One of my favorite parts in FilmCritHulk’s Bond columns shows up as he moves on to one of the series’ lowest points: Diamonds Are Forever. The great flaw he draws out is the utter lack of character psychology:
WOULDN’T YOU KNOW IT BUT HOW WE DEAL WITH THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHAT WE WANT AND NEED (ALONG WITH OUR ABILITY TO RECOGNIZE THAT DIFFERENCE) IS ACTUALLY WHAT GIVES US EACH OUR OWN PSYCHOLOGY. WHICH JUST SO HAPPENS TO BE THE THING THAT MAKES US A FULLY-REALIZED PERSON, WHICH JUST SO HAPPENS TO BE THE SAME THING THAT MAKES SOMEONE A FULLY-REALIZED CHARACTER ON THE SCREEN / PAGE / WHATHAVEYOU.
Once again, Hulk highlights what has become so severly lacking as characters become driven by indulgence and entertainment value, rather than real humanity. He goes on:
THE OTHER REASON THESE TWO QUALITIES OF WANT & NEED ARE SO IMPORTANT TO STORYTELLING IS THAT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THEM JUST SO HAPPENS TO BE WHERE MOST GREAT STORY CONFLICT COMES FROM. NO, IT’S NOT INVADING ALIENS OR MENACING TOUGHS, IT’S OFTEN JUST OUR INTERNAL CONFLICTS, WHEREIN WE LARGELY CREATE PROBLEMS FOR OURSELVES AND HAVE THE CAPACITY TO RECTIFY THEM. IT’S NO ACCIDENT THAT THE RECTIFICATION OF THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHAT WE WANT AND NEED OFTEN SHOWCASES HOW WE REACT TO EXTERNAL CONFLICT, TOO. AND WHERE THIS BIT OF INSIGHT GETS REALLY COOL IS WHEN YOU NOTICE THAT THOSE BIG SWEEPING THINGS WE CALL “CHARACTER ARCS” ARE REALLY NOTHING BUT AN EXAMPLE OF HOW A CHARACTER GOES FROM CHASING WHAT THEY WANT, TO STRIVING FOR WHAT THEY NEED. ISN’T THAT REMARKABLE? THAT THE THING THAT MAKES FOR GREAT, PURPOSEFUL CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT IS THE SAME THING THAT GIVES RISE TO REAL-LIFE MATURITY? HULK LOVES THE IDEA THAT WHAT SATISFIES US IN LIFE IS THE SAME THING THAT SATISFIES US IN WATCHING A CHARACTER’S DRAMATIC, STORY-BOUND LIFE TOO.
Indulging viewers is all about giving them what the want, not what they need. The entire idea of the character arc is that throughout the story, the character progresses more and more toward discovering and chasing what they need. Then, in the climax, the character makes this grand realization and is transformed through it. Instead, nearly every modern blockbuster uses the climactic final segment to give people what they want: entertainment, in the form of the typical barrage of fights and explosions. This is devastating.
I don’t want to get too presumptuous or critical, but I sincerely believe that much of the reason this can be so difficult to appreciate for some audiences is because they fail to acknowledge its application in the real world. If you don’t embrace the need for distinguishing wants and needs in your own life, and the contribution that has to our own development as humans, you’ll never be able to appreciate it in the storytelling world. Of course, the story can teach us this crucial lesson, but that becomes much harder when we think of film only as entertainment.
THINK OF IT LIKE THIS: IF A MOVIE GIVES US WHAT WE WANT AND INDULGENCES US, IT FEELS REALLY GOOD IN THE MOMENT, RIGHT? OF COURSE IT DOES. BUT IF A MOVIE GIVES US AN EXPERIENCE THAT WE SECRETLY NEED? WELL, THAT MIGHT MAKE US FEEL GOOD, TOO, BUT THAT MOVIE DOES NOT ONLY PLACATE US IN THE MOMENT. INSTEAD, IT WILL BECOME THE KIND OF POWERFUL EXPERIENCE THAT STICKS WITH US FOR A LONG TIME. … YOU KNOW THAT SENSATION YOU GET WHEN YOU SEE A MOVIE AND YOU SORT OF HAVE A WEIRD FEELING COMING OUT OF IT AND MAYBE EVEN DISLIKED IT - OR MAYBE IT SHOCKED YOU AND ROCKED YOU TO YOUR CORE? BUT DAYS OR EVEN WEEKS LATER YOU FIND YOU ARE STILL THINKING ABOUT? STILL REALIZING THE WAYS IT’S MAKING YOU THINK DIFFERENTLY ABOUT LIFE? CHANCES ARE THAT IS A MOVIE THAT HAS GIVEN YOU SOMETHING YOU DIDN’T REALIZE YOU NEEDED, AND HAS PROVIDED SOMETHING THAT HAS HELPED FEED YOUR SOUL IN SOME SMALL WAY.
This, I believe, summarizes one of the toughest challenges viewers and storytellers face. Non-indulging, challenging, and moving films are often seen as being for those who are “into film,” or else for some other limited demographic. The idea of the “character-driven” movie being some specific, distinct category strikes me as the most telling evidence of this. There is no reason why that should be the case. The world doesn’t indulge us. It challenges us, and those challenges are often moving. Therefore, these kinds of films are not film-geek stories – they are human stories.