THE NARRATIVE STRIKES BACK!
Ask yourself – What are your audience asking always? What should they be asking throughout?
I find this a key point if you look at narrative structure simply because a story has to unravel, it has to keep posing questions to keep an audience engaged. This is not just applied to a core storyline, but can be welcomed through subplots too, how secondary characters are developing, what conflicts they have and how are those interlinking or furthering the plot?
I’d like to think that Willem, as a script, is continually asking the audiences to consider what will happen next, how will the two characters behave around one another, especially when they begin the film as complete opposites. But it is interesting when I place the script next to some of the narrative theories we study in film too and how it adheres to some of their strucutres.
MICHAEL HAUGE’S SIX STAGE STRUCTURE
“…stories for mainstream Hollywood films are all built on only three basic components: character, desire and conflict…in a properly structured movie, the story consists of six basic stages, which are defined by five key turning points in the plot”.
Michael Hauge – The Five Key Turning Points Of All Successful Movie Scripts
According the Hauge, in any movie story, there are turning points, all of which help/hinder a character as their attempt to achieve a “compelling objective”, as he remarks. His ideas can be seen in the diagram below and show a distinct journey that any character takes and how these differing stages all allow their story to unfold and reach their climax.
Hauge uses this above theory to break down sections within a film, and says that even if audiences don’t realise a similar trend is occurring throughout any film they watch, somehow, there subsconcious does. I propose to see whether Willem adheres to these stages and how.
TURNING POINT 1 – Opportunity – Willem sees a way to express himself upon someone he feels is of similar mind despite allegiances.
Stage 1: SETUP – Alexander is in the cell, in uniform. Shows aspects of his personality and the setting.
Stage 2: NEW SITUATION – Willem is brought into the cell by the guards. Now the cell has two occupants
TURNING POINT 2 – Change of Plans – Alexander begins to help Willem, identify sympathy for the prisoner as well as a neigotation with his own values/insecurities.
Stage 3: PROGRESS – Willem talks with Alexander who starts to help him across the days they spend together. And engages with the prisoner.
TURNING POINT 3 – Point of No Return – Internally, Alexander does not want to see Willem hurt and Willem tells him about his life. Admits to homosexuality which is illegal.
Stage 4 – COMPLICATIONS & HIGHER STAKES – Alexander tries to not admit his own feelings at first. Tries not to identify with Willem. Willem continues to speak about his life, and both of the men could be heard or disocvered at any moment, especially Willem, his life already in the balance. Higher stakes also then come from the note Willem asks Alexander to hide and get out to the world.
TURNING POINT 4 – Major Setback – Alexander finally commits to his sexuality and kisses Willem. But before a happy ending can occur, the guards come to take Willem, who is shot outside off screen, while all Alexander can do is watch in horror, unable to help.
Stage 5 – FINAL PUSH – Alexander reads the note. He knows who he is now, all thanks to Willem.
Turning Point 5 – Climax – Alexander stands in the cell, a metaphorical prison still. But still with the note, and with a sense of loss but ambigious determination.
Stage 6 – AFTERMATH – Alexander stands at the cell door peering out behind iron bars in it. Will he ‘come out’ the cell, his identity prison and tell the world what Willem said, as well as release himself? History tells us maybe he did?
Does the Hauge theory work for Willem? I think it does. It allows you to break down components as he theorised any story does, allowing a similar structure to be applied. It also allows me to have a 3-ACT STRUCTURE within (Act 1 – Alexander in the cell, Willem brought in. The two men alone/ Act 2 – The days pass and the men grow closer, and talk/ Act 3 – Willem is shot and Alexander has to make a final choice).
With Willem working within the Hauge structure, I wanted to apply it to another as well, so I looked into the Maslow Hierarchy, as my second candidate.
This pyramid looks at what we need as humans, to motivate, to survive. This can also help us identify parts of characterisation that filmmakers and writers include in their film narrative, and allows us to identify with characters as they struggle for sometimes the same things we do in our own lives, whether acceptance or more so, shelter, comfort, food. Let us apply Willem here.
Psychological – Willem knows he will die soon, but continues to fight through language with every last breath he takes. He also needs to eat/drink and sleep. Both Willem and Alexander exhibit these traits. Both characters are battling for their right to survive whatever the odds.
Safety – another main basic desire. We need to feel safe, and when we aren’t or see character threatened continually, it raises our emotions and tension rises in a story. Both of these men are terrified in reality, Alexander scared of being discovered, his false safe life exposed, while Willem is not so much afraid of death, but feels safe knowing his final words will get out and that Alexander will equally be safe if he escapes after he is gone, onwards to a better life, free from fear. The body is also subjected here to cruelty and we associate our need for safety by projecting wellbeing to the good character experiencing it ie Willem.
Love & Belonging – if Willem fitted into one of these most, it would be this one I beleive. Both men are fightin for this, for love and to somehow belong. While Willem, himself has done this more, his confidence and outspoken personality awarding him some luxury of living the life he wants too, it hasn’t come without cost (family breakup, losing loved ones, losing his freedom, and thus his life). Alexander is a gay man, as we realise by the end, but is in a situation wherein him indulging in his real desires would kill him also. But he does want to belong, and to love…which is for another man somehow one day. A friendship, and a brief but meaningful sexual intimacy also become part of this story too.
Esteem – Both characters have increased confidence by the climax. Willem is content his message will get out, as well as knowing he did one last good deed by helping Alexander find himself. He faces death with a wry smile at the end as he is taken away. He has achieved one last truimph over his enemies, and has not only developed respect for Alexander by has also earned it from the latter too. Alexander also grows in subtle confidence, not as much as Willem, but to kiss a man in a setting wherein they could be discovered and killed at any moment is a massive achievement for him too. A bold move, and despite not being able to help his prisoner, he ends the film with an ambigious, but evident increased confidence, despite whatever happens after the end credits. He is changed. As an audience we follow and build our own confidence up through both these characters, even deciding/reflecting upon our own lifestyle choices in the process.
Self- Actualisation – through a lack of prejudice (both men accept one another), spontaneity (Alexander kisses Willem), acceptance of facts (Willem’s accepts his fate, Alexander accepts who he is), and through these rites of passae, both men learn how to reach enlightenment at the climax of the script/story.
I’m glad Willem is adhering to both these narrative theories as I think it helps strengthen them as pieces of art. It hopefully allows the themes, the characters, their ideals, their visions, their world, to come to life as well as allowing an audience to not only easily associate themselves with the struggles displayed, but also to accept others, and those we may have lost through ill-conceived prejudice, both throughout history, and even today still.
These questions are paramount and I hope will make an audience continue to ponder and reflect long after the closing credits.