This post contains lots of SPOILERS, mostly in relation to Godfther, Knives Out, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, 1917 and Bodyguard. I've written before that these 3 are unusual in modern filmmaking terms, in that they have a significant death at the midpoint, rather than the end of Act Two. Although this is not a new methodology - it's documented in Christopher Vogler's The Writers Journey, first published in 1998, its rare use does create a stir.
Christopher Vogler's The Writers Journey
The middle for me is usually about being or meeting the opposite. In Godfather, Micheal Corleone goes from sanctioned killer to a murderer. In Knives Out, Ryan Evans's character arrives. These are moments when our protagonist has gone 180 degrees from where they started either through their own actions or due to the arrival of the antagonist.
Rian Johnson's take on Star Wars divided opinion. For some, it's fresh approach and surprise in the middle, was invigorating. For others, it spoilt the franchise. In 1917, Blake is killed off screen, leaving Schofield to decide whether he continues their mission alone. Jed Mercurio's Bodyguard created a dangerous partnership between a politician and their protection officer, who fails to protect their charge.
The Follow On
So in all three we have a partnership ended. In Star Wars, Snoke and Kylo are split. In 1917, Blake and Schofield and in Bodyguard, David and Julia. Three different type of relationships with three different outcomes.
- Star Wars VIII: Kylo switches sides and joins Rey form a heroic partnership
- 1917: Schofield continues the journey on behalf of Blake
- Bodyguard: David investigates Julia's death
In 1, we have a broken partnership that's replaced with the objective maintained; in 2, we have a partnership broken but the objective maintained and in 3, we have a partnerhsip broken but the objective broken. So 3 films with different outcomes.
Art is subjective but for many, 1 and 3 generated the most critiscism with 2 mostly unruffled. Now, I loved all 3 with reservations residing from different things I would have tried. Which may have ended up on cutting room floor. For Star Wars, many felt that Snoke's death in the middle was jarring and why would Kylo switch sides. In Bodyguard, the lost of a central character was a shock and many felt the show drifteed after that.
Anyway, lets go back to the analysis to see if there's a hypothesis to consider for future analysis. What if we think of the objective (or want) as a torch (Olympic type) or baton to be carried. And it should be carried by the protagonist.
Star Wars: the torch (Rey must defeat the dark side) is carried but by the protagonist and what was the anatagonist. So it partly delivers on this, which may explain it's divided result with fans.
1917: Schofield carries the torch (get the message to the Second Battalion of the Devonshire) on behalf of Blake. Although looking back, it's clear Schofield was the protagonist all along, the mission is both to save the unit and Blake's brother (who happens to be Richard Madden from Bodyguard).
Bodyguard: David's torch is to protect bur principally who he's asked to look after. So when Julia is killed, his objective is partly to find her killer and prevent further deaths. This switch felt uncomfortable to some viewers as they were focussed on his protection of her rather than his wider desire to protect lives.
So, in essence, the writers of all 3 have used their ingenuity to play with structure and create three memorable films. Innovation is not without its consequences and often a new design is not to everyone's tastes. But I think we can see through the three recent approaches to a midpoint death, the choices made and their consequences.
There is a larger question of what moving the death to the middle might mean spiritually or psychologically. It would be interesting to look at movies with more death, to see where they occur e.g. Aliens, any horror. Perhaps this will be in a future blog. But perhaps, what we're suggesting, is that on this journey where we expect to have a sticky moment halfway, things can be much worse than expected.
With these 3 films, I was curious to know what effect the significant death being moved to the middle had on the Second Act Break. If the 'death' or 'significant end' had already been completed, we didn't need another one at the 3/4 point, did we? And if we didn't, did we get something else. Let's have a look:
- Star Wars VIII: Luke dies using the Force
- 1917: Schofield is shot in the head by the sniper
- Bodyguard: David shoots himself
Oh, so we do get a death at the 3/4 point but do we? Yes but no: it's a pseudo death. It appears to be the death we're expecting to happen but it's not a real one. We've had the real one, so this becomes a fake, filling the criteria of the more common structure but also not contradicting the earlier event. So what we actually have is:
- Luke dissipates into the Force, becoming a ghost
- 1917: Schofield's knocked unconscious and wakes up. (I think his helmet saved him).
- Bodyguard: the gun was filled with blanks and he survives
Interesting. Bearing in mind there are no rules, there does seem to be something going on here. It's almost like despite the shift to the middle, some part of the more common structural requirement remains. In each case, it's the central character that 'dies'. In 1917 and Bodyguard it's the protagonist, in the Last Jedi it's Luke, the focus of the story.
So something to bear in mind should you use the mipoint for your significant death/all is lost moment.