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A 'Heel Turn' in Script writing for films

If any of you know me well enough, you would know that I love stories. But who doesn't? Though I have had my fair share of friends who can't wrap their head around Fiction novels, most of my company has always been with these book geeks who love bringing up references to stories in the middle of conversations. Being such a person myself, who loves referencing acts of the real world to this world of fantasy my mind lives in, it wasn't long enough before I started to wonder why were these stories so impactful. Doesn't matter how many books you read or how many TV Shows or Movies you watch, some stories just stay back and never let go. They would all still have the same concept of a protagonist who has some hurdle(s) to overcome and an antagonist that is in his/her way. So what makes these stories special?

Taking a deeper look into these works of fiction, it was very obvious that they all broke the norms of story telling in some way. Therefore they got to be unique. Just like what I spoke about in my previous post on thinking dumb, these storytellers wrote different. So what happens is, when you want to recollect such a deviation, the first example that your brain gives you would always be that particular story. This is what makes them unique. Breaking the norms of story telling.

So let us get into what are these basic norms of story telling? It's quiet obvious to be honest. And I wish to be as brief with this, because if I go into the details there are quiet a few rules to follow. But basically, there should be a main protagonist who should be relatable for the audience. He should face a crisis which should be simple enough at first for the audience to get into and believe, then slowly build up to create more hardships to overcome. An established antagonist who prevents the protagonist from being successful in his or her endeavors. The antagonist should also be relatable, but not in a first person perspective. They should have qualities which instantly make you dislike them and want to see them loose. Then obviously, at the end the protagonist should overcome all odds and be the victor. The good old Happy Ending.

Though many cringe on such a story line these days, think about it for a while longer. It all makes sense. It is serves the purpose fictional stories were meant to serve. The reason people told or wrote stories was to inspire other minds, teach them lessons by talking of how it allowed others to reach great heights. For such situations a happy ending is always needed. But film, novels and story telling has reached a stage much past that. People have eventually gotten bored of the good old structure and enjoy to see a change in this order with some form of chaos. But how do we perfectly break these norms to still construct a good story? Looking at the amount of films that fail once reaching the big screens, it is obvious that not all formulas work. I myself, now being very involved into writing scripts for short films and directing them have come to realize that it really isn't easy to get a 4-5 minute short film up without being attached to it. I cannot imagine how much more effort, time and love it would take to create a full length feature film. And therefore seeing it fail once released will be all the more harder. So today I wish to talk about films which help us understand how to perfectly break the norms. Don't worry, I have tried to not involve any spoilers that will ruin the movies even if you haven't watched them yet. But please make sure you do watch these films. Because they prove how beautifully stories can be told.

Anyway, let me get back on track. Before getting into films, let us talk about the two major elements of any story. As obvious by the title of the post as well, they will also be my main focus throughout this write up or talk of mine. I am talking about the main hero, our protagonist as well as his/her nemesis, the antagonist.

For any story to work, you need to make sure the audience is in support of one side. This makes them sympathize with the characters and any decision they make, rational or emotional. In most stories, this is forced onto the you ( the audience ) by making the story a narrative of a person already supporting the actions of the protagonist. This can be either achieved by making the story a first person narrative from the protagonist himself; an all seeing third person who is just reading the story out to you; or as most noticeably first done by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, give it from the perspective of the protagonist's very close confidant. Sherlock Holmes is one of the greatest works of detective fiction not just because of the character design and cases he solves, but because of the ingenious narrative it follows. Doctor Watson's entries on each and every case. Where though you are seeing everything from the eyes of Watson and his emotions, you still treat him as the side character to the protagonist that is Sherlock, much like how Watson treats himself. It speaks a lot about both characters, how Watson never feels he is good enough, thus making himself feel less important while Sherlock being a person fumed by his own greatness and ego, making sure he gets the spotlight that he deserves. Sherlock isn't the relatable character in the stories, in fact I would love to meet someone who can for that matter of fact relate to Sherlock. The relatable character is Watson, and therefore we are made to see everything from his eyes. If the story were accounts from Sherlock's diary, I doubt they would have been as impactful as it has proven to be otherwise.

The Adventure of Silver Blaze - The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

We will come back to Sherlock Holmes again later, but before that I hope I have established how the narrative to the story makes a large difference. Here is where I bring up another example which all of you will judge me for and cringe on. Professional Wrestling Entertainment (WWE as you all might most commonly know it). Hear me out once before you decide to close this tab and move on with life. Very honestly, being a fond story teller I can tell you that wrestling taught me a lot about character design and creating a well constructed story. By now I hope you understand that I very well know wrestling is fake and scripted. But that is exactly what I love about it. There are over 50 wrestlers in a WWE locker room and all of them have well established characters an backstories. From so many characters, they wield a live action story for the audience to be entertained. It is scripted beautifully to make you support someone and hate someone. There is always a protagonist and an antagonist. With every story line in play in wrestling, the company always portrays one wrestler as the good guy, while one as the bad. But then why can't I just watch regular film and tv shows to see better stories if that is all I look for in wrestling? Because in wrestling it isn't just two points the story pivots on, it is three. The protagonist ( known as the face ), the antagonist ( known as the heel) and most importantly the audience. We help shape the stories. The company understands our responses to who we like and who we don't, what we chant in the ring and how we respond to their statements. That is how a protagonist and an antagonist are made in wrestling. We decide who gets to be the hero and who gets to play the villain. The audience matters, the audience creates, the audience manipulates.

This let's a story have so many dimensions you can't even imagine. When multiple perspectives are given, the lines between a protagonist and an antagonist are blurred as the audience is given an option to choose. This becomes a lot more simpler when you have something many films in the making, or a TV Series. An episodic franchise helps you understand many perspectives. So a show dealing with a multitude of characters usually needs many episodes to set them all up properly before building into the story. In films this is always a huge restriction. You need to convey a full story in one film. Establishing multiple unknown characters and creating a well build story is tough to do in one feature film. You end up compromising on one or the other, or else both. This is the reason Justice League didn't do as well. In two hours, the movie had to establish so many new characters, the story wasn't grasping enough. Instead the same when done in the TV series, Smallville had so many episodes to build all the characters, that it all was easier to grasp and get invested into. On the other hand, with a full cinematic universe in the making, Marvel achieved this beautifully in Captain America Civil War. With so many films to establish all the characters, there was no need to establish a lot more. The story was the major focus of this film. The bridge between a protagonist and an antagonist was so blurred that fans genuinely had sided on either Team Cap or Team Iron Man. This is what made the movie so much more successful, it not only had the fans invested into the characters and story, it had them involved. Everything comes down to it being what is the relationship the protagonist and the antagonist share, and how the audience chooses to sympathize with any of them. But let us talk about cases where the antagonist and protagonist are well established. What then? How else can you break the norm? This is where I would like to talk about two more films which I will be highlighting mostly over for the rest of this article. One is a film I hope we are all very familiar with - The Dark Knight. If someone wants to talk about antagonism and this film isn't propped up, they are talking about something completely different. The other film is an Austrian film i suggest you all must go and watch - Goodnight Mommy. Both these films serve very different roles in my discussion for today.

Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight

Let us get to Dark Knight. As we all very well know, the Joker is considered to be the biggest villain to Batman. Not just because of the movie, but since the inception of this character in the comics, Joker has been the most formidable antagonist. But what we need to understand there is no 'perfect antagonist' and Joker of all isn't at all one. A perfect antagonist in my mind would be a character who if put in front of any protagonist will cause havoc and problems. Yet, Joker cannot serve this purpose. In fact, Joker only works against Batman and no other hero. Joker couldn't ever be the villain to Iron Man or Mathew Murrdock. But why does he fit Batman so well? This is where my love for Character Design starts going nuts. The lines are very simple between Batman and Joker. In most cases the antagonist is an obstacle for the protagonist to reach their goal. But in this case, both Batman aren't fighting for any goal as such. Instead, both of their are fighting for the most important literary device. Confused? Both are fighting to be the protagonist of the story. There is no protagonist and antagonist when it is a battle between Batman and Joker. Just that in comparison Joker is the bad guy, and Batman the good. But in Gotham that isn't what defines who the hero is. The hero is that person who saves Gotham, who controls Gotham. Batman and Joker are fighting for the exact same goal as stated in the movie - 'the soul of Gotham'. Both want the same thing so only one can win. There can only be one protagonist to the story. This is what makes Joker the perfect villain for Batman, because they both want to be the same figure for Gotham and in this venture, it is Batman that slowly starts becoming the bad guy, the dark knight. Reminds you of why Moriarty is so perfect for Sherlock? He has the same effect on Sherlock, on the same principles.

This is a beautiful aspect of story telling, something we fans in wrestling like to call 'a heel turn'. Obviously more common in wrestling, a character doesn't always remain a good guy. Sometimes the circumstances or the people he faces (like Batman against Joker) makes the protagonist turn into an antagonist ( the heel). This brings about a beautiful turn of events in a story, where a character who you so easily sympathized with earlier starts doing things you don't like but you can't stop yourself from trying to justify why they do so. It gives the person a lot more character and depth. A heel turn is a very essential moment in a wrestler's career, and quiet frequent too. But it isn't that prevalent in films. Or so I had thought. The problem with carrying out a heel turn in films is the same problem as I talked about with Justice League, where the characters need a lot more time to get invested into before a heel turn becomes effective. A two hour duration is very little to create a beautiful protagonist you side by and then turn them into a horrifying antagonist to hate. A human mind can't take all of that so quickly and be affected by it. Yet this Austrian film 'Goodnight Mommy' manages to do it so darn masterfully that I sat up on my bed for a legit five minutes having my hands cover my face trying to connect all the dots. That is when I understood that even in a film, a protagonist can cross the barrier to be an antagonist and still be effective enough to terrify me. The characters need to just be simple enough that it doesn't take a lot to be invested into them. That is the key to a perfect key to making a film without a protagonist. Make the protagonist so easy to invest into and the antagonist so easy to question and have a distaste for that the story absorbs you from the moment the movie starts to play. This film can work pure magic on you, so if you haven't please don't forget to. The beauty of this film lies in how it doesn't just accomplish a masterful heel turn, but also a face turn ( where the antagonist becomes the protagonist ).

Sussane Wuest as The Mother in Goodnight Mommy

So let us get in depth with this 2014 psychological horror film. The film is about two twin brothers who live in a big house in the suburbs with their mother who has just returned home from a face reconstruction surgery after a horrifying accident. Therefore the mother in the film always has her face completely covered in bandage. The twins realize their mother is acting weird and start believing that it isn't their mother after all.

This is as simply I can summarize this film without ruining it for any of you. And you can see how the characters are so down to earth that they can be easily related to. The story told from the perspective of two normal twin brothers, they are easy to get behind and understand. When a faceless figure covered in stitches comes to your home, it is very easy to question the mother as well and her actions. She always seems to hide something and her bandaged face with only her eyes and mouth visible always give the film an eerie touch whenever she comes in frame. An antagonist, still very human but easy to doubt. This sets up the story beautifully, not to question how the screenplay supports these propositions so much. The face of the mother is always a mystery as is hinted at slightly only with multiple mirror sequences. One sequence I loved about the mother in the first half of the movie is a sequence when she finally takes off her bandages. Just as the mother starts taking it off the camera starts moving away from her, slowly moving outside the window where the grills hide her face under these series of lines. And so the only human scene she had also gets hidden, taken away from us. Their house bodes various photos on their walls which pose as silhouettes of women, yet none show any faces. Thus the audience hasn't seen the face of any woman after the film roles, making the audience all the more curious just like the kids on who the woman really is and if she really is their mother.

I will make sure I don't spoil the movie for anyone reading, but all I will say is that you were to connect the dots when I said it is a horror movie and it involves twins. If 'The Shining' wasn't enough to give you the chills about twins, this movie sure will. Midway through the film you soon come to realize that the kids have gone too far. The heel turn takes places and suddenly you are left with no one to support. Though it would technically defeat the film with no protagonist, but in no time we are very easily able to sympathize with this mother who is being investigated by her kids. Thus by the time time the film is in its latter half, all of the audience suddenly supports the very same character you despised a few minutes ago. What this in turn affects is that, by the time the movie is over and you walk away from your screens, you don't really know who the protagonist was. The mother? Or the kids? It essentially for me is a perfect case where a film ends without a protagonist and still achieves everything the film is suppose to by the simple use of a 'heel turn'.

I have shied away from giving any spoilers from the film as the same amount of information would be known to you even if you watch the trailer of Goodnight Mommy. All this did was help you all understand how crucial protagonists and antagonists are to a story, and how exactly to break the norms to make a film that gets etched into history.

I would end with one of the quotes by Pablo Picasso which has influenced me the most - "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an Artist."

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