Antihero Protagonist: Louis Bloom

NIGHTCRAWLER

Louis Bloom

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Antihero Protagonist: Light Yagami

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.

DEATH NOTE

Light Yagami

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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.

The Character:

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.

Pivotal Scene:

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.

Things To Be Learned:

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.

Closing Thoughts:

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.

 

 

Writing Prompt 3/3/15

You’re outside shoveling your own driveway when you decide, as a kind gesture, to shovel your neighbor’s driveway too. Just then a group of teenagers with shovels show up and threaten you, claiming that this is “their turf.” What do you do?

Okay. First off I would never EVER shovel my neighbor’s driveway too. He has a strange unhealthy relationship with his dog and he’s always snooping. I’m not going anywhere near his place. So this scenario would not play out. I wouldn’t even be outside in the first place. It’s dangerous out there. Why would I risk my life going outside to move some snow? Snow is going to go whether I move it or not. If I don’t move it, nature will. I’m not going outside and messing with Mother Nature’s business. Who am I to question Mother Nature? Maybe she put the snow there for a good reason. It might have been to counter act global warming. All this snow shoveling business could be what’s causing global warming if you think about it. Why else would it snow in certain places but not others? It’s all part of the natural process. Maybe if we left the snow where it laid, we wouldn’t have this planet warming problem.

But let’s say I decide to help my dickhead neighbor and play God by shoveling my driveway and his. If a group of teenagers threatened me, I would do the smartest thing that a man can do at any time. Nothing. I’d stand there and pretend to not hear them. I’d become a human statue. You can’t threaten a statue. Sure they could beat me with their shovels, but they would tire out. I would outlast them. I’ve been through many a shovel pummel. This would be their first human statue beating. They wouldn’t be prepared. I have a will of steel. The teens would move on and go watch Adventure Time or whatever it is teens watch these days.

Doing nothing at all solves many more problems than most people expect.

I’m a fraud!

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Two things happen when I join a writing club. I get bored and stop going because everyone is so much older than or they start asking for money and I bolt. During the time before those happenings, I’ve noticed something about other writers. Writers are very insecure about the quality of their writing.

I knew people who came to writing club every week and they were too shy to ever bring anything in. They could not withstand a single line of criticism. This would go on for months. I It’s okay to be insecure. Even professional writers are very insecure people. I listen to interviews with writers while I work and they’re all very paranoid. They act like they’re in the witness protection program. One day someone is going to figure them out and take away their life.

Some people spend forever rewriting and editing the same piece for years and years. It must be perfect. But then they don’t show it to anyone. They just mentioned it in passing.

There’s a need to quality check and rewrite. But you can’t be so afraid of criticism to the point of stifling yourself creatively. You can write. It will be bad. It might be good. Whatever! They can’t take it away from you.

Writing the Female Character

Over the past year or so, I’ve been going through some old stories that I wrote during middle and high school.Leia-princess-leia-organa-solo-skywalker-34233178-288-288

Often I did not write stories with girls. In the beginning, it was because they were icky. I wrote stories about guy friends hanging out and getting into hijinks or I copied what I saw in video games or on TV. On the rare occasion that I did write a story with a girl, they were a plot device, a trickster trying to lead my heroes down the wrong path.

Later on, I strayed away from females characters because of a fear of mine. I’m a man. What if I can’t write girls right? Is there some quality to them that might be beyond my grasp?

To further elaborate on this, I’d like to bring up J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. She’s a female writer writing from the perspective of a male character. For the first several books, Harry felt like a guy I could know. But in Harry Potter and the Halfblood Prince, there was this moment when Harry’s character first became infatuated with Ron’s sister, Ginny.

“It was as though something large and scaly erupted into life in Harry’s stomach, clawing at his insides….”

The entire description ripped me out of Harry Potter’s vibrant world. I saw the author’s words on page and felt a little revolted at this description of the teenage male’s sexual urges. I cringed every time I came across any descriptions of Harry’s urges. It wasn’t authentic to the experience.

I didn’t want female readers to have that kind of disconnect with anything that I wrote.

To help me get over my fear, I paid attention to the portrayal of women in movies and television shows. I also paid attention to what characters women said felt real to them. One name that popped up a lot as I did some of my preliminary research was Joss Whedon. he is praised for his female characters, however I deliberately made an effort to not watch anything by him. I focused more on what the average writer was putting on the screen for us all to see.

In two back-to-back sports movies that I watched (Miracle/Warrior), the wife of the coach/athlete filled the same role. She was there to support her husband when he failed and she was there to stand as an obstacle to his goals. She was there to remind the audience that the main character had a family to go back to. The wives in these movies were background noise. They weren’t fully realized people. The men were the main attraction.

So after viewing those movies, I thought about television shows or movies where a woman wasn’t in the background and was my favorite character. This was an entertaining and somewhat difficult exercise.

In my first draft of the list, my favorite female characters were all villains.

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Katy Bates in Misery and

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Estelle Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I’m a sucker for great villains.

Next I made a list with women who weren’t so evil. I came up with Lindsey from Freaks and Geeks, Jessica Chastain in The Help, Naomie Harris in 28 Days Later. These were characters that I could sympathize with. As I did these exercises, I came to the realization that I had been a complete idiot in the way I went about writing the other gender. I treated them as if women had this alien quality that put them out of my reach. I overthought this process, much like I do everything else.

The female lens is obviously not the same as the male one. Women have different expectations in life than men. Those expectations have an impact on the molding of their personality.

A few months ago,  I had drafted out a story about a romance between a king and a queen for a screenwriting class. I knew I could write the king so I focused entirely on the queen and what went through her head. I spent twice as much time building her life experiences and her reactions to them. This was a detriment to the other characters.

I handed twenty pages of script in to my professor. This was the intro for a feature length that I’m still working on now. I used the queen for five or six pages. My professor e-mailed me back and urged me to use the queen more because she was by far my strongest character. He was a male professor so his opinion didn’t put me at ease. I needed more assurance that this character would not lead to a disconnect with female characters.

So I came up with an elaborate plot. I had a friend who’s a self-proclaimed feminist. She read lots of books so she knew her way around a story. So I asked her for help with my character. I told her I had no idea where I was going with my queen character. This was a lie. I had already come up with her personality. I gave her the scenario and asked her how she thought a female character in the middle ages would act when given the same scenario. And as it turns out, she described a character nearly identical to my own. I hope that I’m on the right track.

I think to write the authentic female voice, you have to abolish the idea of a strong female character.The term is taken too literally. I’ve seen so much media with kick ass one-dimensional female characters. Their hook is that these girls can get down and dirty just like any guy. You want your female character to come off as human and vulnerable as your male characters, not infinitely perfect in everyway.

Too many writers see their female characters as serving a purpose toward the story rather than allowing those female characters to organically influence the events. This is why we see so many bland subplot romances. The writer knows they want the hero to have a girl and get her in the end. The woman is not given much room to grow. She ends up as a contrast to the main character’s personality in order to maximize conflict and make the relationship seem impossible. After the pair hit it off, they have a misunderstanding over something trivial and then she forgives him. The woman is there to be earned. An issue that I see too often is that the girl is made into the goal rather than the actual relationship.

I don’t hold the opinion that all female characters should be positive role models. During the time that I spent reading feminist blogs on female representation, I’d see a lot of complaints on negative portrayal of women. There are some horrible women out there. You can’t focus solely on the negative, but you can’t ignore that either. Some of my favorite characters are the scum of the earth and that’s why I love them.

Everything I’ve said could be completely wrong. I’m still working out the kinks in my writing theories. I hope to make what was my biggest weakness as a writer (other than starting and not finishing things), into my greatest strength.