Last night, as I was watching a television show about a struggling teenage mother doing her best to raise her child, I realized something about my taste in entertainment. I am a complete sucker for characters that endure through extremely harsh circumstances. When a character is knocked down over and over again, and his situation seems ever more hopeless, I can’t help but sympathize and root for him! Oftentimes, I believe, a movie will spend the whole first section dragging down its main character, thereby persuading the audience to care deeply for the battered individual. That way, when the main character succeeds/survives/saves the day, the accomplishment is that much more meaningful. After thinking about this for a while, I quickly realized that three of my very favorite movies use this exact formula. Therefore, since it’s List Wednesday, let’s look at 3 movies that break down their main characters first, just so they can build them back up later…
Perhaps one day I will make a list that doesn’t include Wall-E, but I wouldn’t count on it happening any time soon. I just love it too much! Pixar almost most always follows this post’s stated strategy. Their films spend a while building up their charms, but the emotional payoff is always much greater for it. In Wall-E, before he can get the girl and save all of humanity, we first see that our beloved little robot must live a humble, lonely life for 700 years! Indeed, Wall-E has no companions (aside from his cockroach), no real purpose, and an unfulfilled need to love and be loved. By the time EVE’s spaceship landed, I felt so bad for the little guy that I was deeply effected by the rest of the film.
First, Peter Parker loses Mary Jane. Then, he gets fired from his pizza delivery job. After that, he runs out of rent money. To make matters worse, Mary Jane gets engaged to some other guy. Next, the Daily Bugle starts running a hateful campaign against Spider-Man. Following this, he misses MJ’s show and ruins his final suit. All the while, he’s consumed with immense guilt about his uncle’s death. And on top of all of that stuff, he has to fight crime every day in New York City. Let me tell you, having never seen the original film, I felt so sincerely bad for Peter Parker when I first saw Spider-Man 2, that I was immediately absorbed within the picture. I couldn’t tell you one other thing that happened in the theater that August night. I was connected to that character, and when he defeated Doc-Ock and finally revealed himself to Mary Jane, I was literally joyful. I smiled for about two days after seeing Spider-Man 2, and that may be the highest compliment I can offer any movie.
The “breaking down” of the main character in this underrated Mel Gibson epic is not simply emotional, but brutally physical as well. In the first half of the films, Jaguar Paw is kidnapped from his village, separated from his pregnant wife and child, forced to watch many of his fellow villagers die, painfully made to walk through the jungle, nearly sacrificed by heartless Mayans, shot in the side with an arrow, and chased through a pit of dead bodies. His circumstances are so dire, that Jaguar Paw’s exhilarating sprint away from the enemy and inevitable success over them are so much more valuable. Apocalypto is so incredible, and considering all the dialogue is in the traditional dialect, it says a lot about Gibson’s direction that he effectively makes you feel for his characters.