like Beckham is another example. IMDB states the film’s log line as “The (talented) daughter of an orthodox Sikh rebels against her parents’ traditionalism by running off to Germany to play with a girl’s football team (soccer in America).”

Unlike Paikea or Jess, Merida doesn’t fight for what she believes is HER destiny. Merida, instead, decides to change her mother!  Perhaps this is because Merida has no clue about what she is really called to do.

tdy-120613-brave.380Now the story gets even muddier. With the help of an old witch’s spell Merida does indeed change her mother — into a bear.

Instead of figuring out who she is and what she uniquely is called to do, Merida must again deal with who her mother is. In the struggle over the middle part of Brave, Queen Elinor becomes the protagonist.

The definition of a protagonist, in my book, is the person who makes the biggest emotional sacrifice in the story. It is the person who undergoes the most profound transformation. This is clearly Elinor on every front.

Queen Elinor is a Power of Conscience character. She is a strict and demanding taskmaster, a perfectionist, and is driven by a strong sense of tradition and duty. Over the course of the story she recognizes her daughter’s uniqueness and fully appreciates Merida for who she is.

The first important glimpse of Elinor’s change of heart is the brawl in the great hall after Merida has disappeared.  When Merida strides back into the hall it is Elinor who puts words in Merida’s mouth. Elinor speaks through her surrogate about going against tradition and marrying for love. It is Elinor who makes an eloquent plea for choice and following one’s heart. Merida is just her passive interpreter. At the end of the film Elinor is willing to sacrifice her own life in a battle with the ancient cursed bear, who one would assume, was the monster who took off her husband’s leg. Or not? Who knows?

Even more confusingly this monster turns out to be the legendary brother, it would seem, who destroyed the ancient kingdom so long ago because of his pride and selfishness.  How did he turn into a bear? Was it mother love or something else that breaks his curse?

When a legend and curse is set up so carefully it should have a pay-off having to do with Merida or her destiny– if the film is really about Merida.

And what does Merida do that is so brave?  She scurries around looking for the witch’s house after her mother turns into a bear.  She stitches up (with big clumsy childish stitches) the tapestry she slashed separating her from her mother.  She does a lot of running away and running around. She is ineffective in battling the monstrous cursed bear. And she collapses in tears remembering her mother’s loving kindness as the second sunrise threatens to make her mother’s bear curse permanent. In other words, she acts like a child– or worse a girl.

At the end of the film, Elinor has changed but not Merida.  Merida is the same galloping wild child as she was in the beginning.  This refusal to accept restrictions, grow up, or take responsibility is Power of Excitement territory. It is a sinking back into childhood rather than striding toward an adulthood based both on duty and and an individualistic sense of self. If you are a young woman, what is the lesson here?

Brave offers no alternative vision of how Merida might help unify the clan in some way that is uniquely hers. It provides a very unsatisfying resolution. How has Merida changed or grown? What happens when King Fergus and Queen Elinor are too old to rule? What is Merida’s role going forward?

MANOHLA DARGIS NY TIMES–  discouragingly uninspired script by Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman and Irene Mecchi. (Ms. Chapman, the first woman hired to direct a Pixar feature, either left or was removed from “Brave” and now shares directing credit with Mr. Andrews.)
The association of Merida with the natural world accounts for some of the movie’s most beautifully animated sequences, and in other, smarter or maybe just braver, hands it might have also inspired new thinking about women, men, nature and culture. Here, however, the nature-culture divide is drawn along traditional gender

There is so much missed opportunity in Brave.  Manohla Dargis writing in The New York Times laments:  “The association of Merida with the natural world accounts for some of the movie’s most beautifully animated sequences, and in other, smarter or maybe just braver, hands it might have also inspired new thinking about women, men, nature and culture.”

BraveThe story thuds along on the surface. None of the characters in Brave is particularly complex or have much emotional depth. Although Elinor and King Fergus are a love match now, theirs was an arranged marriage. Did either ever love another? How does either feel about the fact neither might have chosen the other if it was up to choice? How did they eventually find love together? That is rich emotional territory that never factors into the story– or in Elinor’s advice or lessons to Merida. It seems incredible that a loving mother wouldn’t speak of her own experience on the eve of arranged betrothal, especially if it was a struggle that ultimately lead to happiness.

King Fergus himself, is a simple lovable loud-mouth lout. He is the very broadest brush-stroke Power of Will character. He’s a big, larger than life presence. He is a man of lusty appetite– for food, wine, and brawling.

Merida’s three suitors are a joke. None of them is remotely appealing.  This is a huge mistake and gives Merida no pause for thought nor any temptation to chose a different path.  It removes essential inner conflict for her. All the conflict in the story is the simplest external conflict. No one has self-doubts. No one struggles within themselves.

How did the film go so wrong, except for the visuals?  Joe Morgenstern writing in The Wall Street Journal reports: “Brave was a notoriously troubled production, with a change of directors that clearly led to a change of narrative direction. (The complexity of the final credits reflects the tortuous history: directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman and co-directed by Steve Purcell, from a script written by Messrs. Andrews and Purcell, Ms. Chapman and Irene Mecchi.)

Colin Covert writing for The Minneapolis Star Tribune pretty much sums it up: “The standout characters, exciting set pieces and memorable songs that we’ve come to expect are absent. The truest advertising tagline would be, “From the studio that brought you ‘Cars 2.’

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.

#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.

The Paris Wife

Hadley-and-Ernest-Hemingw-007After a long vacation and time away, I am back.  One of the books I read while on a relaxing dreamy vacation in Greece was The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.

This fictional story of Ernest Hemmingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson is a wonderful read.  It is a fascinating portrait of a Power of Love character (Hadley) and a Power of Will character (Hemmingway) living and loving in Paris of the 1920’s.

Hadley supports the soon-to-be great man with all the patience, determination and tenacity of a true Power of Love character.  But she’s not a victim or a martyr.  The gift he gives her is strength, confidence and the ability to live without him when their marriage is done.

When Hadley and Hemmingway meet in Chicago.  Hadley is visiting a long-time school friend.  She is a shy spinster type, living in her married sister’s house after caring for their long-ailing mother.  She is resigned to a quiet existence at the mercy of family obligations.

After her trip to Chicago, Hadley returns home to Saint Louis convinced that Hemmingway is “a beautiful boy” but isn’t all that interested in her.  She is surprised and delighted to get a letter from him after only a few days time.

The two fall in love via long letters (sometimes two or three a day).  They marry and go off to Paris where she encourages, helps and becomes the emotional pillar supporting his work.  Hadley has a life with Hemmingway filled with interesting people, places and parties.  Her voice (and influence) is clear, steady and practical in a world filled with posing and posturing and the brittle gaiety of post World War I Paris.

Hemmingway is the lusty, larger than life Power of Will character who sweeps Hadley off her feet and off to Europe.  He’s a man’s man, fascinated with boxing and bull fighting.  He is immensely talented, hard drinking and hard-working.  He can also be belligerent and a bit of a bully (eventually alienating  many of his early mentors and supporters).  Hadley gives him the loving forgiving nurturing that was so crucial to his early uncertain years as a writer.

This is a wonderful portrait of the dynamics between two very clearly drawn Character Types.  They are absolutely true to type but wonderfully unique as individuals.