Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Control Switching

This idea of winning and losing control is beginning to fascinate me.
Anne Mini (Author Author) recently blogged of the enormous amounts of inexperienced authors whose protagonists are thrown helplessly from one situation to the next, at the whim of fate or other, never making decisions for themselves. Ricardo made a similar observation about his protags. And we hear McKee's voice: Character is revealed through choices made under pressure.

My son and I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark at the weekend. I had never noticed before how this control shifting dominates the movie. Indy is in control and then he loses control, and this switching flows relentlessly from the start of the movie to the end. And at the heart of these switches, we can see that choices are being made, almost always under the pressure of conflict and high stakes.

As I suggested recently, switching a single peril creates an irony. In this way, something frightening or hazardous might be imbued with humour (which adds dynamic emotional colour). Indy has a few big spiders on his back; his accomplice has dozens of big spiders on his back. Nazi throws Indy through truck window and attempts to crush him against jeep; Indy survives, returns, and throws Nazi through window and Nazi is run over. Bad guy poisons Indy's dates; bad guy's monkey eats dates and dies.

Here are just a few other control switching examples from memory (which should demonstrate the prevalence of this technique):

Indy explores with guides (Indy in control) -> guides betray him (Indy loses control). (Possibly the pinnacle of this occurs when Indy is on the wrong side of the bottomless pit with the golden idol, and his accomplice is on the right side of the pit with the whip.)
Indy bests traps -> boulder rolls after him.
Indy recovers gold idol -> Indy loses gold idol to Belloq.
Indy controls his class -> girl with 'I love you' on eyelids causes him to stutter and lose his flow.
Marion seems to have lost the drinking competition -> Marion recovers.
Marion's competitor appears to have won the drinking contest -> He collapses.
Indy controlled Marion (she was in love with him and he left her) -> Marion controls Indy (she has headpiece and decides to accompany him).
Marion is about to be tortured by Nazi -> Indy saves her.
Indy is pinned to bar with fire approaching his head -> Indy smashes bottle over enemy's head.
Indy is about to be shot -> Marion shoots enemy.
Nazi reaches out and recovers headpiece -> headpiece burns Nazi's hand and Nazi loses headpiece.

This continues right through to the conclusion:
Indy recovers and returns the ark -> Beaurocrats take the ark away to a safe place.
Furthermore, we could even consider Marion's offer of a drink to Indy as a final twist of control.

In this way, we can see a dynamic stream of conflicts snaking through the story with the balance for control ceaselessly shifting (change), which has the effect of keeping the viewer on tenterhooks.
(Btw, as soon as I typed that, I just had to look up the origins of tenterhooks :o)

Note how body language plays a large part in informing the viewer/reader of where the control lies!

1 comment:

R1X said...

That's a brilliant way of thinking about the dynamics. Nice one.