Using the power of the Death Note, Light Yagami becomes Gotham’s God of Death and begins ridding Gotham of its criminals. Only one thing stands between him and a new world with no crime, The Batman.
Antiheroes come in shades of grey. Lou is the darkest of dark grey. He would be black in any story that didn’t feature him as the protagonist. There is not much redeeming to him. He is willing to manipulate and harm people to justify his own ends. Dan Gilroy, the writer of the film, describes him as a sociopath and refers to the film as an antihero success story.
The introductory scene brings Lou’s darkness out in a quick two pages. It is not available on YouTube unfortunately. So here is the scene in screenplay form.
In two pages, Lou gets established as a creepy man who shouldn’t be trusted by people. Common story convention says to introduce your main character doing something that shows us who we are. So we begin here with our sociopathic antihero cutting a chainlink fence. As he notices that he is not alone, he turns and gives this charming yet unsettling smile.
It’s not in the screenplay but it gives us our first impression of Lou. This is the first we actually see of him as the shot prior to this had him in the dark. Jake Gyllenhall killed it with his starved coyote look.
He seems so feral in both appearance and in how he moves. When the security guard’s light hits him, he reacts like a nocturnal animal caught in headlights. He gives his first words, a lie to get the guard’s defenses down. He feigns not knowing what he’s doing. We can tell he’s done this sort of thing his whole life. There is no worry nor tremble in Lou once he’s caught.
He smiles wider and advances toward the officer, where he can get a better look at what he’s dealing with. His confidence grows once he sees that his opposition is only a security guard. He takes out his ID, continues his lie until he’s close enough to pounce.
We are given this image to close out the opening sequence.
The fate of the guard is left up to our imagination. After seeing the entire film through and see what Lou is capable of, it’s scary to imagine just what he could have done to this man.
The Wire is arguably the greatest television show of all time. I haven’t seen enough classic television shows to give a definitive answer on that. The Wire never talked down to its audience and expected them to pay attention. Its messages were subtle. So subtle that at times the show’s messages could sail over the heads of its small, but dedicated audience.
How the audience perceives the message of scene is an important thing for a writer or director to consider when constructing a scene. The scene below is meant to show that Tommy Carcetti is no better than any other politician. He gives a long speech on how the city needs to be harder on the drugs-trafficking taking over the city. Carcetti’s words are passionate but lacking in substance. He offers no real solutions to the struggle of the people in Baltimore.
On the commentary for this episode, David Simon says that the performance of Aidan Gillen and the push-in of the camera imply truth to the audience. Aidan is so genuine in the fire behind his words that people don’t play attention to what he’s saying. Simon states that the push-in was done to show that this is Carcetti’s moment. This is where he becomes mayoral in the eyes of the people. He inspires people with the same words that have failed them in the past.
Simon commented that this showed that politics was more about the visuals rather than the words being spoken. Success in politics is about coming across as fitting for the position through your poise and articulation in debates. The content of your speech is secondary.
Audiences have grown tired of the traditional heroic story. A virtuous person rising up against the forces of evil and darkness is saved for children’s stories nowadays. Adults are bored with idealistic heroes. They want flawed individuals at the center of their stories.
What is it about antiheroes that audiences love?
I have been watching films and television shows about antihero protagonists to find out the answer to that question.
Every story needs the right protagonist. Death Note has a money one in the god of the new world, Light Yagami. A story about a high school student that finds a notebook that can kill people is a novel concept by itself. When that high school student is a genius sociopath with a god complex, you get the intriguing cat and mouse game that is Death Note.
Under other circumstances, Light would be a traditional hero. He has many heroic qualities. He is highly intelligent. Determined. Battling against the evils of society. His major flaw is his hubris. That same flaw is shared by many ancient Greek Heroes.
However, Light Yagami is a sociopath who revels in the destruction of his opposition. He murders thousands of criminals over the course of the story. He is so driven to his goal that he will manipulate anyone to achieve his ends. He believes he has the right to judge the world and no one should dare stand in his way. Those who do deserve death.
After killing Raye Penbar and a team of FBI agents sent to investigate him, Light Yagami realizes he has left himself exposed. Penbar’s fiancee, Naomi Misora discovers a clue that could implicate Light in the murders. Light runs into her and finds out her discovery through idle chitchat. He asks for her name. With a name and face, he can kill anyone. She gives him a fake one. With his life on the line, Light slyly gets the woman’s real name and kills her.
I chose this scene as it shows all the facets of Light’s character. This woman is his first real challenge. If he fails, he will be arrested and executed. He acts out of survival. He gains her trust with subtle lies and compliments. Once he has won, he tells her he is the killer the police are looking for. By then it is too late for Naomi to do anything.
On the surface, this scene is a man killing a young woman and getting away with it, a villainous endeavor. But this scene is a battle of wits. Two intelligent people go back and forth until one comes out the victor. Ultimately Light uses Naomi’s emotional attachments against her.
This scene is very well-thought out and logical, among the best in all of Death Note.
An intriguing protagonist only remains intriguing against strong opposition. The eccentric L. Lawliet is Light’s rival in this story. L is the world’s great detective. He is as ruthless and cunning as Light is. He has the support of the police force and applies immense pressure onto the wannabe god. The cat-and-mouse game between the two of them is the backbone of this story. The story drops in quality after Light defeats L.
It’s important to not try to force the audience to feel a certain way about characters. Death Note lets the audience decide on whether they want to side with Light or L. The story teller should be putting on a show, not trying to push morality onto the audience.
Death Note‘s Light Yagami is the reason this anime is able to appeal to people who do not usually enjoy animation. He draws the audience in. People want to see him caught. People want to see him get away with everything. No one would want to be friends with him, but we do all want to see how he gets past his next big obstacle.
I look forward to the upcoming live action adaptation of Death Note. There have been interesting casting choices made. The portrayal of Light Yagami will be the key to the success of the adaptation. If the writers and director accurately transfer his character to the screen, then American audiences will be in for a treat.
But that’s a big if.
My copy of Robert Towne’s screenplay of Chinatown has a foreword from the man himself; An essay on the role of the screenplay in the film-making process and the importance of movement by actors. Here are a few noteworthy excerpts from that foreword.
“But it has always struck me that in movies, far more than in any other dramatic medium movement, not simply action, is the most defining of character.”
“Consider Fonda in Clementine again. His way of moving embodied paradox: at once awkward and graceful, diffident yet full of purpose, his ambling walk would shift effortlessly – like a powerful thoroughbred changing gaits to a long stride straight and relentless as a plumbine.”
“No one, I think, can really say what makes an effective screenplay because no one really knows what makes a screenplay effective. Certainly part of the problem stems from the fact that screenplays can’t be judged by reading them. They may read well or badly but that often says more about the reader than the screenplay.
The only way a screenplay can be evaluated, almost by definition is not on the page, but by viewing the movie it caused to be made. It certainly can be read and even enjoyed, but you’re stuck with the inescapable fact that it was written to be seen.”
The first quote is the one that stuck with me. Movement is the most important character aspect on the screen. It is fitting. Movies are moving pictures after all. The words on the page help the actor internalize the character and bring them to life.
1984’s Ghostbusters relies on the gifts of its talented acting staff, in particular Bill Murray. Murray is known for his one-liners and comedy. His movement is as essential as his voice to getting the audience behind Peter Venkman.
The “manic gleam” and “underlying instability” (this latter of the two would be considered cheating by an old writing professor of mine) are the information the page gives to the reader on the Peter Venkman character.
The scene flows well on the page, but is so much funnier on the screen.
I watched the scene with the sound off and watched all the little nuances he put into his performance. The little smiles he gives to the blonde Co-Ed. His eyes go wide when he’s talking to her. He’s encouraging her as he talks. He feigns amazement at her answers. Contrast that to how quickly he turns the cards around for the guy. He relishes in the electroshocks he gives the guy. He moves his hand over slowly and pretends like he’s not going to shock him. He moves his eyebrows to get the co-ed’s attention. Winks at her and Then he shock the kid. With no sound, it’s apparent that he wants the guy to go and for the co-ed to spend some time with him.
This is a just a damn good introductory scene because we’re given information about the supernatural and introduced to a character in a unique humorous way. By the end of the scene, we know Venkman. We can’t wait to see this guy bust some ghosts
David Fincher’s Zodiac is at its best when it uses the power of the screen to dramatize the horror and brutality of the Zodiac Killer’s killing spree in the 1970s.
I consider the depiction of the Lake Berrysea attack to be the film’s strongest scene. The scene where Robert Graysmith flees from the cellar as he hears steps above is a close second.
The horror in the scene is in the powerlessness of the two victims. Held at gunpoint, they have no choice but to listen to the demands of a hooded man. Horror films rely on excessive gore and creative murders to engage the audience. Unconventional deaths and weapons are used to shock the audience into jumping or grimacing at the violence on the screen.
In this scene, all we have is a pistol. It gives the Zodiac Killer all the power he needs to impose his twisted fantasies on this innocent couple. He does not need to shoot it. The threat of violence is enough to subdue them.
Fincher could have chosen to show us the backs of the the victims being pierced by the giant knife of the Zodiac Killer. We could have seen blood splattering all over the place. Instead Fincher keeps us on the faces of the couple. They do not lose their humanity as the attack occurs. And that is why this scene works so well.
In your traditional horror film, humanity is stripped from the victims. We want to see them smashed, bashed, sliced, and crushed in crazy new ways. The killer becomes the hero. We root for them. How are they going to dish out the pain? Much like how we turn our heads as we drive to see the aftermath of car crashes, we watch horror films to see blood and gore. We want those stupid people to get what is coming to them.
Take this scene from Jason X.
Does anyone care about this blonde as her face is frozen and then smashed to pieces? We aren’t supposed to. She’s attractive but the lure and appeal of this franchise is the murder of attractive young teenagers. She is killed and then thrown away unceremoniously. She becomes an object for the audience’s blood lust.
These two films are wildly different in execution and concept but that is why I am comparing and contrasting them. They do both have the same job of trying to engage the audience using horror.
To go back to scene from Zodiac, Fincher does not give the audience a chance to turn the Zodiac Killer into a hero. The sound of the knife entering and exiting their bodies is terrifying. It’s unnerving to watch the couple’s reactions to the attack. No score is played underneath the attacks. The events play out like they did on September 27th, 1969. All we hear are the sounds of nature, the knife stabs, and the screams of the victims.
If one is to succeed at horrifying the audience, they must allow the victims of violence to retain their humanity.
The ending to The Matrix is so freaking awesome.
We go full circle from the beginning. Call backs to the opening scene can be a cheap narrative device but not here. Neo completes his character arc, but the conflict of the story is not fully resolved. The war isn’t won yet. The human race is still enslaved by the robots. But as he takes off in the air, we know that he’s going to do it. He’ll save everyone because anything is possible if Neo can fly.
Here’s what it looked like on paper.
It’s executed more effectively on the screen. The decision to cut the dialogue of the boy and his mom is a perfect example of less meaning more. “Men don’t fly.” was a good final line, but the music is a better fit. I wonder if this scene was filmed and then changed later because it didn’t work.
I love this ending because the concept of The Matrix is fully realized. Neo can do anything. He’s gone from another guy trapped in the Matrix to the One. I love this ending so much I wish that there weren’t sequels to The Matrix.
The sequels have some intriguing concepts, but do not live up to the original. Seeing Neo flying around and fighting was not a thing I needed to see. I wouldn’t say the two other films were flat out garbage, but they leave a lot to be desired. Sometimes it’s best for films to stand alone.