Theme examples, rather than just debate.

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  • Theme examples, rather than just debate.

    Hey all,

    Since Drama King's thesis/antithesis/synthesis interpretation of Scarface was as close to flawless as I've seen, and cynicide's evals of some of the movies on DK's "lacking a clear thematic core" list were really good too (but alas, did lack that specific a/t/s dynamic), I thought I'd chime in. . .

    I (unfortunately) don't have all day to do DK's whole list. And besides, I haven't seen all the films, but two that I have seen many times, DO have clear and specific thesis/antithesis/synthesis arguments at their cores. And they're arguably the most "commercial" or even "lowbrow" of any on the list. (for any of the remaining "only arty films have themes" crowd out there)

    Armageddon & Die Hard (I guess I'm in a Bruce Willis mood today)

    Armageddon:

    Thesis: "A misfit can be the right man for the job."
    Antithesis: "No, misfits are insufficient. Get someone picture-perfect."
    Synthesis: "Actually, sometimes it's the misfit who is perfect for the job."

    This specific argument is expressed in nearly every element of Armageddon, from AJ being "insufficient" (In Harry's eyes) to marry Grace, to the drilling crew seeming horribly insufficient to everyone to save the planet (but then succeeding where the picture-perfect astronauts fail), to Billybob's character being deemed insufficient to be an astronaut because of his disability, but then being a pivotal instrument in saving the planet. Even the supporting cast all had issues with being misfits in society (problems with the law, fitting in, etc.)

    I'm not saying this isn't a common theme. We can see the "misfits save the day" theme in countless films. But it is specific, and it does permeate the entire core of Armageddon.


    Die Hard:

    Thesis: "Looking out for other people is more important than shmoozing them to get your way."
    Antithesis: "Nope, shmoozing people to get what YOU want is what's important. Screw their best interests."
    Synthesis: "It's better to be honest and look out for others' interests, than to shmooze others while looking out for your own."

    Every character we like is NOT a politiker. Most we dislike are "working it" somehow.

    John and Holly's marriage troubles are specifically rooted in the fact that he refuses to give up his core element - being a cop in New York (protecting people) - and join her in the corporate LA shmoozfest world. He feels uncomfortable in the shmoozfest, to the point of not being at the "party" when disaster strikes.

    Hans Gruber is extremely polite, and the bad guys literally use "good manners" to get in the front door. BLAM - once in, they kill you. Hans does the same thing with Takakagi - "Nice suit." BLAM Good manners, but at the end of the day, he's out for number one.

    Even their heist - it's a simple, selfish robbery disguised as a noble attempt to free their comrades. A bu!!$hit veneer. Politiking. Working it.

    Cokehead guy - working it. Hate him from moment one until he gets blown away, trying to "work it" on Hans. Politiking doesn't work.

    Outside - We've got Al. He tries once in the movie to b.s. someone (the 7-11 clerk about the twinkies) but fails miserably and goes back to his normal mode quickly, of being honest and commited to duty (i.e., he answers a call without complaint and goes back to work). Protecting people is more important than shmoozing some clerk. Theme expressed.

    Enter Dwane Robinson. Politker extraordinaire. Only cares about the cameras. Total tool. We hate him. He's not concerned about the CORRECT way to protect the people in the building - he's just concerned about looking good to the F.B.I.

    Nearly every character expresses this dynamic in some way. Yes, there are the events that boil down to just "mano a mano" like Bruce's fight with Blondie, but nearly the entire movie resonates with that clear thematic core.

    "It's better to be honest and look out for others' interests, than to shmooze others while looking out for your own."

    Again - is this a common theme in stories? You bet. But it's specific. It's the combination between the ill-mannered, but protective urge, and the smooth-talking, but self-serving urge that gives Die Hard its particular thematic flavor.

    So, while "One determined man can conquer evil" is also true of Die Hard, those terms - "determined" and "evil" are too general and can be applied to nearly every movie. There are just too many ways for a character to be determined, or evil, to really keep a story on track.

    But I will say this; the "Speed" reference - "One determined man can conquer evil - on a bus" had me literally laughing out loud.

    Play on folks - and maaaaaaybe we could have this thread just be about trying to "prove" our arguments on one side or the other of this dynamic:

    Thesis: Every movie on DK's list (and others if people want to add them) has a specific t/a/s argument at its core.
    Antithesis: Many movies on DK's list (or others if people want to bring some up) don't have a specific t/a/s argument at their core.
    Synthesis: Done Dealers have too much time on their hands and don't do enough writing.

    CutteRug
    Regular
    Last edited by CutteRug; 08-31-2007, 11:12 AM.
    "I've got vision up the butt, so just go with it!" - Dewey Finn, School of Rock

  • #2
    Re: Theme examples, rather than just debate.

    Well, at least by this rate, this thread is in no danger of getting locked.

    In case anyone wants to have a go at proving or disproving the unified thematic (see: thesis/antithesis/synthesis) properties of any of these (or other hit movies), here's the list.

    Originally Posted by DramaKing
    Some examples of artistically and commercially successful movies lacking a clear thematic core:

    Open Water
    Runaway Train
    Naked Prey
    Transformers
    Independence Day
    Armageddon
    Reservoir Dogs
    Pulp Fiction
    Disturbia
    Halloween
    Die Hard
    Top Gun
    Apollo 13
    Speed
    Bullitt
    Duel
    Superman (original)
    Have at.
    "I've got vision up the butt, so just go with it!" - Dewey Finn, School of Rock

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Theme examples, rather than just debate.

      Every movie has a theme, but not every movie has a strong thematic core.

      If you want to find the theme of a movie, just ask yourself this question:

      Q: What did we learn at the end of this movie?

      Example: Reservoir Dogs. I don't know about anybody else, but I learned that if none of the criminals are supposed to know ANYTHING about one another, don't pick up Mr. Orange at his house.

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Theme examples, rather than just debate.

        MR. PINK-...Hey, I know what I'm talkin about, black women ain't the same as white women.

        MR. WHITE-(sarcastically) There's a slight difference.

        The car laughs.

        MR. PINK- Go ahead and laugh, you know what I mean. What a while bitch will put up with, a black bitch won't put up with for a minute. They got a line, and if you cross it, they **** you up.

        EDDIE- I gotta go along with Mr. Pink on this. I've seen it happen.

        MR. WHITE- Okay, Mr. Expert. If this is such a truism, how come every ****** I know treats his woman like a piece of ****?

        MR. PINK- I'll make you a bet that those same damn ****** who were showin their ass in public, when their bitches get 'em home, they chill the **** out.

        MR. WHITE- Not these guys.

        MR. PINK- Yeah, those guys too.

        EDDIE- Let me tell you guys a story. In one of daddy's clubs there was this black cocktail waitress named Elois.

        MR. WHITE- Elois?

        EDDIE- Yeah, Elois. E and Lois. We called her Lady E.

        MR. WHITE- Where was she from, Compton?

        EDDIE- No. She was from Ladora Heights.

        MR. PINK- The black Beverly Hills. I knew this lady from Ladora Heights once.
        (in a stuck up black female voice)
        "Hi, I'm from Ladora Heights, it's the black Beverly Hills."

        EDDIE- It's not the black Beverly Hills, it's the black Palos Verdes. Anyway, this chick, Elois, was a man-eater-upper. I bet every guy who's ever met her has jacked off to her at least once. You know who she looked like? Christie Love. 'Member that TV show "Get Christie Love"? She was a black female cop. She always used to say "You're under arrest, sugar."

        MR. PINK- I was in the sixth grade when that show was on. I totally dug it. What the **** was the name of the chick who played Christie Love?

        EDDIE- Pam Grier.

        MR. PINK- No, it wasn't Pan Grier, Pan Grier was the other one. Pan Grier made the movies. Christie Love was like a Pam Grier TV show, without Pam Grier.

        MR. PINK- What the **** was that chick's name? Oh this is just great, I'm totally ****in tortured now.

        EDDIE- Well, whoever she was, Elois looked like her. So one night I walk into the club, and no Elois. Now the bartender was a ******, he was a friend of mine, his name was Carlos. So I asked him "Hey, Carlos, where's Lady E tonight?" Well apparently Lady E was married to this real piece of dog ****. I mean a real animal. And apparently he would so things to her.

        FREDDY- Do things? What would he do? You mean like beat her up?

        EDDIE- Nobody knows for sure what he did. We just know he did something. Anyway, Elois plays it real cool. And waits for the next time this bag of **** gets drunk. So one night the guy gets drunk and passes out on the couch. So while the guy's inebriated, she strips him naked. Then she takes some crazy glue and glues his dick to his belly. The car reacts to how horrible that would be.

        EDDIE- I'm dead ****in serious. She put some on his dick and some on his belly, then stuck 'em together. The paramedics had to come and cut it loose. The car reacts badly.

        MR. WHITE- Jesus Christ!

        FREDDY- You can do some crazy things with it.

        EDDIE- I don't know what he did to her, but she got even.

        MR. WHITE- Was he all pissed off?

        MR. PINK- How would you feel if you had to do a handstand every time you took a piss.




        Competition. She WINs.
        But this wily god never discloses even to the skillful questioner the whole content of his wisdom.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Theme examples, rather than just debate.

          competition. (undercover)Police vs. (undercover)Criminals.

          who WINs?
          But this wily god never discloses even to the skillful questioner the whole content of his wisdom.

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Theme examples, rather than just debate.

            Disagree with Drama King on most of his list. Agree that anyone who puts forth these movies with the belief that they are without theme is someone who knows very little about cats.

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Theme examples, rather than just debate.

              Sorry, I meant transmissions. Knows little about transmissions and oil filters.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Theme examples, rather than just debate.

                Originally posted by reddery View Post
                competition. (undercover)Police vs. (undercover)Criminals.

                who WINs?

                Sorry red. I think this is the type of "vague theme talk" that gets us into trouble, and therefore diminishes the credibility of theme as a viable story construction tool.

                "Win" expresses a goal, but not the human quality that goes after that goal (and succeeds or doesn't). So I don't think "win" is a specific theme to a story, but rather a general story dynamic present in all stories.

                Every movie deals with some form of competition between entities. Every dramatic story has some form of winning and losing. Some form of desire, some form of obsacles.

                "Win" is just too vague. Instead, ask yourself what behavior is winning against what other behavior? Who is competing against whom, and WHY does one win and one lose in this specific story?
                "I've got vision up the butt, so just go with it!" - Dewey Finn, School of Rock

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Theme examples, rather than just debate.

                  Originally posted by twistedsteel View Post
                  Disagree with Drama King on most of his list. Agree that anyone who puts forth these movies with the belief that they are without theme is someone who knows very little about cats.
                  So grab a movie of your choice and show us. (See title of thread)

                  I'm not trying to be impertinent, I'm just encouraging us all to use examples to "prove" our points of view, rather than debate endlessly as in the past -

                  "These movies have no thematic core!"

                  "Yes they do, and if you don't see it, you're a moron!"

                  "No they don't - and you're the moron!"

                  And so forth until. . . Threadlock.

                  So, grab a movie and go. Attack!!
                  "I've got vision up the butt, so just go with it!" - Dewey Finn, School of Rock

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Theme examples, rather than just debate.

                    Cutte, I appreciate the intent of your thread, but that first post was way too long for me. If we can be a little more concise, I would certainly like to play.

                    In the famous theme thread, I tried to pick up on some films that would really be hard to pin down -- the David Lynch movies.

                    Let's take MULHOLLAND DRIVE. I made the case that this film still had a thematic focus, but used it differently from normal films.

                    What's your take?


                    "THIMK." - Amomynous

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Theme examples, rather than just debate.

                      Originally posted by R.D. Wright View Post
                      Cutte, I appreciate the intent of your thread, but that first post was way too long for me. If we can be a little more concise, I would certainly like to play.

                      In the famous theme thread, I tried to pick up on some films that would really be hard to pin down -- the David Lynch movies.

                      Let's take MULHOLLAND DRIVE. I made the case that this film still had a thematic focus, but used it differently from normal films.

                      What's your take?


                      C'mon R.D. If you're not going to take the time to read a post, I'm not going to take the time to break down arguably one of the weirdest movies of all time.

                      Don't be lazy. Just read the post. (You can limit it to the breakdowns of the movies if you must) And I'll anxiously await your assesment of Mulholland Drive. I'm not going to do all the work for everyone.
                      "I've got vision up the butt, so just go with it!" - Dewey Finn, School of Rock

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Theme examples, rather than just debate.

                        Originally posted by CutteRug View Post
                        C'mon R.D. If you're not going to take the time to read a post, I'm not going to take the time to break down arguably one of the weirdest movies of all time.

                        Don't be lazy. Just read the post. (You can limit it to the breakdowns of the movies if you must) And I'll anxiously await your assesment of Mulholland Drive. I'm not going to do all the work for everyone.
                        I read it. I just couldn't remember the first half of it by the time I was finished. That was like a dissertation on -- what was it? -- oh yeah, DIE HARD.

                        Actually, I pulled up the Mulholland script after I posted that, and I couldn't remember most of the stuff I was looking at. But here is the case I made for the Lynch films in general: I think he does focus on a central theme, at least for a while. He tells a story, that of an innocent girl caught in the vice-ridden world of Hollywood. It can end up with her purity intact, or she can be sucked into the cesspool like so many who came before her.

                        But rather than follow the theme all the way to the end, he changes it. All of a sudden this girl becomes someone entirely different -- the dead girl. She is no longer the innocent, she's the corrupted one. Her sexpot friend is suddenly the good girl (I think that's how it went). And we have an entirely different story.

                        In this way, Lynch recreates dream logic, where one cannot stay focussed on what is happening because everything changes.

                        But he still stays focussed on the seedy underbelly of Hollywood, and on the way it has been known to destroy innocence.

                        Something like that.


                        "THIMK." - Amomynous

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Theme examples, rather than just debate.

                          Originally posted by R.D. Wright View Post
                          I read it. I just couldn't remember the first half of it by the time I was finished. That was like a dissertation on -- what was it? -- oh yeah, DIE HARD.
                          Hehe. Yes, I can be verbose.

                          But did you agree with it?



                          Oh, and if we're not going to give dissertations on successful movies, who is? We're writers!
                          "I've got vision up the butt, so just go with it!" - Dewey Finn, School of Rock

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Theme examples, rather than just debate.

                            Originally posted by CutteRug View Post
                            Hehe. Yes, I can be verbose.

                            But did you agree with it?



                            Oh, and if we're not going to give dissertations on successful movies, who is? We're writers!
                            Yes, I agreed with it. I was one of the strong thematic advocates in the other thread.

                            As for giving dissertations, remember we are screenwriters. I think brevity is one of the rules.

                            But what the hell, I gave a dissertation, too. At least we can keep it friendly.

                            It's kinda sad the way these discussions have been going lately.

                            G'night.
                            "THIMK." - Amomynous

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Theme examples, rather than just debate.

                              Originally posted by R.D. Wright View Post
                              It's kinda sad the way these discussions have been going lately.
                              Well said.

                              Maybe this will be the "friendly" theme thread.

                              "I've got vision up the butt, so just go with it!" - Dewey Finn, School of Rock

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