Have you noticed that most good movies, or even most movies in general involve stories of people who make bad decisions? Tonight, like most good nights, started out as one thing and then warped steadily into another. It started off as my old roommate Clee taking me to a screening of the new Coen Brother’s film, Burn After Reading (which, now that I’m thinking about it, never made a reference to its title), and then turned into a double feature when we bought tickets to see Woody Allen’s latest, Vicky Christina Barcelona. It was on the car ride on the way home that we lamented Allen’s decision to show two limited views of love to be the only options in life: the main characters can hope only to be stuck in a predictable, loveless-yet-committed marriage, or to chase down impossibly exciting and passionately lustful trysts—all to end up dissapointed in the end. The main characters, Vicky and Christina, natch, were women who both seemed incapable of making good decisions, and when they did make good decisions, they were unhappy with them. At first I wondered why perhaps Allen decided to only write characters who made poor choice, but then a thought came to me, that most movies or books, or anything that had a narrative arc in general, tend to showcase people making bad decisions. ‘Cause that’s where the drama is. If Vicky and Christina decided to rebuff the gorgeous and seductive Juan Antonio (which they didn’t, obviously), there’d be no movie, or at least no movie that anyone would want to see. Same too, for a film like Knocked Up, which some have called an “pro-life” film, because its main female character chooses to go through with an unexpected pregnancy instead of have an abortion. When asked to comment, writer/director Judd Apatow said that in no uncertain terms was it meant to have a pro-life message, but that there just wouldn’t be a flim if she chose to have an abortion.
Anyway, why did I write all this down? More than anything to remind myself what dramatic action actually consists of, and that when I get stuck on some plot point in my own writing that when in doubt, make my characters make bad decisions.
Now that I have eight-plus hours of sleep under my belt, I remember another instance of bad decision-making propelling a narrative forward. I guess you could call it the original bad decision—the fall of man, which you can find in Genesis, chapter three. Many horrible consequences came out of that one bad decision—side note: roommate Sharon and I were talking the other night and we pondered the fact that one bad choice, which could take only moments to make, could also take years to unravel—and we’re still trying, as a human race, to right that choice and are going about it in all sorts of misguided ways. So, God is the ultimate lover of dramatic action, ’cause yes if Eve and Adam hadn’t decided to turn away from him, a lot of pain and suffering would have been avoided, but then the story might have been well, a little boring, don’t you think?