Lights, Camera, -- Wait, Hold On A Second...

Picture this.

You're watching a movie with a fantastic opening scene.  There are explosions, gunfire and/or violent men in tuxedos; whatever method the film uses is highly effective and the movie immediately pulls you into the story.  There's enough excitement to keep your interest until the movie really begins, until that moment when the hero starts his journey that is the rest of the movie.  Now once the hero sees that path that he is to take, he should just go ahead and take it, right?  So that the rest of the movie can play out the way we the audience is expecting, correct?

Wrong.  In good movies (i.e. in movies with good structure) there is always a moment of pause the hero takes, a delayed action.  This is the moment when the hero (or heroes) realize the gravity of the journey they are about to take and hesitate.  In classic films such as "The Godfather", "Star Wars" and "Saving Private Ryan" these particular moments come when the characters have to ask themselves "Should I really be doing this?  Is this really where I want to go?"  And it is in this moment of reflection that we the audience appreciate the seriousness of the situation as well.

The Godfather

In "The Godfather" the movie starts with a wedding scene but the film doesn't really begin until the assassination attempt on Vito Corleone.  That's when Michael Corleone's journey down the road of organized crime presents itself to him.  And if Michael doesn't take that path, there is no movie; he never gets involved and he never rises to the rank of Godfather himself.  But before he even takes his first step towards his destiny we can't help but notice his indecision.  We can see it in his face when he's having dinner with Kay in the hotel room before he goes to the hospital to visit his injured father.  When Kay asks him "When will I see you again, Michael?" he is utterly reluctant to answer that simple question.  Even the frame of that shot is off-center when he gives his answer; he is not himself but he hasn't transformed yet.

It would seem that for him it's a catch twenty-two; not matter what he decides (to avenge his father against his would-be killers or not) he would have difficulty living with himself and it makes him sick.  Of course we the audience know exactly what he's going to do even before he does, and we know this because the film is over three hours long instead of only forty-five.

Star Wars

In "Star Wars" the movie starts with a bang; it is a time of rebellion and civil war and there are plenty of laser blasts and explosions to please the eye.  But the film doesn't really begin until we meet Luke Skywalker and his family; later on his aunt and uncle are killed when their home gets attacked by storm troopers and Luke sees his path ("I want to become a Jedi like my father").  But why doesn't he and Obi-Wan go straight to Alderaan right then and there?  Why pay a lot of money to get another pilot?  Luke even says "We can get our own ship for that price!  We don't have to sit here and listen to this."  Is it because Obi-Wan doesn't trust Luke?  I mean, what sixty-year-old in the right mind trusts a teenage behind the wheel of a car, let alone a starship?

Rather it's because Obi-Wan can foresee the conflict that lies ahead of them.  Should they proceed alone or should they get all the help they can get?  During this moment of indecision our heroes are pursued by storm troopers, bounty hunters and a weird-looking, elephant-like spy; we can clearly see the danger in the journey they are about to take.  While their decision doesn't bring them immediate satisfaction ("What a piece of junk!" Luke exclaims) the end result brings great gratification.  Seriously, what would "Star Wars" have been without Han Solo and Chewbecca?

Saving Private Ryan

Finally, "Saving Private Ryan" begins with a unforgettable scene portraying the Ally invasion of Normandy beach; the horrific violence we the audience sees immediately gives us a sense of what the rest of this classic film will be like (I know that this film come out a mere fourteen years ago, but I don't care.  I calling it a classic any way).  The film doesn't really begin until Captain Miller receives his orders to go behind enemy lines to save Private James Francis Ryan from Iowa.

One could argue that the indecision scene in this film (they pose the question to themselves "where's the sense in risking the lives of the eight of us to save one guy?") doesn't really matter since they are under orders to make the journey and it really doesn't matter if they want to or not.  But this scene is effective nevertheless because it shows the independent thoughts of each man on the subject of orders, especially when they think the mission is F.U.B.A.R.  As we see the small band of men making their way across the vast countryside, running into ambushes and getting in fire fights, we get a better sense of the adversity they face.  And we can't help but wonder with them -- should they go down this path towards almost certain doom?  What would be the point of that?  This is crazy.  Why do this?  The answer lies in the rest of the movie, and I highly recommend you watch it.

And so we see from these examples that while we are eager to see our heroes take action, fight and prevail, it is their inaction that really gives their new journey meaning.  And we as the audience should stop and appreciate what they're up against before moving on to the next gunfight.

Until next time, see you in the movies!

 

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