Arcless Protagonists

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  • Arcless Protagonists

    Despite being regarded as a no-no, this protag is quite prevalent (particularly the badasses) and I'm interested in knowing how and why.

    Arc-less protags:

    The Man With No Name
    Dirty Harry
    Jack Reacher
    Snake Plissken
    Ferris Bueller
    Porter/Parker/Walker
    Dredd
    Any Steven Seagal character
    The Ghostbusters
    Schwarzenegger's most iconic roles (Conan, Dutch, Quaid, John Matrix, Terminator)
    Alan Grant, his missus and Dr Ian Malcolm (Jurassic Park)

  • #2
    Re: Arcless Protagonists

    Related:

    http://keithcalder.com/post/52191389...arc-of-awesome

    And see Keith Calder's insightful post in this thread re. the "unreasonable man" hero, an appealing formulation:

    http://messageboard.donedealpro.com/...t=70959&page=2

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Arcless Protagonists

      Originally posted by SundownInRetreat View Post
      Despite being regarded as a no-no, this protag is quite prevalent (particularly the badasses) and I'm interested in knowing how and why.

      Arc-less protags:

      The Man With No Name
      Dirty Harry
      Jack Reacher
      Snake Plissken
      Ferris Bueller
      Porter/Parker/Walker
      Dredd
      Any Steven Seagal character
      The Ghostbusters
      Schwarzenegger's most iconic roles (Conan, Dutch, Quaid, John Matrix, Terminator)
      Alan Grant, his missus and Dr Ian Malcolm (Jurassic Park)
      Alan Grant probably doesn't fit the bill. He starts out hating kids -- he doesn't want to assume that "father" role -- but the events of the story force him to assume exactly that role and at the end we see that he has now comfortably taken on that protective father role. So he actually does have an arc.

      That being said, the protagonist who doesn't change over the course of the story is perfectly common. There's nothing wrong with such a protagonist, he isn't a lesser or less-well-developed sort of protagonist. It's not a mistake.

      It all comes down to what a protagonist represents, thematically in terms of the needs of the story.

      Obviously (I hope it's obvious) the protagonist has the external story requirements -- fighting the dinosaurs, stopping the bad guys, rescuing the busload of hostages, reconciling with his dying dad -- whatever it is.

      But he also has an internal, thematic story requirement. The thing that the whole movie is, presumably, actually about. Rendering order out of chaos. Re-establishing his manhood. Passing from childhood to adulthood (literally or symbolically).

      Whatever it is.

      Depending on the theme and on what the protagonist, himself, represents in the context of the story, he may have to change in order to fulfill that dramatic requirement. For instance, he may have to (symbolically) change from a child to an adult over the course of the story.

      On the other hand, for instance, if the protagonist embodies the forces of order in conflict with chaos, or of civilization in conflict with savagery, then the events of the story, if it's structured correct, will attempt to make him change -- to yield to the forces of chaos, or of savagery.

      Ultimately, the thematic requirement of the protagonist it maintain his state against opposition. To remain that force of order, or that force of civilization, for instance, against the antagonistic forces that attempt to change him.

      That's why you often find cops, detectives, cowboys, in these kinds of protagonist roles -- because they embody those characters who, thematically, embody those states that need to maintain their status against the forces that seek to overthrow them.

      NMS

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Arcless Protagonists

        Originally posted by nmstevens View Post
        Depending on the theme and on what the protagonist, himself, represents in the context of the story, he may have to change in order to fulfill that dramatic requirement. For instance, he may have to (symbolically) change from a child to an adult over the course of the story.

        On the other hand, for instance, if the protagonist embodies the forces of order in conflict with chaos, or of civilization in conflict with savagery, then the events of the story, if it's structured correct, will attempt to make him change -- to yield to the forces of chaos, or of savagery.

        Ultimately, the thematic requirement of the protagonist it maintain his state against opposition. To remain that force of order, or that force of civilization, for instance, against the antagonistic forces that attempt to change him.

        That's why you often find cops, detectives, cowboys, in these kinds of protagonist roles -- because they embody those characters who, thematically, embody those states that need to maintain their status against the forces that seek to overthrow them.

        NMS
        When are you going to write that screenplay writing book? That would be one I definitely would buy and read.
        STANDARD DISCLAIMER: I'm a wannabe, take whatever I write with a huge grain of salt.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Arcless Protagonists

          Originally posted by SundownInRetreat View Post
          Despite being regarded as a no-no, this protag is quite prevalent (particularly the badasses) and I'm interested in knowing how and why.

          Snake Plissken
          The Ghostbusters
          Schwarzenegger's most iconic roles (Quaid, Terminator)
          Alan Grant, his missus Ellie Sattler (Jurassic Park)
          Not all of the examples you've provided fit your arc-less criterion.

          In the case of Snake Plissken, he is simply out for himself and his own survival. But he experiences a small amount of growth through his interactions with the people who help save the President and are summarily dismissed after their deaths. If Plissken had no arc, he would have simply walked away after saving his own skin. But he takes a chance at publicly humiliating the President by switching the cassette.

          Another minor arc occurs with Venkman in Ghostbusters. He is a conman who doesn't take his work seriously, but after encountering real ghosts he changes his attitude, even advising his colleagues not to give the destructor a form which the serious-minded Stantz unwittingly does by way of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

          You couldn't have seen Total Recall if you seriously think Quaid doesn't have an arc. And as the Terminator, Schwarzenegger evolves from a killing machine to a father figure for John Connor.

          It's already been mentioned that Grant does go through a change, as does Sattler, who even talks about the fact she was blinded by wonder and didn't appreciate the consequences of trying to control nature.

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Arcless Protagonists

            Originally posted by nmstevens View Post
            On the other hand, for instance, if the protagonist embodies the forces of order in conflict with chaos, or of civilization in conflict with savagery, then the events of the story, if it's structured correct, will attempt to make him change -- to yield to the forces of chaos, or of savagery.

            Ultimately, the thematic requirement of the protagonist it maintain his state against opposition. To remain that force of order, or that force of civilization, for instance, against the antagonistic forces that attempt to change him.

            That's why you often find cops, detectives, cowboys, in these kinds of protagonist roles -- because they embody those characters who, thematically, embody those states that need to maintain their status against the forces that seek to overthrow them.
            Beautifully expressed. This is an idea that I've always found pointedly missing in any screenwriting book I've yet read.

            Incidentally, I'd add R.J. MacReady from John Carpenter's The Thing as another example of an arcless protaogonist (an "unreasonable man," or an arc-of awesome protagonist, per Mr. Calder's formulations). And of course the pre-Daniel-Craig James Bond.

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Arcless Protagonists

              I don't recognize all of the characters by name that are listed, but I think most do have an arc (even if it's a subtle one). Conan learns to love other human beings. Ferris Bueller learns that everyone is different and doesn't have to be like him (although we don't really see him act on that change outside of giving his sister a look and empathizing for his friend). Alan Grant's arc in Jurassic Park isn't subtle.

              The other side of this is that most have some sort of weakness established in their character, so the arc is inverted. By that I mean, if they give in to that weakness, it changes everything around them and probably means the story won't exist, so the struggle is to actually not arc or give in to that weakness. This could also be looked at as a character arc that happened before the events take place in the movie.

              Then you have the Eastwood No Names which are more ghostly/supernatural beings, so how could they arc? And the terrible Seagal movies which have little reason to exist let alone be analyzed.

              It's also interesting that it looks the movies with a non-arcing protag are far less commercially successful or memorable.
              On Twitter @DeadManSkipping

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Arcless Protagonists

                Originally posted by karsten View Post
                Related:

                http://keithcalder.com/post/52191389...arc-of-awesome

                And see Keith Calder's insightful post in this thread re. the "unreasonable man" hero, an appealing formulation:

                http://messageboard.donedealpro.com/...t=70959&page=2
                Thanks. Will check them out.


                Originally posted by nmstevens View Post
                Alan Grant probably doesn't fit the bill. He starts out hating kids -- he doesn't want to assume that "father" role -- but the events of the story force him to assume exactly that role.
                Okay but it's a small arc - hardly a major change.


                That being said, the protagonist who doesn't change over the course of the story is perfectly common. There's nothing wrong with such a protagonist.
                Good to know - especially as I often hear complaints of no arc.


                Depending on the theme and on what the protagonist, himself, represents in the context of the story, he may have to change in order to fulfill that dramatic requirement. For instance, he may have to (symbolically) change from a child to an adult over the course of the story.

                On the other hand, for instance, if the protagonist embodies the forces of order in conflict with chaos, or of civilization in conflict with savagery, then the events of the story, if it's structured correct, will attempt to make him change -- to yield to the forces of chaos, or of savagery.

                Ultimately, the thematic requirement of the protagonist it maintain his state against opposition. To remain that force of order, or that force of civilization, for instance, against the antagonistic forces that attempt to change him.

                That's why you often find cops, detectives, cowboys, in these kinds of protagonist roles -- because they embody those characters who, thematically, embody those states that need to maintain their status against the forces that seek to overthrow them.
                Brilliant. Thank you.

                However:

                But he also has an internal, thematic story requirement. The thing that the whole movie is, presumably, actually about. Rendering order out of chaos.
                In terms of Snake, Dredd, The Man With No Name and, as someone suggested, Macready, how does their internal differ from the external, Ie: Snake's external is to rescue the Prez and resist the forces in his way but that's also his internal.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Arcless Protagonists

                  Originally posted by Centos View Post
                  When are you going to write that screenplay writing book? That would be one I definitely would buy and read.
                  Agreed,

                  Originally posted by robertcc View Post
                  In the case of Snake Plissken, he is simply out for himself and his own survival. But he experiences a small amount of growth through his interactions with the people who help save the President and are summarily dismissed after their deaths. If Plissken had no arc, he would have simply walked away after saving his own skin. But he takes a chance at publicly humiliating the President by switching the cassette.
                  Ah, but it's set up at the start with his partner that Snake values friendship and resents/distrusts authority for the way he's been shafted by it (the military that ended his career and took his left eye and now Haulk). Snake doesn't change at the end - just sees The Man being as insincere as ever. He was waiting to see if the The Man gave a damn and saw that he didn't, just like when he let him down in Leningrad, just like when his partner was viciously gunned down for no reason at the train station. And when he saw nothing had changed he did what Snake does best - gives the finger and walks away.

                  but after encountering real ghosts he changes his attitude, even advising his colleagues not to give the destructor a form which the serious-minded Stantz unwittingly does by way of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
                  That's not an arc. That's solving the riddle that Stantz fell for. And it's hard not to take things seriously when the fate of the world is in your hands. That's not an arc - a change in attitude & mindset - that's still just dealing with a situation. And in that flippant, care-free way he demonstrated throughout the film.
                  Last edited by SundownInRetreat; 06-26-2013, 05:27 AM.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Arcless Protagonists

                    Originally posted by SundownInRetreat View Post
                    Thanks. Will check them out.



                    Okay but it's a small arc - hardly a major change.



                    Good to know - especially as I often hear complaints of no arc.



                    Brilliant. Thank you.

                    However:


                    In terms of Snake, Dredd, The Man With No Name and, as someone suggested, Macready, how does their internal differ from the external, Ie: Snake's external is to rescue the Prez and resist the forces in his way but that's also his internal.
                    Well, it's been a long time since I saw Escape from New York, but based on my recollection, I'd say that the mission is the external goal -- internally, the thematic issue is the test between trusting your own moral code or the world's -- and obviously, at the end, it's clear (at least according to the movie), that you have to trust your own.

                    But, as I said, it's been a long time since I've seen it and I may be mixing some of memories of it up with Escape from L.A.

                    Clearly, with Dredd, he's committed to the legal code of Megacity and the story tests that commitment.

                    It's the same with most of these heroes. They embody ideas -- commitments to justice, to a code, to an approach to the world. And these ideas, commitments, etc. -- are going to be tested by the events of the story.

                    NMS

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Arcless Protagonists

                      Originally posted by nmstevens View Post
                      Well, it's been a long time since I saw Escape from New York, but based on my recollection, I'd say that the mission is the external goal -- internally, the thematic issue is the test between trusting your own moral code or the world's -- and obviously, at the end, it's clear (at least according to the movie), that you have to trust your own.
                      I know I'm wrong here but the reason why I see the internal and external as the same is because he doesn't have a choice. Whether he trusts the outside world or not (and he doesn't) he has to do what it says and hope they don't shaft him at the end of it because he's dead otherwise.


                      Clearly, with Dredd, he's committed to the legal code of Megacity and the story tests that commitment.

                      It's the same with most of these heroes. They embody ideas -- commitments to justice, to a code, to an approach to the world. And these ideas, commitments, etc. -- are going to be tested by the events of the story.
                      Fair enough but what about those cops/heroes that do arc in the face of such threats - like Martin Riggs?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Arcless Protagonists

                        Originally posted by SundownInRetreat View Post
                        I know I'm wrong here but the reason why I see the internal and external as the same is because he doesn't have a choice. Whether he trusts the outside world or not (and he doesn't) he has to do what it says and hope they don't shaft him at the end of it because he's dead otherwise.



                        Fair enough but what about those cops/heroes that do arc in the face of such threats - like Martin Riggs?
                        As far as "escape" is concerned, I'd probably have to see it again to speak authoritatively on it, but in pretty much any story, everybody's got a choice -- because death is a choice.

                        And just because you've got a movie with a cop in it doesn't necessarily mean that the cop doesn't have an arc because not every cop represents the same thing any more than every cowboy does or every detective does.

                        Some cops change over the course of the story. So do some detectives. So do some cowboys or soldiers or samurai or you name it.

                        And some don't. It depends on what the particular protagonist embodies, thematically.

                        Sure, some cigars in movies are just cigars. But most important things in movie are more than "just cigars" -- they are representational. They have symbolic meaning.

                        When it rains at a funeral in the real world, it's just rain. It doesn't have anything to do with the funeral.

                        But when it rains at a funeral in a movie, it isn't just rain. It's a decision that the story teller has made to externalize, through the weather, the internal emotional state of the characters.

                        And so it is with characters themselves. They aren't just people who happen to have stumbled into the fictional events of a story. They've been created for a purpose -- and that purpose is to explore the thematic landscape of the story.

                        NMS

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Arcless Protagonists

                          Protagonists who don't arc might be traveling angels. They don't change; they change the other characters. This is a brief explanation from Truby's website:

                          "In most Traveling Angel stories, the hero enters a community in trouble. The problems of a number of minor characters are detailed and then the traveling angel - who is perfect - proceeds to fix them."

                          Sometimes the traveling angel in a story is literally an angel, other times it may be Superman or a quirky homeless person who just might be more than he or she seems.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Arcless Protagonists

                            Originally posted by SundownInRetreat View Post
                            Despite being regarded as a no-no, this protag is quite prevalent (particularly the badasses) and I'm interested in knowing how and why.

                            Arc-less protags:

                            Dirty Harry
                            In the case of films like Dirty Harry and Bullitt, I think it's actually the audience that arcs the most.

                            The characters themselves have long since come to the conclusion that they live in a corrupted, dirty world -- it's the viewer who needs to get to the same point.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Arcless Protagonists

                              Thanks everyone.

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