Film Crit Hulk Smash: NIGHTCRAWLER And Why Movies Don’t Need Character Arcs

Lou Bloom is perfect just the way he is.

1. ON "RULES"

WHEN IT COMES TO STORYTELLING, THERE'S NOTHING MORE PROBLEMATIC THAN WHEN SOMEONE CONFUSES A GUIDELINE WITH A RULE. TAKE THE FOLLOWING PIECE OF CONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

"The main character must have an arc."

ON ONE LEVEL, THIS IS USUALLY DECENT ADVICE. AFTER ALL, MOST FILMS USE THEIR CENTRAL CHARACTERS AS THE DIRECT SURROGATES FOR THE AUDIENCE SO THAT THEY MAY THEN TAKE THEM THROUGH THE EVOLVING HUMAN STORY AT PLAY. WE USUALLY BEGIN WITH A FLAWED HUMAN BEING. THEY THEN EXPERIENCE CONFLICT, PAIN, LOSS, AND THROUGH THOSE THINGS THEY GROW AND REACT IN NEW WAYS. SOMETIMES THEY BECOME HEROES, SOMETIMES THEY BECOME FIGURES OF TRAGEDY. BUT ALONG THE WAY THE CHARACTERS THEMSELVES WILL FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGE IN KEY WAYS, CARRYING WITH THEM THE MOMENTUM OF THE STORY AND OFT DICTATING THE SHAPE OF THE PLOT ITSELF. AN AUDIENCE MEMBER CAN VERY EASILY "FOLLOW" THIS AND FOR THAT REASON IT IS GOOD. BUT JUST BECAUSE THIS HAPPENS TO BE THE MOST TYPICAL APPROACH TO TRADITIONAL FILM NARRATIVE, MANY WILL MISTAKE IT FOR BEING THE ONLY ACCEPTABLE FORM OF TRADITIONAL NARRATIVE. AS SUCH, THEY WILL PREACH THAT A FILM CAN ONLY BE CONSIDERED GOOD IF IT MANAGES TO STAND BY THAT CORE PRINCIPLE: "THE MAIN CHARACTER MUST HAVE AN ARC FOR THE STORY TO TRULY FUNCTION."

... EXCEPT WHEN IT DOESN'T.

BECAUSE THERE ARE ACTUALLY COUNTLESS POPULAR FILMS OUT THERE WHERE THE MAIN CHARACTER(S) DON'T CHANGE A SINGLE IOTA AND YET THE FILM STILL MANAGES TO TELL A COMPELLING, WONDERFUL STORY. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE? WELL, A LOT OF WAYS, REALLY. BUT TO GET AT THE CORE OF IT, LET'S PULL BACK AND CHANGE THE WORDING OF THAT CONVENTIONAL WISDOM TO BE A BIT MORE INCLUSIVE:

"It is a movie that must have an arc."

AH. THERE WE GO. THAT IS SO MUCH BETTER, INNIT? FOR IT GETS TO ONE OF THE KEY IDEAS BEHIND ARCS IN GENERAL AND THE BASIC DRIVE OF NARRATIVE: THAT WE GO TO THE MOVIES BECAUSE WE WANT TO SEE SOMETHING HAPPEN. AND DESPITE ALL EVIDENCE TO THE CONTRARY, IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT BLOWING SHIT UP AND CHARACTERS TRYING TO SHOOT EACH OTHER JUST BECAUSE. NO, GOOD MOVIES DO MUCH MORE THAN THAT. THEY MAKE SCENES AND EVENTS FEEL CONNECTED. THEY SHOWCASE CAUSE AND EFFECT. THEY CHANGE OUR UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT WE ARE EVEN SEEING. AND WHILE A CHANGING CENTRAL CHARACTER CAN BE AS GOOD AN ANCHOR AS ANY, THE MARKERS OF NARRATIVE CHANGE OVER THE COURSE OF A FILM CAN TAKE ANY NUMBER OF FORMS. SOMETIMES IT CAN BE THE WAY THE OTHER CHARACTERS SURROUNDING THE MAIN CHARACTER CHANGE. SOMETIMES IT CAN BE THE WAY AN EVENT ITSELF IS SHAPED BY THE PEOPLE WITHIN IT. SOMETIMES IT CAN BE THE EVOLUTION OF A THEMATIC IDEA, ONE WHICH IS THROWN INTO SHARP RELIEF BY THE EVENTS OF THE OTHERWISE ERRATIC-SEEMING STORY. SIMPLY PUT: AN AUDIENCE CAN FEEL SO MUCH MORE THAN A MERE 1:1 WITH THE GROWTH OF A CENTRAL CHARACTER. THEY CAN FEEL RIGHT ALONG WITH THE MECHANISM OF CAUSALITY ITSELF. MEANING THEY CAN FEEL ANY KIND OF REAL CHANGE THAT THE MOVIE HAS TO OFFER.

TAKE ONE OF HULK'S FAVORITE FILMS, MIKE LEIGH'S HAPPY GO LUCKY. HULK HATES TO SPOIL IT IN A LARGER TACTICAL SENSE, BUT THE FILM'S MAIN CHARACTER, POPPY, STARTS AS A BRIGHT OPTIMISTIC PERSON WHO FLUTTERS ABOUT MAKING GOOFY JOKES. POPPY GETS HER BIKE STOLEN, AND WE THEN SEE ALL THESE FOLKS WARNING HER THAT WORLD IS TOO DANGEROUS AND CYNICAL FOR HER DISPOSITION AND SHE MUST STOP BEING SO SILLY ALL THE TIME. THE IMPLICATION BEING THAT ANY GOOD CHARACTER ARC WILL SHOWCASE HER FLAW OF NAIVETY AND THUS SHE MUST OVERCOME IT TO BECOME MORE "GROUNDED" OR ELSE THIS FLAW WILL ESSENTIALLY UNDO HER. THAT SOUNDS LIKE A FAIRLY STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE FOR A STORY WITH THIS SET-UP, RIGHT? BUT THROUGHOUT THE FILM, POPPY DOESN'T CHANGE WHATSOEVER. INSTEAD, SHE REMAINS STEADFAST IN HER JOVIAL NATURE. SHE REMAINS EMOTIVE AND KIND TO EVERYONE, EVEN THOSE WHO MISTREAT OR TAKE ADVANTAGE OF HER. AND THROUGHOUT THESE DISPLAYS WE SEE THAT POPPY ISN'T ACTUALLY SO NAIVE AT ALL. WE SEE THAT SHE HAS HER FEET FIRMLY PLANTED IN THE TOUGH REALITIES OF THE WORLD. THAT HER STUDENTS FACE REAL TROUBLE AND SHE HELPS THEM IN THEIR DAY TO DAY IN A WAY THAT OTHERS FAIL TO DO, LET ALONE SEE. WE COME TO SEE THAT EVERYONE AROUND POPPY IS NOT MERELY WARNING HER FOR HER OWN GOOD, BUT THAT THEY ARE INSTEAD PROJECTING SO MUCH OF THEIR OWN MISERY, TRYING TO JUSTIFY THEIR OWN CYNICISM AS THEY BATTLE THEIR OWN INTERNAL STRUGGLES AND FEARS. IT IS EVEN HINTED THAT THEY SIMPLY CAN'T SEE OR UNDERSTAND HOW POPPY CAN BATTLE A LIFE THIS TOUGH WITH AN OPTIMISTIC DISPOSITION, SO THEY SEEMINGLY WANT TO TAKE HER DOWN JUST BECAUSE OF IT. THEY NEED TO MAKE HER RESEMBLE THEM. AND IN THE END, POPPY STANDS TALL. SHE EMERGES AS THE SAME WONDERFUL PERSON SHE WAS AT THE BEGINNING. UNCORRUPTED BY WHAT HAS BEEN THROWN AT HER, AND REALISTICALLY REWARDED FOR IT.

IT IS THEN THAT YOU REALIZE THAT THE THING THAT WAS CHANGING THROUGHOUT THE FILM WAS NOT POPPY HERSELF, BUT INSTEAD OUR RELATIONSHIPTO HER. IT WAS OUR DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF WHO POPPY REALLY WAS THAT EVOLVED FROM SCENE TO SCENE, WHICH PERHAPS LEADS US TO ANOTHER REALIZATION:

THE ARC BELONGED TO THE AUDIENCE.

IT'S ONE OF THOSE "DUH! OF COURSE!" IDEAS THAT CAN REALLY OPEN UP HOW WE APPROACH STORYTELLING. BUT PLEASE DON'T THINK THAT HAPPY GO LUCKY CAN GET AWAY WITH IT JUST BECAUSE IT IS A QUIET BRITISH CHARACTER PIECE AND THEREFORE IMMUNE TO "THE RULES" SOMEHOW. THE TRUTH IS THAT THIS AUDIENCE ARC METHODOLOGY IS USED IN STORYTELLING CONSTANTLY. WHY, IT JUST SO HAPPENS TO BE THE SAME MECHANISM AT THE HEART OF ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR STORYTELLING FORMS EVER...

THAT WOULD BE MYSTERY.

2. MYSTERIES, EVENTS AND THEMES

FROM CLASSIC WHODUNNITS TO SUPERIOR MIND-FUCKS, MYSTERY STORIES ARE ABSOLUTELY SHAPED BY THE ARC OF THE AUDIENCE - SO MUCH SO THAT YOU CAN PRETTY MUCH SEPARATE THE GOOD ONES FROM THE BAD ONES BY HOW MUCH THEY UNDERSTAND THIS VERY PRINCIPLE. BAD MYSTERIES THINK IT'S ALL ABOUT MUDDLED CONFUSION AND NOT SAYING ANYTHING AND KEEPING THE AUDIENCE IN THE DARK AS LONG AS POSSIBLE. THIS JUST HAS THE EFFECT OF DRENCHING EVERY SCENE INTO A CONFUSED, UNKNOWABLE STATE. HOW CAN YOU BE DUPED WHEN NOTHING FEELS TRUE? EVEN WORSE, THE EFFECT OF SUCH CONFUSION IS A KIND OF MIND NUMBING "SAMENESS" WITH NO REAL CHANGE. THE STORY IS JUST FOG. AND IT IS RARELY COMPELLING IN THE WAY THE AUTHOR / FILMMAKER INTENDS.

MEANWHILE, GOOD MYSTERIES START WITH A STRONG CENTRAL QUESTION TO DRIVE THE PLOT AND THEN START THROWING INFORMATION AND UNDERSTANDING AT YOU IMMEDIATELY. THE DRAMATIC RUB COMES WHEN IT TURNS OUT THAT INFORMATION MAY NOT BE ALL THAT ACCURATE OR IS CONFLICTING WITH SOMETHING ELSE - WHEN WE LEARN THAT SOMEONE WAS LYING OR HIDING A MOTIVE. IT MAY SEEM COUNTER-INTUITIVE TO A WRITER, BUT CLARITY SHOULD ACTUALLY MAKE THAT CENTRAL DRIVING QUESTION OF THE MYSTERY MORE INTERESTING OR COMPLEX (MEANING THE MYSTERY ITSELF SHOULD BE INTERESTING AND HUMAN). AND THE THING ABOUT CLARITY IS THAT IT LENDS THE ADDED BONUS OF BEING ABLE TO CRAFT SOME NICE GENUINE MOMENTS OF WHAT-THE-FUCKERY, WHETHER IT COMES IN THE FORM OF SURPRISES OR REVEALS. BUT THEY NEED THAT CLARITY TO REALLY MAKE IT FEEL LIKE A SURPRISE.

TO THE OVERALL POINT, YOU SHOULD NOTE HOW FEW CHARACTERS IN MYSTERIES ACTUALLY CHANGE. YEAH THEY MIGHT GET SUCKED INTO TROUBLE, BUT SO OFTEN WE'RE NOT INVESTIGATING A MYSTERY THAT'S A PROBLEM, WE'RE INVESTIGATING A PERSON. AND SO IT IS THE AUDIENCE'S UNDERSTANDING AND KNOWLEDGE OF THAT PERSON THAT CHANGES, RIGHT ALONG WITH THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF THE WORLD AND EVENTS THAT HAVE TRANSPIRED. WITH MYSTERIES, THE AUDIENCE IS ALWAYS THE ONE THAT HAS ARC. AND TO BOIL THE ETHOS OF THAT ARC INTO A PHRASE THAT HULK CAN'T BELIEVE THAT HULK ONLY THOUGHT OF JUST NOW: GOOD HERO STORIES TAKE CHARACTERS FROM WHO THEY ARE TO WHO THEY WANT TO BE. GOOD MYSTERIES SHOW WHO PEOPLE WANT TO BE AND THEN SHOW US WHO THEY REALLY ARE.

BUT EVEN THEN, YOU MIGHT POINT OUT THAT MYSTERY STORIES ARE A FAR MORE RIGID FORM THAN A LOT OF OTHER CHARACTER-ARC-LESS FILMS OUT THERE - SO HOW DO WE JUSTIFY THE OTHERS?

TO USE AN EXAMPLE, THERE IS A SUB-GENRE OF WHAT HULK LIKES TO CALL "EVENT MOVIES" - WHEREIN SOME BIG EVENT OR MOMENT IS CHARACTERIZED THROUGH A DRAMATIC RETELLING (THOUGH IT'S NOT REALLY A GENRE. MORE OF A STORY TACTIC). THE MOST OBVIOUS AND STALWART EXAMPLE OF THESE KINDS OF FILMS IS IN THE WORK OF PAUL GREENGRASS. BLOODY SUNDAY. UNITED 93. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS. IT IS PRETTY WELL AGREED UPON THAT ALL THESE FILMS ARE BOTH REMARKABLE AND AFFECTING. AND HULK SHOULD NOTE THAT HULK TENDS TO LOVE GOOD EVENT MOVIES BECAUSE THEY GET AT SOMETHING HULK WILL ILLUSTRATE IN JUST A SECOND, BUT HULK ALSO WORRIES THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE DON'T SEEM TO UNDERSTAND HOW THEY WORK (EVEN WHEN THEY LIKE THEM). TO WIT, ONE OF THE MOST COMMON JUSTIFICATIONS IN THE PRAISE OF THESE FILMS IS HOW THEY ARE "DOCU-LIKE" AND THEREFORE ARE ABLE TO GET TO THE "REALITY" OF THE EVENT... SORRY, BUT THAT'S JUST SENSING THE MERE TEXTURE AND AESTHETIC OF THE MOVIE (THE TANGIBLE DETAIL). AND YEAH THOSE ARE COGNITIVE CUES THAT SURE HELP IMMERSE US AND ALL, BUT ON A PURE STORY LEVEL, MAKING SOMETHING "DOCU-LIKE" DOES ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. NO, WHAT MAKES A GOOD EVENT FILM ON A STORY LEVEL IS OFTEN TWO-FOLD:

1) TREATING THE EVENT ITSELF AS THE MAIN CHARACTER, WHEREIN THE DEVELOPMENTS OF THE EVENT (OR WHAT IS PLANNED) UNFOLD WITH A SOLID CAUSE-AND-EFFECT MODEL OF GOOD PLOTTING.

AND 2) THAT AS MANY SCENES AS POSSIBLE HIGHLIGHT A STRONG IDEOLOGICAL CONFLICT AT THE HEART OF THE EVENT, SO THAT THE NATURE OF IDEOLOGY WILL GET THROWN INTO SHARP RELIEF, OFTEN THROUGH THE CHARACTERS' ONGOING CONFLICT WITH EACH OTHER.

THAT SOUNDS COMPLICATED, BUT FOR A PERFECT RECENT EXAMPLE LOOK TO SELMA, WHICH IS RIGHTFULLY EARNING RAVES (HULK JUST SAW IT A SECOND AGO AND CAN'T BELIEVE HOW WELL IT FITS IN THIS DISCUSSION). THE FILM TOUCHES ON MANY CHARACTERS AND STORIES AND WHILE THEY MAY BE GOING UP AND DOWN WITH CHANGES AND DOUBTS, WOULD YOU NECESSARILY SAY THAT ANY OF THEM HAVE STRONG ARCS? NOT REALLY, NO. INSTEAD, THE STORY ARC BELONGS TO THE EVENT AND THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE UP THE TOWN OF SELMA (WONDER WHY THEY NAMED THE MOVIE THAT, HUH?). AND IT IS TELLING THE STORY OF HOW PROTESTING WORKS, FROM IDEA TO IMPLEMENTATION TO EFFECT. AND IT EXPLORES THAT THROUGH THE DRAMATIC INTERACTION OF THE KEY PERSONS INVOLVED, ALL TO HIGHLIGHT THE LARGER IDEOLOGICAL ISSUES. THE EVENT ITSELF IS THE MAIN CHARACTER, AS HUMAN AND NUANCED AS ANY GREAT CHARACTER MUST BE. HULK SWEARS TO YOU, WITHOUT THOSE TWO BITS OF KEY UNDERSTANDING MENTIONED ABOVE, YOU'RE JUST GOING TO END UP TELLING A BORING STORY IN SHAKY-CAM.

BUT HERE'S THE OTHER CRUCIAL THING ABOUT EVENT MOVIES: THEY DON'T HAVE TO BE ABOUT SOMETHING REAL.

HECK, OFTEN IT'S BETTER WHEN THEY AREN'T. TAKE THE FRENCH CONNECTION. IT'S A FILM OFT PRAISED FOR ITS CAR "CHASE" OF AN INVESTIGATION, BUT THAT ALMOST IGNORES HOW THE ENTIRE FILM IS ESSENTIALLY ONE GIANT CHASE. IT'S TWO GRIZZLED COPS PUTTING THE PEDDLE TO THE METAL, TRYING TO FIGURING OUT A PUZZLE AND TRAP A COUPLE OF BIG TIME FRENCH HEROIN DEALERS. THERE ARE NO CHARACTER ARCS TO BE FOUND. IT'S A PURE EVENT FILM, DISTILLED DOWN TO A GAME OF COPS & ROBBERS - AND OH HEY, IT JUST SO HAPPENS TO BE ONE OF THE BEST FILMS EVER MADE. BECAUSE IN EVERY BIT OF DETAIL AND FLOURISH, IT MANAGES TO CLARIFY SO MANY IDEAS ABOUT THE DRUG TRADE / PROTO-DRUG WAR AND ITS INHERENT DYSFUNCTION. IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT THE BALLS-TO-THE-WALL PACE AND CRASHING VEHICLES, IT'S ALL A VEHICLE FOR A BIGGER STATEMENT.

FOR ANOTHER EXAMPLE, TAKE CONTAGION. NOW, HULK'S ALWAYS HESITANT TO BRING UP A DIRECTOR FOR WHOM HULK IS HOPELESSLY BIASED, BUT DISASTER FILMS ARE OF COURSE EVENT FILMS. AND NOTE THE METHODOLOGY HERE: IT'S A WEB OF INTERLOCKING PERSONS, BUT THESE ARE NOT MERE VIGNETTES. MEANING IT'S LESS ABOUT THEIR PERSONAL STORIES AND MORE ABOUT HOW THEIR PERSONAL STORIES ARE UNDONE WHEN THEY HAVE TO GRAPPLE WITH THE REALITY OF A SUPER-VIRUS. WHICH ONLY HELPS POINT OUT HOW THE MAIN CHARACTER IS THE VIRUS ITSELF. IT IS THE THING THAT IS MOST SPURRING ACTION IN OUR CHARACTERS AND DEFINING THEIR HUMANITY. AND IT IS THE THING THAT IS CONSTANTLY EVOLVING THROUGHOUT THE FILM (ALONG WITH THE AUDIENCE'S UNDERSTANDING OF IT). HECK, WHEN YOU TRACK THE STORY OF THE VIRUS ITSELF IT GOES FROM GESTATION, TO MANIFESTATION, TO COMPLETE POWER, TO WANING DAYS, TO DEATH, TO RE-DISCOVERY OF ITS MOMENT OF BIRTH... YUP, THAT'S JUST AS CLASSIC A LIFE CYCLE / CHARACTER CYCLE AS THEY COME.

STICKING WITH THAT SAME DIRECTOR FOR A MOMENT, YOU'LL NOTE THAT OCEAN’S ELEVEN IS ESSENTIALLY AN EVENT FILM AS WELL, WHICH WILL HOPEFULLY MAKE YOU REALIZE THAT SO ARE ALL GOOD HEIST FILMS. SURE, MOST ARE LIKE TO RELY ON THE CHARM OF WATCHING SOME TITANS GO BACK AND FORTH WITH TÊTE-À-TÊTES, BUT HEIST FILMS ARE 100% RELIANT ON HOW THEY CRAFT MAGIC TRICKS WITH THE AUDIENCE'S UNDERSTANDING. THEY EFFECTIVELY COMBINE THE NEEDED AFFECTATION OF BOTH MYSTERY AND EVENT FILMS, SO THAT THEY MAY EFFECTIVELY RUG-PULL, SURPRISE AND WORK WITH DRAMATIC IRONY WHEN NEEDED. HEIST FILMS ARE 100% ABOUT PLAYING WITH EXPECTATION AND SUSPENSE. THAT'S WHY THE ARCS, MOTIVES AND HISTORIES, OF ALL THE CHARACTERS ALL NEED TO BE REFOCUSED INTO THE LARGER GIVE-AND-TAKE OF THE DRAMATIC ALTERNATIONS WITHIN THE STORY (TO USE THE ABOVE EXAMPLE IT'S REALLY ABOUT PROVING TO TESS WHO CARES ABOUT MONEY AND WHO DOESN'T, WHEN IT SEEMS THE OPPOSITE).

NOW - YOU MAY ARGUE THAT ALL OF THE ABOVE EXAMPLES OF MYSTERIES AND EVENT FILMS ARE ALL PRETTY OVERT IN THEIR MAINSTREAM APPEALS. BUT HULK SWEARS TO YOU, THE LESSONS OF CINEMATIC ARCS IN FILMS WITH NO CHARACTER ARCS CAN BE APPLIED TO VIRTUALLY ANY KIND OF FILM. AND OFTEN IN WAYS THAT PEOPLE DON'T TAKE THE TIME TO RECOGNIZE.

TAKE ONE OF THE BEST MOVIES OF THE YEAR: UNDER THE SKIN. TO SOME, THE FILM MAY SEEM LIKE A WANDERING SERIES OF ABSTRACT, EPISODIC SCENES, WHERE THE CHARACTERS SEEM TO BEHAVE IN STRANGE, UNRECOGNIZABLE WAYS... BUT THE ENTIRE FILM IS ACTUALLY WORKING IN COMPLETE METAPHOR AND SYMBOLOGY. EACH MOMENT IN THE FILM IS CAREFULLY DESIGNED TO EXAMINE THE ISSUES OF FEMININITY IN THE MODERN WORLD (AND IN THE ARCHAIC / BIOLOGICAL SENSES TOO). AND BELIEVE IT OR NOT, IT'S NOT JUST REPEATING ITSELF. THERE'S A VERY CAREFUL EVOLUTION TO THE CONFLICTS SCARLETT JOHANSSON FACES ALONG THE WAY AND THUS OUR THEMATIC UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT THE FILM IS SAYING ABOUT FEMININITY EVOLVES VASTLY FROM SCENE TO SCENE. WHICH IS TO SAY: YES, A THEME CAN TOTALLY CARRY AN ARC.

BUT EVEN IF YOU'RE NOT INTERESTED IN TELLING SUCH PURE ARTISTIC OR ABSTRACT STORIES, PLEASE STILL CONSIDER THE VALUE OF UNDERSTANDING OR INTEGRATING A THEMATIC APPROACH INTO TRADITIONAL NARRATIVES. FOR INSTANCE, THE DARK KNIGHT, FOR ALL ITS PROPULSIVE GUSTO AND SUMMER MOVIE-NESS, IS ACTUALLY A FILM THAT IS COMPLETELY, 100% BUILT OFF THE CENTRAL THEME. SURE, THERE'S A LOT OF STANDARD BLOCKBUSTER CHARACTER ARCS GOING ON IN THERE TOO, BUT THE ENTIRE THRUST OF THE FILM IS ABOUT A PURELY IDEOLOGICAL TERRORIST WHO TRIES TO THROW EVERY CHARACTER IN THE CITY INTO A DIRECT MORAL QUANDARY. SERIOUSLY, LOOK AT EVERY SINGLE SCENE AND YOU REALIZE THE ENTIRE FILM IS ESSENTIALLY A BATTLE FOR THE SOUL OF GOTHAM. AND UNLIKE THE PLOT, EVERY SCENE IS THERE TO HELP TELL THAT THEMATIC STORY. AND NO MATTER HOW OFTEN PEOPLE COMPLAIN ABOUT THE SILLY MECHANATIONS OF THE PLOT, THE DRAMA AND IDEOLOGY OF THAT BATTLE WAS SO INSTINCTIVELY CLEAR TO PEOPLE THAT IT WAS HIGHLY COMPELLING (YOU COULD ARGUE THIS IS THE BIG THING THAT HIS OTHER TWO BATMAN FILMS LACKED). AND HOPEFULLY IT HELPS TO SHOW THAT EVOLVING A THEME CAN JUST BE AS CRITICAL TO A POPULAR FILM'S FUNCTION AS EVOLVING A CHARACTER.

WHAT IS QUITE IMPORTANT TO NOTE IS THAT EVEN THOUGH THESE FILMS DON'T ACTUALLY RELY ON CENTRAL CHARACTER ARCS, THEY STILL FOLLOW THE EXACT IDEALS AND METHODS THAT MAKE CHARACTER ARCS COMPELLING. THEY HAVE A SENSE OF ECONOMY. THEY DON'T WASTE OR REPEAT THE MESSAGE OF SCENES. THEY MOVE THE IDEAS BEHIND THEM AT CLIP. THEY SHOW CAUSALITY. ACTION. REACTION. INSTEAD OF "AND THEN," SCENES BECOME CONNECTED BY "THEREFORE / BUTS."

IT ALL TAPS DIRECTLY INTO WHAT HULK KEEPS THINKING MIGHT BE THE GRAND SECRET TO FILMMAKING: THE POWER OF TRANSITIONS. HULK HAS COME TO BELIEVE THAT IT IS NOT CHARACTER LIKEABILITY, BUT INSTEAD THE WAY WE MOVE FROM SCENE TO SCENE WITH A SENSE OF PURPOSE THAT MOST MAKES AN AUDIENCE FEEL ENGAGED. BECAUSE EVERY TIME A SCENE STARTS, THE AUDIENCE IS LEFT TO WONDER WHY THE SCENE IS OCCURRING - THAT IS TO SAY EVERY TIME THEY ARE MADE TO "START OVER," THEN THE MORE AN AUDIENCE TENDS TO TIRE OF IT. A FILM LIKE TRANS4MERS CAN CUT EVERY 10 SECONDS, BUT SINCE THERE'S NO UNDERSTANDABLE CAUSE AND EFFECT (AND BECAUSE THE TIMES WHERE THERE IS CAUSE AND EFFECT FEEL BATSHIT INSANE), THEN THE FILM FEELS SLOW AND ENDLESS. BUT IF YOU IMBUE YOUR FILM WITH THE POWER OF TRANSITIONS? CUTTING TO A NEW SCENE WITH A LEAD-IN LINE, OR TURNING SAID TRANSITIONS INTO OUTRIGHT JOKES (THINK SCENES LIKE "I'M NOT COMING WITH YOU!" THEN CUT TO THEM BEING IN TOW). HECK, USING TRANSITIONS TO THE POINT OF EVEN BEING DIRECT AND SHOUTING "TO THE LIBRARY!" BEFORE GOING TO THE LIBRARY CAN HAVE OUTRAGEOUSLY GOOD EFFECT. YOU'D BE SHOCKED HOW EASILY THIS SIMPLE UNDERSTANDING CAN ENGAGE YOUR AUDIENCE.

GRANTED, HULK ALSO ADMITS THAT IT MAKES IT EASY TO HOODWINK THEM, TOO. YOU CAN LEAD THEM DOWN A RABBIT HOLE OF PROPULSION AND SEEMINGLY REASONABLE TRANSITIONS, BUT THEN THE MOMENT THEY LEAVE THE THEATER AND CONSIDER THE PATH THEY TRAVELED ON THEY'LL GO "WAIT! THAT DIDN'T WORK AT ALL!" (FOR THE FEW MASTERPIECES HULK BELIEVES HE'S MADE, CHRISTOPHER NOLAN SEEMS TO HAVE THIS PROBLEM A LOT. AND IT'S NO ACCIDENT HE'S ALSO THE MASTER OF ON-THE-NOSE DESCRIPTIVE TRANSITION: EVERY CHARACTER USUALLY TELLS YOU WHAT THEY'RE ABOUT TO DO IN THE NEXT SHOT. MEANING IT'S BASICALLY ALWAYS "TO THE LIBRARY!"... AND THE LEGITIMACY OF SUCH TRANSITIONS IS MIXED). BUT EVEN WITH THIS SMALL WORRY OF HOODWINKING, IT ONLY HELPS HIGHLIGHT THE INCREDIBLE POWER THAT TRANSITIONS ACTUALLY HAVE. AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, UNDERSTANDING THEM GETS US RIGHT BACK TO THE LARGER IDEA:

THAT A FILM MUST ALWAYS BE STEPPING FORWARD, ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER, TAKING "THE MOVIE" WHERE IT NEEDS TO GO; ALL PART OF AN ARC TO REALIZE A GREATER IDEA.

AND NONE OF THIS YEAR’S FILMS PROVE THE THEORY BETTER THAN NIGHTCRAWLER.

3. "DO YOU KNOW WHAT FEAR STANDS FOR? FALSE. EVIDENCE. APPEARING. REAL."

OK, TO CATCH YOU UP ON HULK'S GENERAL THOUGHTS ON THE FILM: HULK ABSOLUTELY ADORED IT. DAN GILROY'S MADE A LITTLE POWDER KEG OF A MOVIE. A NAUGHTY BIT OF DARK WICKEDNESS. CHOCK-FULL OF SOME JET BLACK CYNICISM BATHED IN THE UGLY SHEEN OF FADED NEON LIGHTING (NO WONDER IT'S EVEN A GREAT L.A. MOVIE). BUT AT THE CENTER OF THE FILM'S GREATNESS IS NONE OTHER THAN JAKE GYLLENHAAL, GIVING ONE OF THE ALL-TIME WEIRDO PERFORMANCES IN LOU BLOOM. MAKE NO MISTAKE, THIS CHARACTER IS PURELY AN UNHINGED SCUZZBALL; A THIEF WHO WEASELS HIS WAY INTO THE RACKET OF AMBULANCE CHASING FOR GRISLY MORNING NEWS FOOTAGE. YOU'LL NOTE THAT WHAT MAY SEEM "UNLIKABLE" (A GARBAGE WORD IF THERE EVER WAS ONE) IS ALSO COMPLETELY TRANSFIXING. FOR GYLLENHAAL'S BLOOM SLITHERS ABOUT AND MANAGES TO BE UTTERLY COMPELLING IN EVERY DAMN SCENE. BEHOLD THE JOYS OF GETTING TO WATCH AN ACTOR AND FILM SYMBIOTICALLY FIRING ON ALL CYLINDERS.

YOU MAY ALSO NOTICE THAT LOU BLOOM HAS NO ARC.

HE OPENS THE FILM BY ASSAULTING A MAN TO STEAL HIS WATCH AND IN THE END (TO GET INTO SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT OR WHATEVER) HE IS THE SAME HORRIBLE GUY. HE HAS SIMPLY BEEN UPPING THE SCALE OF HIS INHUMANITY. NOW. THE WORST POSSIBLE LESSON TO TAKE AWAY FROM THIS IS THAT SIMPLY ESCALATING THE SCALE OF A CENTRAL CHARACTER TRAIT IS A WAY TO TELL A STORY. NO. IT'S NOT. THAT'S JUST INCIDENTAL. IT'S MORE TEXTURE AND WINDOW DRESSING (LIKE EVENT FILMS BEING "DOCULIKE"). HULK WANTS TO EMPHASIZE THIS POINT BECAUSE IT'S A COMMON MISTAKE. WATCH ALL THE BIG SUMMER MOVIES THAT THINK YOU'LL SUDDENLY CARE AS AN AUDIENCE MEMBER WHEN THE SCALE IS INCREASED AND A SPACESHIP IS HEADING AT A CITY OR SOMETHING. HINT: THAT DOESN'T MAKE PEOPLE CARE. HELL, MOST OF IT IS NEW INFORMATION. BUT PEOPLE TAKE THE WRONG LESSON ANYWAY. IT'S BECOME THIS FATAL FLAW THAT HULK SEES IN SUBMITTED SCRIPTS FROM YOUNGER WRITERS TIME AND TIME AGAIN... WAIT... WHERE WERE WE? OH RIGHT. LOU BLOOM'S CARNAGE IS ESCALATING BUT HIS CHARACTER TRAITS ARE NOT CHANGING. HE IS STILL THE SAME PERSON. SO HE DOES NOT HAVE A CHARACTER ARC. BUT LUCKILY, THE MOVIE SURE DOES...

THE ARC OF NIGHTCRAWLER IS THE LEGITIMIZATION OF LOU'S INHERENT WICKEDNESS.

HE IS A SCUZZBALL WHO RUBS EVERYONE A WEIRD WAY, BUT DAMN IF HE DOESN'T START DELIVERING ON WHAT SOME FOLKS NEED. AND THE MORE HIS HORRIFIC BEHAVIOR BENEFITS SOMEONE, THE MORE LOU IS REWARDED. SURE, HE PUTS ON AIRS AND INDULGES IN SOME HILARIOUSLY MISPLACED "BUSINESS SPEAK" TO EKE HIS WAY INTO THE LOCAL NEWS CIRCUIT. BUT LUCKILY FOR HIM, IT IS AN INSTITUTION THAT NAKEDLY ABANDONS TRUTH IN THE PURSUIT OF NEWS FOOTAGE THAT PLAYS TO FEAR - HIGHLIGHTING THE REALITY THAT ALL LOCAL NEWS CHANNELS TRY TO DO IS ENDORSE THE LIE OF "MINORITY CRIME CREEPING INTO WHITE NEIGHBORHOODS" BECAUSE IT'S THE ONLY THING THAT TRULY MOVES THE RATINGS NEEDLE. AND ALONG THE WAY, LOU'S DEPRAVITY PUSHES THE BOUNDS OF ALL ACCEPTABILITY. HE GUILTS AND BLACKMAILS HIS WAY UP THE LADDER, ONLY TO POSITIVE EFFECT. THEN IT GOES FURTHER AND FURTHER INTO THE VACUOUS IMMORAL DEEP, COMPLETE WITH BLOOM OUTRIGHT ENGINEERING THE BLEAKEST ORCHESTRATIONS OF HORROR... BUT HE ALWAYS DOES SO TO THUNDEROUS APPLAUSE.

HULK WANTS YOU TO NOTE HOW ALL OF THIS PLOTTING IS ANYTHING BUT BORING. IN FACT, THESE EVENTS ARE ACTIVELY TIED TO OUR SENSE OF VISCERAL COGNITION. IT'S NOT THAT BLOOM IS A GUY WE ARE INVESTED IN. HONESTLY, WE DON'T WANT TO SEE HIM SUCCEED AT ALL. BUT THAT'S EXACTLY WHY IT WORKS. OUR TOES CURL AS WE WATCH THIS HIDEOUS TOAD WANDER INTO DANGEROUS SITUATION AFTER SITUATION, ACTING AS A WRECKING BALL TO THE PRECIOUS HUMAN LIVES AROUND HIM. WE DON'T WORRY FOR HIM. WE WORRY FOR THE WORLD. THE FILM MAY BE A "CHARACTER PIECE," BUT WE WATCH IT THE SAME WAY WE DO WITH SUSPENSEFUL HORROR. AND WHEN THIS IDEOLOGICAL HORROR FILM COMPLETES ITS ARC, WE SEE THAT HORROR HAS BEEN FULLY REALIZED: LOU HAS BEEN FULLY REWARDED. HE BECOMES THE DEVIL INCARNATE STANDING PROUDLY WITH HIS OFFICIAL NEWS VANS AND A TEAM FULL OF FRESH FACED KIDS TO PUSH AROUND, TO CORRUPT, TO HARM... AND EVEN IF HE HAS NOT CHANGED, WE DID BECAUSE WE LEGITIMIZED HIM. HE'S FREE NOW.

AND HERE'S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REALIZE: WITH A TRADITIONAL CHARACTER, THERE WOULD BE NO MOVIE.

THE TENSION IS ALWAYS IN THE IDEA OF HIM WINNING. THAT'S WHERE THE DRAMA IS. IF HE CHANGED? IF HE WAS PUNISHED? THEN NOT ONLY WOULD THERE BE NO TENSION, THERE WOULD BE NO CULPABILITY. BECAUSE IN THE END, THE FILM'S ARC IS ABOUT HOW WE, THE PROVERBIAL NEWS-WATCHING AUDIENCE AT HOME (AND THE AUDIENCE IN THE THEATER), WRONGFULLY GIVE LOU BLOOM A CAREER ARC. THE ARC BELONGS TO THE AUDIENCE, RIGHT? SO ANY LARGER POINTS OF TRUTH MEAN IT'S NOT ABOUT LOU BLOOM, BUT INSTEAD IT'S ABOUT US.

WHICH LEADS US TO THE 10,000 DOLLAR QUESTION:

WHY DOES THIS INFURIATE SOME PEOPLE?

4. THE PROBLEM

SERIOUSLY, WHY DOES NIGHTCRAWLER, FOR ALL ITS RELATIVE PRAISE, TRULY SEEM TO IRK SOME PEOPLE? AND ON A LARGER LEVEL, WHY DO MANY OF THE SAME PEOPLE NOT LIKE IT WHEN FILMS APPROACH STORYTELLING LIKE THIS? WHETHER IT’S LETTING BAD PEOPLE GO UNPUNISHED OR BRINGING UP UNCOMFORTABLE THINGS, PEOPLE LOVE TO PLACE BLAME ON THE FILM LIKE IT'S A FAULT OF STORYTELLING. BUT IF THE FILM COMPLETES THE ARC OF ITS INTENT, THEN IT'S NOT THE MOVIE... SO WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON HERE?

FOR INSTANCE, HULK HAS A FRIEND AND FOR THE SAKE OF THIS COLUMN HE HAS OPTED TO GO BY THE NAME CYCLOPS. AND WHEN CYCLOPS SAW THE FILM, HE ABSOLUTELY HATED IT. WE'RE TALKING PURE, FROTHING HATRED. AND WE JOKED FOR A BIT ABOUT THIS BACK AND FORTH ABOUT HIS WRONGNESS (BECAUSE HULK OBVIOUSLY LOVED IT), BUT EVENTUALLY HE ALSO ADMITTED THAT HE IS A YOUNG GUY AND AN ASPIRING STORYTELLER AND ALL THAT - SO IN THE END HE JUST GENUINELY WANTED TO UNDERSTAND WHY HULK AND SO MANY OTHERS SEEMED TO LIKE IT TOO. WHICH MEANS WE SHOULD PROBABLY MENTION THAT YES, THIS FILM DID ASTOUNDINGLY WELL ON THE CRITICAL FRONT. IF YOU LOOK AT ROTTEN TOMATOES, WHICH, TO SAY FOR THE UMPTEENTH TIME, IS NOT SO MUCH THE BASTION OF EXCEPTIONAL TASTE BUT MORE THE BAROMETER OF ACROSS THE BOARD ACCESSIBILITY, YOU WILL NOTICE THAT NIGHTCRAWLERGOT 95%. THAT IS TRULY QUITE GREAT. AND FOR OUR PURPOSES, IT SHOWS THAT THE MOVIE WAS WELL-LIKED BY CRITICS ACROSS THE BOARD. IT ESSENTIALLY SHOWS THAT "IT WORKED."

BUT CYCLOPS' THOUGHTS MORE MIRRORED A LARGER PORTION OF THE FILM'S EVENTUAL AUDIENCE AND THE 5% OF CRITICS WHO DID NOT LIKE THE FILM. LIKE:

DAVID EDELSTEIN: "After a few minutes you know everything about Louis you're going to know; the only surprise in Nightcrawler is the level of grotesqueness it achieves."

AND EVEN SOME OF THOSE FROM THIS DUDE FROM THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR "[Gilroy] wants Louis, who perpetrates some ghastly escapades, to epitomize the sick soul of media exploitation, but he also celebrates him as an entrepreneurial go-getter who is just giving us hypocrites what we secretly (or not-so-secretly) crave. "

NOW, BOTH ARGUMENTS ARE TOTALLY LOGICAL, RIGHT? BUT THE BETTER QUESTION IS "ARE THEY ACCURATE REFLECTIONS OF THE MOVIE?" HULK WOULD ARGUE ABSOLUTELY NOT. AND TO COUNTER THESE SENTIMENTS, YOU'LL NOTE THAT IN THE FIRST CASE WE HAVE SOMEONE STRICTLY ADHERING TO A RULE OF WHAT A MAIN CHARACTER / MOVIE NEEDS TO DO. HIS COMMENT IMPLIES THAT EVERY FILM HAS TO BE BUILT ON THE FUNCTION OF SURPRISE. AND IS THE CRITIC NOT SO CLEARLY TALKING IN THE CODIFIED IDEA THAT THE CHARACTER MUST CHANGE? AND IN THE SECOND QUOTE WE SEEM TO HAVE SOMEONE NOT REALIZING THAT A FILM CAN BE IRONIC AND FUNNY IN ITS HORRIBLENESS, OR UTILIZING MERE DEPICTION INSTEAD OF ENDORSEMENT (TO BE HONEST, THIS HAPPENS A LOT IN RELIGIOUS REVIEWS). BUT WHY DO THESE REACTIONS REVEAL THAT THEY ARE CLEARLY FEELING PROVOKED? OR TO PUT IT DIFFERENTLY, IS IT PROBABLE TO ASSUME THAT THE THING THAT IS BUGGING THEM IS NOT THE THING THAT THEY SAY IS BUGGING THEM?

WHEN FILMS DON'T RESOLVE FOR THE AUDIENCE, IT PUTS THE RESPONSIBILITY AT THEIR FEET.

YOU COULD ARGUE THAT THAT IS "PROVOCATION," BUT HULK DOESN'T THINK WE SHOULD GO THAT FAR. YES, THE FILM IS CLEARLY POINTING THE FINGER AT A LOT OF THINGS. IF WE WATCH THE LOCAL NEWS AND ARE TRANSFIXED BY FEAR-MONGERING CRIME STORIES, THEN YES WE ARE LIKELY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE PEOPLE WHO PROFIT FROM TRAGEDY AT ALL COSTS (ESPECIALLY IN NAME OF A LIE THAT PLAYS TO OUR DEEP-SEATED FEARS, RACIAL OR OTHERWISE). BUT IT IS ALSO PROVOKING ON A DEEPER STORYTELLING LEVEL, AND THE NOTION OF WHAT IS "RESOLVED" - HULK ARGUES THIS HAS A GREAT DEAL TO DO WITH WHAT WE COME TO EXPECT FROM MOVIES AND TRADITIONAL ARCS AND ALL THAT STUFF. IT IS ESSENTIALLY FORCING A TOUGH STAREDOWN WITH THE REALITY OF THE LOU BLOOMS OF THIS WORLD, AND SO OF COURSE IT WOULD MAKE US QUITE UNCOMFORTABLE WITH WHO "WE" ARE IN THE LARGER SENSE... BUT THAT SHOULD BE THE POINT, RIGHT?

SO WHAT IS GOING WRONG?

5. ANTI-MOVIES

PLEASE UNDERSTAND: HULK DOES NOT WANT THIS TO THIS TURN INTO AN ARGUMENT ABOUT WHAT DOES AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE GOOD MOVIES; IT'S MORE ABOUT THE RANGE OF FUNCTION AND HOW THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF MOVIES AFFECT DIFFERENT PEOPLE. BUT TO ZIP PAST A LOT OF THAT FOR A SECOND, LET'S IMAGINE WE CAN TRANSCEND THE CONVERSATION OF GOOD OR NOT GOOD AND HAVE A THEORETICAL CONVERSATION ABOUT HOW ONE SHOULD DEAL WITH A STORY THAT SEEMS "WRONG" TO THEM WHEN SO MANY OTHERS FIND IT RIGHT.

CHANCES ARE WE'VE ALL EXPERIENCED IT AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER. IT'S A WEIRD THING, ISN'T IT? TO FEEL LIKE YOU ARE ALL ALONE IN SEEING WHY SOMETHING IS SO OBVIOUSLY AND CLEARLY WRONG AND YET THE WHOLE WORLD SEEMS TO LAP IT UP. MOST OF THE TIME THESE HAVE TO DO WITH ISSUES OF MORALITY MIXING WITH NUANCE (PARTICULARLY IN COMEDY), BUT THOSE ISSUES TEND TO BECOME ABOUT THE VALIDITY OF THE MORALITY ITSELF (LIKE, SAY, THE MATTERS OF SEXISM IN AN OSTENSIBLY "FUN" MOVIE LIKE PROJECT X HAVE LARGELY TO DO WITH OUR SENSITIVITY / UNDERSTAND OF SEXISM), SO FOR NOW LET'S KEEP IT CENTERED ON THE TIMES THAT PEOPLE REACT AND FEEL THAT MOVIES ARE "WRONG" DUE TO THEIR OFFENSE WITH THE SUPPOSEDLY HARD AND FAST RULES OF STRUCTURE. THESE KINDS OF FOOL-ON-THE-HILL SCENARIOS FORCE YOU, THE OPINION-HAVER, TO START DWELLING ON TWO POSSIBILITIES: THAT 1) EVERYONE IS LIKELY AN IDIOT AND BLIND TO THE REALITY FOR SOME REASON. OR 2) THAT YOU ARE BEING THE IDIOT... GUESS WHICH IS MORE LIKELY? REALLY, ONE IS JUST NONSENSICAL WHILE THE OTHER IS JUST UNCOMFORTABLE. BUT WE'RE BAD AT ADMITTING FAULT SO PEOPLE TEND TO GO WITH THE "EVERYONE IS DUMB BUT ME" ANSWER. BUT HONESTLY, HULK DOESN'T FIND THIS PART OF THE CONVERSATION TO BE THAT BIG OF A DEAL. IT MOSTLY POPS UP IN THAT HIGH SCHOOL / COLLEGIATE ERA WHERE THE "RULES" FIRST START APPEARING AND SEEM LIKE THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS IN THE UNIVERSE, THE BASTIONS OF SANITY. AND WELL, YOU KNOW WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT A LITTLE BIT OF KNOWLEDGE... BUT AGAIN - THIS STARTS POINTING THE FINGER BACKWARDS IN A REFLEXIVE BIT OF NONSENSE. WE'RE ACTUALLY HERE TO MOVIE PAST ALL THAT BECAUSE THE BIG TIME ISSUE LIES BEYOND.

SO HERE'S THE QUICKEST VERSION OF HOW TO DEAL WITH THE SITUATION: ANYTIME A SO-CALLED STORYTELLING RULE PREVENTS YOU FROM ENJOYING SOMETHING THAT IS OSTENSIBLY ENJOYABLE, IT'S PROBABLY A GOOD IDEA TO TRY REDEFINING OR EXPLORING THE APPLICATIONS OF THE RULE ITSELF. ONCE YOU'VE LEARNED TO LET GO, YOU'D BE AMAZED BOTH BY HOW MUCH BETTER YOU UNDERSTAND THE RULE AND WHEN IT APPLIES (I.E. IT'S NOT SOMETHING YOU DO JUST BECAUSE), AND YOU'LL BE AMAZED AT THE WORLDS THAT SUDDENLY OPEN UP TO YOUR MIND. THIS IS OBVIOUSLY A GREAT THING. AND IT'S WHY HULK THINKS YOU SHOULD EVOLVE YOUR RULES CONSTANTLY. OTHERWISE, YOU'LL BE FIGHTING A STAGNANT WAR THAT ONLY HURTS YOURSELF... TRUST HULK. WE'VE ALL BEEN THERE (LET US NEVER TALK ABOUT THE TIME HULK FIRST SAW MILLER'S CROSSING BEFORE HULK WAS READY... OOF).

AND IF WE ARE GOING TO TALK ABOUT EVOLVING RULES, HULK WANTS YOU TO KNOW HULK SET YOU UP WITH ONE BEFORE AND HULK PURPOSELY LIED: HULK TOLD YOU THAT WE SHOULD CHANGE THE WORDING TO "a movie must have an arc."

... WELL, HERE'S THE THING: IT REALLY DOESN'T.

SOMETIMES A MOVIE DOESN'T HAVE TO HAVE ANY OF THAT CRAP. SOMETIMES MOVIES ARE MADE IN THE SPIRIT OF PUNK ROCK AND DESIGNED TO ASSAULT ALL NOTIONS OF AESTHETICISM, RESOLUTION AND EMOTIONAL PAYOFF. SOMETIMES MOVIES ARE RAMBLING, DEVIL-MAY-CARE SODS. BIG BOLD FUCK YOUS TO HOW WE THINK WE'RE SUPPOSED TO MAKE THEM. YOU CAN FIND THIS SENTIMENT AT THE HEART OF THOSE LANDMARK JOHN CASSAVETTES FILMS OR JARMUSCH'S WORK LIKE STRANGER THAN PARADISE. YOU CAN FIND IT IN WARHOL AND THE AVANT GARDE. YOU CAN FIND IT ALL OVER. BUT EVEN IF THIS PRAISE SEEMS LIKE ATTITUDE AND THE STARK IDEA IS ALL YOU NEED TO ACCOMPLISH SAID EFFECT, HULK WOULD LIKE TO CONVINCE YOU THAT THIS IS NOT AS WILLY-NILLY AS YOU THINK. BECAUSE THE BEST "ANTI-MOVIES" ARE THE ONES THAT KNOW HOW TO ACTIVELY SUBVERT TROPES AND PLAY WITH AN AUDIENCE’S EXPECTATIONS SO THAT SAID SUBVERSION IS NOT JUST AN IDEA BUT ENTERTAINING IN SOME WAY, WHETHER EMOTIONAL OR CEREBRAL. BUT IN ORDER TO SUBVERT TROPES, THAT MEANS THE FILMMAKERS WHO MAKE ANTI-MOVIES HAVE TO COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND THE TROPES IN THE FIRST PLACE.

THAT MAY SOUND A LITTLE ESOTERIC, BUT THIS IS EXACTLY HOW COMEDY WORKS.

REALLY. IT'S A PROVEN FACT THAT OUR MINDS ARE CONSTANTLY ANTICIPATING THE NEXT THING SOMEONE IS ABOUT TO SAY. AND SO WHEN THE PERSON SAYS SOMETHING THAT IS THE OPPOSITE OF OUR EXPECTATION (OR A VERY EXTREME VERSION OF OUR EXPECTATION) WE TEND TO LAUGH AT THE REVERSAL THROUGH A PURELY INVOLUNTARY REACTION. THAT IS WHAT LAUGHING IS. AND AGAIN, THIS IS LITERALLY HOW COMEDY WORKS.

AND "ANTI-MOVIES" OSTENSIBLY WORK IN THE SAME FUNCTION. THEY TAKE EXPECTATION OF STORY AND DIRECTLY INVERT IT. SOMETIMES THE RESULT IS FUNNY, STRANGE, ESOTERIC, WHATHAVEYOU, BUT IT ALWAYS FEELS VISCERAL. DAVID LYNCH'S MULHOLLAND DRIVE WILL BARELY MAKE SENSE TO SOME PEOPLE ON THE FIRST WATCH, BUT DAMMIT IF IT ISN'T ENTRANCING. BUT TO STICK WITH THE COMEDY METAPHOR, LET'S TAKE ONE OF THE GREATEST ANTI-MOVIES EVER MADE: THE BIG LEBOWSKI. IT'S SORT OF A HARD EXAMPLE TO USE BECAUSE IT HAS BECOME SOOOOOOO REGARDED AS A COMEDIC MASTERPIECE THAT WE'VE CIRCLED AROUND TO SHRUGGING AT THE UBIQUITOUS LOVE THE FILM GOT FOR YEARS. BUT IT GOT THAT REPUTATION BECAUSE IT IS AN IMPECCABLY CRAFTED MOVIE MAKING SUBLIME USE OF THE NON-SEQUITUR. THINK ABOUT IT LIKE THIS: IT STARTS WITH A SIMPLE HUMAN GOAL - IN THIS CASE, GETTING RESTITUTION FOR A RUG THAT WAS PEED ON - AND THUS WE NOW ENGAGE IN A MYSTERY / DETECTIVE STORY (REMEMBER MYSTERIES? WE TALKED ABOUT THOSE EARLIER! IT'S ALL RELATED! EXCLAMATIONS!) BUT INSTEAD OF COMING UP WITH NEW, RELEVANT INFORMATION LIKE WE ARE GOING SOMEWHERE IN THE STORY, EVERYTHING IN THE FILM IS A TANGENT. EVERYTHING COMES AT THE WRONG MOMENT. EVERYTHING INVERTS EXPECTATION. PERHAPS BEST EXEMPLIFIED BY ONE OF HULK'S FAVORITE GAGS EVER IN WHICH LEBOWSKI RUNS TO ETCH A PENCIL OVER SOMETHING SOMEONE JUST WROTE IN HOPES FOR A CLUE AND INSTEAD REVEALS THIS. THIS IS BASICALLY THE M.O. FOR THE ENTIRE MOVIE. IT'S AN ANTI-DETECTIVE STORY. AND THE FILM SUCCEEDS SO DAMN MUCH BECAUSE THE COENS ESSENTIALLY KNOW HOW TO TAKE A MYSTERY STORY AND ZAG WHEN YOU EXPECT A ZIG.

PLEASE UNDERSTAND HOW CRUCIAL THIS IS. IT'S NOT MERE SATIRE OF EXISTING MYSTERY TROPES. THEY'RE NOT JUST "DOING WHATEVER" AND GOOFING OFF. YEAH, THESE FILMMAKERS ARE LIKELY WORKING OFF INSTINCT, BUT INSTINCT ALWAYS LEADS TO A DISCUSSION OF PROPER EXECUTION AND WHAT IS "RIGHT" FOR A STORY. AND HERE THEY ARE CAREFULLY CONSTRUCTING THIS MOVIE TO HAVE A DESIRED EFFECT (AND TACKLING A WHOLE SHITLOAD OF IDEAS ABOUT CULTURE AND PHILOSOPHY, BELIEF IT OR NOT). AND THEY WERE ABLE TO DO IT BECAUSE THEY UNDERSTAND HOW TO MAKE MOVIE-MOVIES TOO. TAKE THE AFOREMENTIONED MILLER'S CROSSING, WHICH IS MORE OF A SATIRE IN THAT IT DOUBLES DOWN ON TROPES TO THE POINT OF EXTREMITY INSTEAD OF INVERTING THEM. OR FOR A MORE RECENT EXAMPLE, TAKE PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON'S INHERENT VICE (WHICH HULK WANTS TO DO AN ESSAY ON LATER). THE ENTIRE FILM IS ESSENTIALLY ONE BIG "AND THEN" AND MANAGES TO TELL ONE OF THE FUNNIEST VERSIONS OF THE 70S’ SLIDE FROM HIPPY TO DARK UNDERBELLY THAT HULK'S EVER SEEN. PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT THESE ARTISTS ARE NOT "JUST" PUNKS. THEY ARE MASTERS OF CINEMATIC LANGUAGE. AND THEY ARE INVERTING TO GREAT PURPOSE.

BUT, ADMITTEDLY, THE PURPOSE DOESN'T ALWAYS LAND WITH GENERAL AUDIENCES.

THIS IS THE PROVERBIAL RUB. DO YOU REMEMBER THE REACTION THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE TO THE BIG LEBOWSKI THE FIRST TIME THEY SEE IT? THEY TEND TO BE THROWN OFF AND UNSURE. THAT'S BECAUSE IT'S TOO WEIRD TO FOLLOW INSTINCTIVELY. IT'S LIKE A RADIOHEAD SONG YOU NEED TO LISTEN TO A FEW TIMES TO ACTUALLY HEAR THE MELODY. SAME GOES FOR SOME FOLKS WATCHING A CERTAIN KIND OF MOVIE. YOU NEED TO SUBVERT THE EMOTIONAL ENERGY TO GET INTO THE RHYTHM OF THE THING AND THAT TENDS TO DEPEND ON YOUR INTEREST IN DOING SO. IF YOU CAN? WELL, THEN THE WHOLE "AND THEN" THING DOES MATTER SO MUCH.

"but why would you ever do that?" THE TRADITIONALISTS ASK, "isn't the point of any piece of art to communicate to as many people as possible in the best way possible?"

WELL, SURE, BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN THAT'S NOT HAPPENING. THE "AND THENS" OF A MOVIE LIKE INHERENT VICE ARE PRECISELY WHAT ALLOWS THOSE CERTAIN DELIGHTS TO EMERGE; ONES THAT CAN ONLY BE ARRIVED AT THROUGH THE ESOTERIC AND THE LEFT-FIELD. SOMETIMES WE CAN ONLY MAKE THE PROPER STATEMENTS THROUGH THE INDIRECT MEANS. LOU BLOOM’S TRIUMPH IS ONLY POWERFUL IF WE SAY "THIS IS UNFINISHED. THE ENEMY IS STILL OUT THERE."

SOMETIMES, NON-TRADITIONALISM IS THE ONLY WAY TO TELL THESE COMPLEX STORIES.

SO THIS BRINGS UP A FEW MORE ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS: WHY IS IT GOOD SOMETIMES TO GO THE ESOTERIC AND LEFT-FIELD ROOT AND TERRIBLE TO DO IT OTHER TIMES? IS IT MERE SKILL OF EXECUTION? IS SOMETHING REALLY JUST A BAD DECISION NO MATTER WHAT THE SKILL? SERIOUSLY, WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO AND WHEN?

WELL, THAT'S WHERE IT GETS MORE COMPLICATED.

6. INCLUSION

YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED, BUT HULK'S SPENT MOST OF THESE LAST FOUR YEARS TALKING ABOUT TRADITIONAL STORYTELLING. BUT HULK HAS DONE SO FOR A REASON: WE GOT SO CAUGHT UP IN DIAGNOSING THE PATTERNS OF STORYTELLING - THAT WOULD BE THE BEATS, THE TROPES, THE ARCS, THE WHAT YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO DO BY WHAT PAGE - THAT WE FORGOT THE REASON WHY THOSE PATTERNS CAME TO EXIST IN THE FIRST PLACE. WE FORGOT WHAT THEY USED FOR. WE FORGOT WHAT THEY DO FOR THE AUDIENCE AND HOW THEY WORK ON A MOLECULAR LEVEL. INSTEAD, THEY JUST BECAME A LIST OF CHECK MARKS. THINGS WE DID BECAUSE WE THOUGHT WE WERE SUPPOSED TO. AND IT'S NO ACCIDENT THAT SO MANY OF OUR STORIES BECOME SLAVISHLY INERT. HOLLOW IMITATIONS OF THINGS THAT FELT LIFELESS. IT'S NO ACCIDENT THAT THE OTHER "WE" IN THE EQUATION (THAT WOULD BE THE AUDIENCE), BEGAN TO HATE TRADITIONAL STORYTELLING FOR THESE OFFENSES. BUT WRONGFULLY, WE BEGAN TO SEE TROPES THEMSELVES AS THE ENEMY, NOT THE LAZY EXECUTION. WE BEGAN TO RESENT SIMPLE THINGS, LIKE THE INEVITABILITY OF A GOOD GUY WINNING - ALL THE WHILE NOT REALIZING IT WASN'T ABOUT THE TROPE. AFTER ALL, THERE ARE SO MANY ROUSING FILMS WHERE WE KNOW WHO IS GOING TO WIN AND IT DOESN'T MATTER BECAUSE THE FILM UNDERSTANDS THE PRINCIPLES OF DRAMA. BECAUSE THE FILM UNDERSTANDS HOW TO MAKE YOU GET CAUGHT UP IN THE MOMENT AND THE THREAT OF A SCENARIO SO THAT YOU FORGET THE INEVITABILITY (LOOK AT THE BEST EXAMPLE OF INDIANA JONES - THE DUDE IS ALMOST ALWAYS IN HUGE TROUBLE AT INESCAPABLE ODDS BECAUSE SPIELBERG IS A MASTER AT DRAMATIZATION). THE TRUTH IS THAT WELL-EXECUTED TRADITIONAL STORIES ARE GREAT AT INVOLVING US. AND SO BRINGING THE PRINCIPLES OF DRAMA BACK TO THE FOREFRONT OF BIG BUDGET STORYTELLING HAS BEEN HULK'S NUMBER ONE GOAL OF ALL THIS.

BUT TODAY, AND MAYBE A LOT MORE GOING FORWARD, WE ARE TALKING ABOUT THE WAYS TO FLIP IT ON ITS END. WE ARE TALKING ABOUT MOVIES WITHOUT CHARACTER ARCS AND ANTI-MOVIES AND ZAGGING INSTEAD OF ZIGGING.

WE ARE TALKING ABOUT FILMS WORKING LIKE THE ARTFUL DODGER.

WHICH BRINGS US BACK TO THE QUESTIONS HULK ASKED AT THE END OF THE LAST SECTION - HOW DO WE KNOW WHAT TO DO WHEN? WHEN SHOULD WE BE FOCUSING ON THE WAYS TO BEST INFUSE A TRADITIONAL STORY WITH STRONGER DRAMATIC PRINCIPLES? WHEN SHOULD WE ABANDON THOSE AIMS AND EMPLOY THE CLEVER USE OF ANTI-TROPES?

THE TRUTH IS THAT HULK'S BEEN THINKING ABOUT HOW TO BEST ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS FOR DECADES NOW. SO OFTEN IT SEEMS SO HARD TO PIN DOWN. IT DEPENDS ON THE ARTIST, THE COMMERCIAL ALLURE, THE INTENT, WHICH ALL JUST MAKES YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT ON A CASE BY CASE BASIS. BUT AFTER A RECENT BIT OF THOUGHT, HULK HAS MAYBE REALIZED THAT IT ALL COMES DOWN TO ONE, ESSENTIAL QUESTION:

WHO DO YOU WANT TO INCLUDE?

OR PERHAPS, BETTER SAID: WHO DO YOUNOT WANT TO INCLUDE?

THE WORDING OF THOSE TWO QUESTIONS ACTUALLY COMES FROM THE ENDLESSLY THOUGHTFUL W. KAMAU BELL, A MAN WHOM HULK HOPELESSLY ADMIRES AND IS ADMITTEDLY BIASED TOWARD. YOU SHOULD NOTE THAT THESE WORDS ARE ACTUALLY MEANT FOR A DISCUSSION ON COMEDY, WHEREIN PEOPLE CONSTANTLY ARGUE ABOUT WHAT YOU "CAN" AND "CANNOT" SAY ON STAGE. WHAT REACTIONARIES NEVER SEEM TO REALIZE IS THIS IS NOT ABOUT THE FIRST AMENDMENT AT ALL, REALLY - THE LAW MAKES THAT PRETTY CLEAR SOMEONE CAN SAY WHATEVER THE FUCK THEY WANT AND NOT BE THROWN IN JAIL FOR IT. NO, WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT THE NATURE OF RESPONSE AND, PERHAPS LESS TALKING ABOUT THE NATURE OF A COMEDIAN'S AIM. ALL COMEDY HAS A VICTIM, SO REALLY WHEN THEY SAY SOMETHING THEY KNOW TO BE OFFENSIVE TO CERTAIN PEOPLE THEY KNOW THEY ARE MAKING A DECISION ABOUT WHO THEY WANT TO INCLUDE AS THE LAUGHER IN A JOKE AND WHO THEY WANT TO BE THE OFFENDED PARTY (CUE AN INTENTIONALLY PROVOKING QUESTION: WHO WOULD YOU RATHER BE IN YOUR DEVOTED AUDIENCE, A RAPIST OR A RAPE VICTIM?). THAT IS THE ARTIST'S QUESTION. AND THAT IS WHERE INTENT AND APPROACH TO EXECUTION MATTER MOST. IF LOUIS C.K. DOES AN IRREVERENT BIT ON THE STRANGENESS OF HOW THE MODERN WORLD THINKS ABOUT THE N-WORD, THAT IS TAKEN ONE WAY. IF RALPHIE MAY WANTS TO START THROWING IT AROUND ON STAGE JUST TO BE OFFENSIVE, LIKE IT'S A DARE, THAT SAYS AN OBVIOUS OTHER THING. IT'S THE SAME WORD, BUT BOTH ARE MEANT TO SPEAK TO CERTAIN PEOPLE, INCLUDE SOME, AND NOT INCLUDE OTHERS.

THIS ABSOLUTELY APPLIES TO MOVIES AND THE USE OF MOVIE TROPES.

BECAUSE REALLY, THIS APPLIES TO EVERYTHING.

WHO ARE YOU TRYING TO INCLUDE IN YOUR STORY'S COMMUNICATION? WHAT KIND OF AUDIENCE ARE YOU TRULY LOOKING FOR? IF YOUR GOAL IS TO MAKE ANTI-RELIGIOUS PUNK FILMS IN A COUNTRY WHERE THAT IS A CRITICAL FIGHT? THEN BY ALL MEANS YOUR STATEMENT OF LANGUAGE SHOULD BE COARSE. YOUR STRUCTURE FLIPPANT. YOU SHOULD BE MAKING AN ANTI-FILM THROUGH AND THROUGH (BUT KEEP IN MIND THIS DOESN'T MEAN THE FILM CAN'T HAVE BUTTLOADS OF HEART, CUE AWESOME DISCUSSION OF WE ARE THE BEST). BUT IF YOU'RE TRYING TO MAKE FOUR QUADRANT-APPEALING PIXARESQUE FILMS THEN YOU NEED TO ABSOLUTELY UNDERSTAND YOUR MISSION AND HOW YOUR COMMUNICATION AFFECTS AN AUDIENCE. UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU TRYING TO ACHIEVE. THEN UNDERSTAND HOW TO SHAPE THAT COMMUNICATION TOWARD YOUR INTENT. THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN THESE TWO APPROACHES IS EXACTLY WHY HULK DOESN'T FEEL COMFORTABLE SAYING THAT NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN WOULD HAVE BEEN "BETTER" WITH A MORE TRADITIONAL ENDING, BECAUSE IT ACTUALLY WOULD HAVE RUINED THE STATEMENT AND PURPOSE OF THE ENTIRE DAMN MOVIE. BUT IT'S ALSO WHY HULK FEELS COMFORTABLE GOING ON AND ON ABOUT THE LACKING OF CHARACTER DRAMATIZATION IN MAN OF STEEL. BECAUSE IT'S THE THING THAT WOULD HAVE MOST HELPED THEM DO EXACTLY WHAT THEY ARE TRYING TO DO IN THE FIRST PLACE. THEY WERE JUST TOO AFRAID TO MAKE THINGS "THE SAME" AS WHAT CAME BEFORE, SO THEY OPTED FOR A NUMBER OF COMPLETELY PURPOSELESS ANTI-TROPE CHOICES THAT BECAME THE FILM'S UNDOING.

SO IF WE COME BACK TO NIGHTCRAWLER,WE ASK WHAT IS OUR PURPOSE? AND SO WE REALIZE THE FILMMAKERS ARE TRYING TO MAKE A JET-BLACK FUCK YOU TO THE VERY IDEA OF "CHARACTER GROWTH" IN A WORLD THAT FEEDS OFF OUR WORST HYPOCRITICAL HABITS. DON'T ASK WHY HE DOESN'T GROW OR GET PUNISHED - ASK WHAT INCENTIVE IS THERE FOR SOMEONE LIKE LOU BLOOM TO GROW? ESPECIALLY WHEN WE REFUSE TO EMBRACE THE REAL ISSUE? ESPECIALLY WHEN WE AS PEOPLE GRAVITATE TOWARD THE SOMBER PRESENTATION OF DARK MATTER, SHIELD OURSELVES FROM THE RESPONSIBILITY BY THE MEEK LANGUAGE OF THE NEWSCASTERS AND THEIR "GRAPHIC IMAGERY." LIKE ALL OF LOU'S BULLSHITTY OPTIMISTIC BUSINESS TALK, IT'S A VILE LIE. SO THESE ARE THE THINGS THAT BEST SHOW THE TRUTH OF WHAT THE MOVIE AND ITS SUBJECT TRULY ARE... A CHARACTER ARC WOULD INSULT THE VERY IDENTITY OF THE FILM.

AND THIS IS THE VERY THING THAT THE "RULE" FOLK NEVER SEEM TO REALIZE. RULES FOR MAKING CERTAIN THINGS MORE TRADITIONAL WOULD ONLY NEUTER THE DAMN POINT.

SO WHAT AUDIENCE DO YOU WANT TO BE A PART OF: THE ONE THAT TRIES TO NEUTER SOMETHING SO IT CAN BE JUST LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE AND TO WORSE EFFECT? OR THE ONE THAT IS OPEN TO ENDLESS KINDS OF FILMMAKING AND STORYTELLING? DO YOU WANT TO BE PART OF THE AUDIENCE THAT INSISTS KUBRICK IS CEREBRAL AND EVERYONE WHO WORSHIPS HIM IS A JUST A PRETENTIOUS IDIOT? OR DO YOU WANT TO BE PART OF AN AUDIENCE THAT IS WILLING TO EXPLORE THE POSSIBILITIES OF SOMEONE WHO IS CONSIDERED ONE OF OUR GREATEST CINEMATIC ARTISTS? BEYOND YOUTH, THE ACCUSATION OF PRETENSION IS SO OFTEN THE UNWILLINGNESS TO GRAPPLE WITH THE LIMITS OF OUR OWN UNDERSTANDING. WHICH IS SOMETHING WE'RE OFTEN FINE WITH WHEN IT COMES TO TECHNICAL MATTERS AND ADMITTING WE'RE NOT ALL ROCKET SCIENTISTS... BUT WHEN IT COMES TO STORIES AND ART? THE THINGS WE KNOW ON AN EMOTIONAL LEVEL? WELL, THEN IT TIES INTO OUR OWN EMOTIONAL TRUTHS AND GETS MUCH HARDER TO GRAPPLE WITH.

SOMETIMES WE DON'T KNOW WHAT AUDIENCE WE WANT TO BE, BECAUSE IT'S SCARY.

AND THIS IS WHERE WE FINALLY GET TO THE CRUX.

7. THE CRUX...

HULK WILL ADMIT, THIS ESSAY HAS FELT LIKE A GAME OF SPINNING PLATES. WHEN HULK STARTED STRUCTURING THIS PIECE AND REALIZED WHERE THE ARGUMENT NEEDED TO GO, HULK KIND OF PANICKED. BECAUSE WOULD NEED TO UNPACK THE "RULES," EXPLAIN AUDIENCE ARCS, DELVE INTO THE NUANCE OF INCLUSION, ASK 10,000 DOLLAR QUESTIONS, AND HOPEFULLY REVEAL THE ENTIRE MECHANISM OF ANTI-MOVIES - BUT THEY WERE ALL NECESSARY. BECAUSE THEY ARE ALL PART OF ONGOING ISSUE THAT HULK HAS BEEN WRESTLING WITH FOR SOME TIME:

HULK CAN'T STOP THINKING ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT WE'RE MAKING MOVIES WRONG.

THAT MAY SOUND A LITTLE GRANDIOSE, BUT THAT'S WHERE HULK IS AT RIGHT NOW. TO WIT, WE HAVE BECOME A CULTURE OF HYPER-INDULGENT STORYTELLERS. WE'VE GROWN SO FAR FROM THE ANCIENT TRADITION OF FABLES AND IMPLIED NOTION THAT A STORY SHOULD BE TRYING TO SAY SOMETHING OF DAMN USE, THAT WE PRACTICALLY REVOLT WHEN A STORY EFFECTIVELY TRIES TO DO ANYTHING OTHER THAN INDULGE OUR MOST BASE SENSIBILITIES. TO CITE THE FAMOUS STUDY, WHEN A MOUSE CAN EITHER PRESS A BUTTON THAT STIMULATES THE PLEASURE CENTER OF THE BRAIN OR PRESS A BUTTON TO THE FOOD DISPENSER, THE MOUSE WILL JUST HIT THE PLEASURE BUTTON OVER AND OVER AGAIN UNTIL THEY DIE... YEAH. THAT'S REALLY WHAT HAPPENS.

AND NOW WE'RE DESIGNING MOVIES TO BE THE PLEASURE BUTTON.

WHETHER IT IS CONSCIOUSLY OR SUBCONSCIOUSLY, WE'VE BEEN TAKING ALL THOSE THINGS THAT HAVE LARGER SOCIAL FUNCTIONS IN TRADITIONAL STORIES AND SLOWLY GETTING RID OF THEM. WE'VE BEEN WHITTLING AWAY THE HARD EDGES THAT ACTUALLY CONFRONT THINGS. CASE IN POINT: EVEN TRADITIONAL CHARACTER ARCS ARE NO LONGER ABOUT IDENTIFYING REAL HUMAN PROBLEMS AND PROVIDING HUMAN SOLUTIONS TO TRY AND SOLVE THEM. THEY'VE JUST BECOME ABOUT PRODUCING FAUX-CONFLICT. IT'S ALL ABOUT AWESOME HEROES DOUBTING THEMSELVES FOR SOME BULLSHIT POP-PSYCH REASONS, THEN RE-LEARNING TO EMBRACE THE FACT THEY ARE CLEARLY AWESOME SO THAT THEY CAN LET LOOSE TO WREAK HAVOC. SERIOUSLY. THAT'S BEEN THE PLOT OF, LIKE, THE LAST 19 ACTION / SUPERHERO MOVIES (SAVE THE CAP MOVIES) AND THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO BE THE BASTIONS OF MORALITY OR SOMETHING.

AND GENERALLY SPEAKING, THE HANDY-DANDY SCREENWRITING "RULES" BEING TOSSED ABOUT THESE DAYS ARE WHOLLY DESIGNED TO PROP UP THIS INDULGENCE DELIVERY SYSTEM. WE'VE FOROTTEN DRAMA. WE TELL PEOPLE TO MAKE HEROES "LIKEABLE" AND EXTERNALIZE CONFLICTS INTO NOTHING MORE THAN MOUNTING BAD GUYS. WE TURN VILLAINS INTO CARTOON SNIDELY WHIPLASHES. YOU MAY ARGUE THAT'S WHAT WE WERE ALWAYS DOING, BUT HULK ASSURES YOU WE REALLY WEREN'T. EVEN BASIC MYTHS WERE MORE COMPLICATED THAT WHAT'S STARTED TAKING HOLD IN THE MAINSTREAM SINCE THE ‘80S. WE'RE JUST CREATING A LOT OF PLOT DISTRACTION FROM THE FACT THAT WE'RE JUST MAKING THINGS THAT PRESS THE PLEASURE BUTTON. BECAUSE THAT'S JUST EMOTIONAL PORN.

AND PLEASE UNDERSTAND THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE ACTUAL "MATURITY" OF CONTENT BEING PRESENTED (THOUGH THE PG-13-IZATION OF MOVIE CULTURE IS A SUPER VALID TOPIC). AT LEAST FILMS IN THE GOLDEN AGE OF HOLLYWOOD (ESPECIALLY DURING THE PRODUCTION CODE) HAD THE GOOD SENSE TO SNEAK WRY COMMENTARY AND SCANDALOUS THOUGHTS IN THROUGH INNUENDO. NOW WE HAVE EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO JUST COME OUT AND SAY IT ALL AND NOBODY'S REALLY LOOKING TO DO SO. WE JUST CREATE FALSE CARNAGE. AND EVEN THE PRESTIGE FILMS THAT ARE MOST DESIGNED TO CONTEXTUALIZE SOCIAL ISSUES TEND TO DROP THE FREAKING BALL BECAUSE THEY USE TRADITIONAL STORYTELLING MODELS THAT ABSOLVES US, THE AUDIENCE, OF DOING ANY WORK.

HULK CAN'T STOP THINKING ABOUT THIS PART IN PARTICULAR. ENDINGS. DOES RESOLUTION ITSELF LET THE AUDIENCE OF THE HOOK?

FOR INSTANCE, HULK HAS HAD A LOT OF ONGOING ISSUES WITH MOVIES THAT ARE ABOUT RACISM THAT DON'T ACTIVELY MAKE THE AUDIENCE COMPLICIT. SERIOUSLY, THINK ABOUT HOW MANY OF THESE FILMS PUT WHITE CHARACTERS IN THE CENTER OF THE PROCEEDINGS AND GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO OVERCOME. THIS IS JUST A GOOD CHARACTER ARC, RIGHT? BUT THEY IN TURN MAKE US, THE AUDIENCE FEEL GOOD BECAUSE WE OVERCAME SOMETHING. NO, WE DON'T IDENTIFY WITH THE RACIST PRIG THROWING TRASH AND SHOUTING SLURS AT OUR BLACK HEROES. WE WATCH THESE FILMS AND SEE OURSELVES IDENTIFY WITH THE BRANCH RICKEYS OR AIDING CLERGY INSTEAD (AND THINK ABOUT HOW MANY OF THESE FILMS WILL HAVE WHITE DIRECTORS). THIS ISN'T INSIDIOUS STUFF, BUT IT MIGHT BE DEEPLY PROBLEMATIC TO THE OVERALL POINT. BECAUSE THE MOST PRODUCTIVE THING WE COULD EVER DO WITH UNCOMFORTABLE TRUTHS ABOUT OURSELVES IS TO ACTUALLY FACE THEM. IT'S ONE OF THE REASONS DO THE RIGHT THING STILL FEELS VITAL OVER TWO DECADEs LATER. IT'S WHY DEAR WHITE PEOPLE (WHICH HULK STILL NEEDS TO SEE) NEEDS TO BE COMMENDED FOR DIRECTLY ADDRESSING THE CURRENT SPACE.

BUT PEOPLE DON'T LIKE A MOVIE THAT POINTS A FINGER AT THEM PERSONALLY OR BY ASSOCIATION, DO WE? THUS, WE KEEP SETTING OUR MOVIES ABOUT RACISM IN THE PAST. THUS WE KEEP LETTING AUDIENCES OFF THE HOOK. AND WHEN FILMS DON'T LET US OFF THE HOOK? WE GET FURIOUS. LOOK AT ALL OF HULK'S CONVERSATIONS ABOUT THE WOLF OF WALL STREET LAST YEAR. PEOPLE WERE COMPLETELY FURIOUS WITH A MOVIE FOR NOT PUNISHING A CHARACTER WE DIDN'T PUNISH IN REAL LIFE AND FOR NOT CELEBRATING A CHARACTER WE FAIL TO CELEBRATE EVEN NOW. AND HAVING THE SIMPLE GALL TO POINT THIS OUT, THEN LITERALLY POINT TO THE AUDIENCE'S CULPABILITY AT THE END OF THE FILM, SOMEHOW MADE THE ARTIST THE AGGRESSOR IN ALL THIS. NARRATIVES ARE VERY POWERFUL THINGS. AND WHEN NARRATIVES MAKE US FEEL BAD, LIKE IT'S NOT RESOLVED, WE SAY IT'S "BAD STORYTELLING" BUT REALLY IT'S "BAD US."

BECAUSE A LOT OF TIMES THE FINGER DESERVES TO BE POINTED. THERE'S NO OTHER WAY HULK CAN SAY IT. AND PERHAPS, IF WE WERE PART OF A MOVIE CULTURE THAT COULD MORE READILY ENGAGE FINGER POINTING AND DIFFICULT SUBJECT MATTER, THEN MAYBE WE WOULD BE LESS EMOTIONALLY SENSITIVE TO IT. MAYBE WE WOULD BE BETTER AT CONSUMING IT... AND MAYBE WE WOULD BE BETTER AT CHANGE ALL TOGETHER.

IT ALL CAN'T HELP BUT GET INTO HOW WE CONSUME ART.

THE FILMS THAT ARE ACTUALLY THE BEST AT CONFRONTING ISSUES (WHETHER INTERNAL OR EXTERNAL) ARE ACTUALLY BUILT ON THE LANGUAGE OF DISCONNECT. WE NEED TO BE ABLE TO HAVE SOME DISTANCE FROM OUR SO-CALLED HEROES. WE NEED TO BE ABLE TO SIMULTANEOUSLY WATCH, RELATE AND SEPARATE OURSELVES FROM A CHARACTER WE SEE ON SCREEN. AND THAT PERHAPS MEANS PLACING A PREROGATIVE ON MOVIES THAT ALLOW FOR THE MOST REFLECTION. WHICH MIGHT MEAN THAT YOU DON'T WANT A MAIN CHARACTER THAT IS YOUR STAND-IN FOR THE AUDIENCE. OR THAT YOU DON'T WANT AN AUDIENCE SURROGATE AT ALL. MAYBE EVERYONE SHOULD BE UNDER SUSPICION. MAYBE YOU DON'T WANT TO BUILD ARCS. MAYBE YOU WANT ONE THAT INVOLVES PUSHING AN AUDIENCE AWAY FROM THAT CHARACTER OVER TIME. SURE, YOU'LL ALWAYS HAVE THE FANS THAT WATCH A SHOW LIKE BREAKING BAD AND INSIST WALT IS AWESOME AND SKYLER WAS JUST SOME NAGGING WIFE WHO WAS STOPPING HIM FROM BEING AWESOME - BUT THAT'S NOT WHAT THE STORY IS ACTUALLY SAYING, RIGHT? AND FOR FURTHER CULPABILITY, DOESN'T THAT EXACT CHARACTERIZATION OF "AWESOMENESS" SOUND FAMILIAR? DOESN'T THAT SOUND LIKE THE EXACT HERO STORY WE'VE BEEN GUILTY OF CREATING TIME AND TIME AGAIN ON THE BROADER LEVEL? SO IF WE BUILT THAT EXPECTATION OF OUR STORIES, OF COURSE PEOPLE ARE GOING TO WATCH WALTER WHITE AND THINK OF HIM AS COMPARABLE TO ALL THE OTHER BADASS HEROES WHO NEED TO BE UNLEASHED.

IT'S HOW THEY'VE LEARNED TO CONSUME STORIES.

THE TRUTH IS THAT HULK'S SPENT THE LAST FEW YEARS TRYING TO MAKE THIS "WE'RE DOING STORIES WRONG" ARGUMENT WITHIN THE INDUSTRY, TO... UH... VARYING SUCCESS. IT'S NOT THAT PEOPLE ARE AFRAID TO WRITE DARK CHARACTERS DOING BAD THINGS, IN FACT THEY'RE QUITE EAGER TO BE "EDGY" IN CERTAIN WAYS... IT'S JUST THAT THE CHOICES OFFERED ARE ONES OF PURE MITIGATION: "SURE, WE CAN DO A COMPLICATED STORY ABOUT REGRET, BUT IF THE MAIN CHARACTER MURDERS SOMEONE, CAN IT BE A PEDOPHILE? THEY'RE SUPER WORSE THAN OUR CHARACTER!" WHICH JUST TURNS IT INTO A MEANINGLESS GESTURE THAT MOVES THE GOAL POST. IT LITERALLY EXCUSES THE QUESTION OF REGRET. OUR "BAD" ISN'T ACTUALLY BAD. IT'S JUST BECOMES EXCUSES FOR JUVENILE VIGILANTISM AND THE LIKE.

AND WITH FOUR-QUADRANTY STUFF, THE BIG WORRY THAT HULK ALWAYS ENCOUNTERS IS "BUT KIDS DON'T ABSORB STORIES THAT WAY! THEY NEED SIMPLE CHARACTERS AND STORIES AND CLEAR DEFINITIONS OF RIGHT AND WRONG" AND HULK IS SORRY BUT THAT'S COMPLETE BULLSHIT. KIDS ARE INFINITELY MORE ADAPTIVE TO STORIES THAN WE ARE. HELL, THEY FIGURE OUT WAYS TO WATCH AND LEND MEANING TO ANYTHING THAT TAPS INTO THEIR INTERESTS. IT'S WHY HULK COULD BUILD ENTIRE STORIES AROUND ATARI GAMES BACK IN THE ‘80S AND HULK WAS LITERALLY WORKING WITH DOTS. THE TRUTH IS THAT KIDS CRAVE PROFUNDITY. SERIOUSLY. THEY DO. THEY WANT BIG, BOLD IMPORTANT STORIES THAT MAKE THEM FEEL LIKE THE WORLD IS OPENING UP AROUND THEM. THEY WANT TO BE OLDER THAN THEY ARE. THEY WANT TO BE ADULTS. THEY WANT TO CREATE A WORLD OF MAGIC AROUND THEM AND THEY WANT STORIES TO HELP THEM DO THAT.

ADULTS ARE THE ONES THAT WANT TO SHUT THEIR BRAINS OFF FOR 2 HOURS.

GRANTED, AS ADULTS WE DO THIS BECAUSE THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD IS A HEAVY THING (AND OPTIMISM IS EVEN HEAVIER). BUT THERE IS SOMETHING SO ESSENTIAL TO ALL THIS. SO PRESSING. SO NEEDED. WE'RE IN THE PROCESS OF BREAKING SOMETHING THAT IS SO ESSENTIAL TO OUR VERY BEING. MEDIA, WHETHER WE WANT TO ACKNOWLEDGE IT OR NOT, IS THE MODEL FOR OUR BEHAVIORS, WANTS AND IDENTIFICATIONS. AND SO MEDIA, IN HULK'S ESTIMATION, IS FAILING TO REALIZE THIS CORE PURPOSE IN BOTH METHODOLOGY AND INTENT. WE ARE JUST HITTING THE PLEASURE BUTTON.

AND CONTRARY TO THE SHORT TERM SUCCESS, IT MAY BE OUR UNDOING.

BECAUSE MOST OF HOLLYWOOD DOESN'T REALIZE THAT RIGHT NOW A NATION OF TWELVE- AND THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLDS (I.E. THEIR NEXT TARGET AUDIENCE IN TWO SHORT YEARS) IS JUST SITTING AROUND PLAYING MINECRAFT AND LEAGUE OF LEGENDS ALL DAY. REALLY. LOOK AT THE STATISTICS. AND WHEN THE TIME COMES THEY ARE GOING TO WHIP OUT THEIR OLD PLAYBOOK AND TRY TO MAKE MEDIA BASED ON THIS CONTENT, BUT COME TO THE CRASHING REALIZATION THAT THIS AUDIENCE DOESN'T WATCH SUCH MEDIA ANYMORE. INSTEAD, THEY ARE WATCHING EACH OTHERS' MINECRAFT AND LEAGUE VIDEOS. AND TO ASK THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION OF ALL - DOES HOLLYWOOD REALIZE THE REASON TWELVE- AND THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLDS ARE DOING THIS IS BECAUSE THEY GET MORE PROFOUNDITY, EXCITEMENT AND WONDER OUT OF SUCH INTERACTION AND SELF-CREATION THAN FROM MOST ANYTHING THAT HOLLYWOOD IS OFFERING THEM?

DO THEY GET THAT THE TWELVE- AND THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLDS ARE RIGHT?

* * *

... OKAY. HULK GETS THAT HULK MIGHT BE PLAYING CHICKEN LITTLE HERE. YOU MAY ARGUE THAT WE'VE BEEN TELLING STORIES A CERTAIN WAY FOR OVER 5OOO YEARS AND THIS IS JUST PART OF A NONSENSICAL FEAR OF CHANGE OR SOMETHING. THAT THE PROBLEM CAN'T POSSIBLY BE AS BAD OR AS FAR-REACHING AS HULK SAYS IT IS.

WELL, THIS IS WHAT HULK SEES HAPPENING. AND HULK HATES TO POINT OUT THE FACT THAT EVEN THOUGH SOME THINGS HAVE STAYED THE SAME, STORIES HAVE ACTUALLY CHANGED A GREAT DEAL IN THOSE THOUSANDS OF YEARS. AND YEAH, GIVEN THE MONEY MADE OFF THEM NOW WE'RE PROBABLY A LOT WORSE AT THEM. THIS IS A REAL CONCERN. SO LIKE ANY SET OF GIVEN RULES. THE TIME MAY HAVE COME FOR AN EVOLUTION.

FOR ONE, HULK CAN'T STOP THINKING ABOUT THE NATURE OF INTERACTIVE NARRATIVE AND WHAT LESSONS WILL BEST APPLY IN THE SHAPE OF GAMES. THERE'S A REASON HULK HASN'T WRITTEN ABOUT GAMES AFTER THOSE INITIAL FORAYS AND IT'S BECAUSE HULK'S BEEN RESEARCHING AND READING TO GET CAUGHT UP (BACK THEN, HULK DIDN'T KNOW ENOUGH TO KNOW WHAT HULK DIDN'T KNOW). BUT BEYOND THE FUTURE OF INTERACTIVE NARRATIVE, SO MANY OF THE LARGER CRITICAL QUESTIONS REMAIN FOR TRADITIONAL CINEMATIC STORYTELLING AND ITS ROLE IN ALL THIS. PARTICULARLY WHICH "RULES" WE WANT TO VALUE GOING FORWARD AND WHICH NEED TO SLIP AWAY INTO THE DARK. WHICH PERHAPS REQUIRES THE LOVING AWARENESS OF WHAT EACH TACTIC, NAY, EVERY TACTIC ACTUALLY MEANS TO THE STORY WE ARE TELLING. BECAUSE WRITING IS THIS PROCESS WHERE YOU HAVE ALL THESE THINGS YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH AND THEN YOU FIGURE OUT THE BEST WAY TO DO IT. AND IN THAT GOAL, NOTHING CAN BE MORE DAMAGING THAN STICKING TO A "RULE" OF ONE PATH WHEN YOU SHOULD REALLY BE AIMING FOR ANOTHER.

"A main character must have an arc."

EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON'T.

AND YES, BY ANSWERING THIS SIMPLE QUESTION HULK COULDN'T HELP BUT GET INTO HEART OF FILMMAKING AND ITS VERY PURPOSE. BUT THAT'S JUST BECAUSE CHARACTER ARCS ARE SO CENTRAL TO THE QUESTION OF WHAT WE WANT THAT WE CAN'T HELP BUT GET INTO THESE LARGER ISSUES THAT PLAGUE THE NATURE OF STORYTELLING ITSELF. AND TO TRY AND BRING IT FULL CIRCLE, HULK HAS LUCKILY SAVED THE BEST EXAMPLE OF A NON-CHARACTER ARC FOR THE LAST.

MANY OF YOU KNOW THE FILM, BUT ONE OF HULK'S FAVORITES IS HAL ASHBY'S BEING THERE. IN THE FILM, CHAUNCEY IS A PURE SIMPLETON GARDNER WHO WORKS FOR AN OLD RICH MAN. ONE DAY THE OLD MAN PASSES AWAY AND THE SIMPLETON IS THEREFORE LET INTO THE WORLD TO FEND FOR HIMSELF... BUT THIS ISN'T ABOUT WHAT HE LEARNS. AGAIN, HE'S A SIMPLETON. HE HAS NO ARC. THE MOVIE SIMPLY HAPPENS TO HIM. BUT BECAUSE HE IS JUST A MAN, ENTIRELY DEVOID OF INTENT OF MALICE, HE WANDERS THROUGHOUT THE WORLD AND BECOMES A PROJECTION TO EVERYONE HE MEETS. HE SIDLES HIS WAY INTO GREAT REPUTATION. HIS GARDENING TIPS ARE MISTAKEN FOR GREAT SOCIAL, POLITICAL OR ECONOMIC INSIGHT. AND THE DUALITY IS THAT THE COMEDY COMES NOT FROM THE ERRORS THAT THIS CREATES, BUT THE ACTUAL GOOD HE DOES. BECAUSE HIS TIPS ACTUALLY ARE GREAT INSIGHT. HEIS TRULY HELPING PEOPLE. NOT BECAUSE HE IS INSIGHTFUL, BUT BECAUSE HE IS THE MALLEABLE PROJECTION OF THE INSIGHT OF THE WORLD AROUND HIM. JUST BY SIMPLY BEING THERE, WITH NO WANTS OF HIS OWN, HE CAN THEREFORE EMBODY THE HAPPY REFLECTIONS OF PEOPLE'S OWN BEHAVIORS OR THEIR DEEPEST ASPIRATIONS - AND IN THAT PROCESS, HE CAN GIVE THEM NOT JUST WHAT THEY WANT, BUT WHAT THEY NEED. IT'S A BEAUTIFUL IDEA AND A BEAUTIFUL EXPRESSION OF THE IDEA - AND ONE ONLY POSSIBLE BY UPENDING VIRTUALLY EVERYTHING WE KNOW ABOUT STORYTELLING AND WHAT CHARACTERS SHOULD OR SHOULD NOT BE DOING.

TO THE FINAL POINT, THIS HAMMERS HOME OUR OWN MISSION AS STORYTELLERS – WE SHOULD ESSENTIALLY TRY TO BE LIKE CHAUNCEY. NOT SO MUCH IN THE WAY OF BEING INTENTLESS SIMPLETONS, BUT IN THE ASPIRATION OF EFFECT. IN BECOMING STORYTELLERS, OUR GOAL IS TO IMAGINE THE MULTITUDE OF WAYS PEOPLE CAN SIT IN A THEATER, LIVING ROOM OR STARING AT A COMPUTER SCREEN AND EXPERIENCE ANOTHER WORLD; WHETHER WE DISAPPEAR INTO IT, INTERACT WITH IT, SEE OURSELVES AS THE HERO, REVOLT IN HORROR, CHALLENGE OURSELVES - OR MERELY STEP BACK AND PONDER THE IMPLICATIONS OF OUR OWN WORLD... IT IS OURS TO MOLD.

AND THAT IS A HELL OF A RESPONSIBILITY.

<3 HULK

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