The Midpoint and Three Quarter Death

The Midpoint and Three Quarter Death

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I wanted to write a little about the midpoint and the death or end sequence in stories. Now, I'm writing mostly about screenplays as they usually have the most clear structure as well as usually conforming to conventional wisdom. I'm going to focus on 1917 as well as refer to Star Wars and Bodyguard.


These two key points are usually described something like this:

1. Midpoint. At this stage, our heroine is in the new world with the practical means to return. But this is the Point of No Return. Once this moment has passed they can't go back to their ordinary world. For example, in The Godfather, Al Pacino's character assassinates two of his rivals. He can't go back to not being a killer, or at least one that could not face legal retribution.

At this moment, they have also flipped from who they are to the opposite. In Goldfinger, James Bond goes from wanting to kill Auric, to being his confidant.

2. Three Quarter Death. So at this point, usually somebody dies that has a significant relationship to the heroine. It might not always be a death but can be an end of something. Perhaps a physical object is destoryed e.g. Thor's Hammer. In Killing Eve, David Haig's characer is killed at roughly the 3/4 point.

But rules, if they are rules, can be broken. 

One of the clearest past examples is Bodyguard by Jed Mercurio. In this series, the main character, played by Richard Madden, has an affair with the politicain, played by Keeley Hawes, who he's protecting. She is killed at the midpoint which was a shock as this doesn't normally happen so early. Some felt certain she'd return. How did this work? Well, the shock value created drama and water cooler moments.

But how did it work structurally? It fulfills the moment where everything switches 180 degrees. David Budd is no longer a protector - he's failed - she's been hurt probably killed. As a point of no return, it's a little less clear because theoretically, he could return back to his old job of being a policeman. But this failure on top of his PTSD, drives him to kill himself which could count as a point of no return. You can't come back from being dead. In addition, this failed death also fills in for the 3/4 death point as it comes in episode 4 of 6. 

The other film that does something similar is Rian Johnson's Star Wars film, The Last Jedi. In this film, he surprised everyone by having Kylo Ren killing the baddie, Snoke at the midpoint. Some have called this the greatest movie surprise of the decade. So for Kylo, he goes from being a First Order leader to the opposite, killing his boss, so helping the resistance. 

The 3/4 death/end point is achieved by the sacrifice of Luke Skywalker. He projects an image of himself to fool the approaching forces but at the cost of his own life. But similar to Bodyguard, this death is a pseudo death as Luke lives on as a blue ghost. So have Rian and Jed stumbled on something new? Maybe, certainly the commentary about both twists was hot. 

So finally to 1917. I watched this a couple of weeks ago and read the script this week. Written by Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, this also has a death at the midpoint, Scholfield's comrade, Blake. This happens at the one hour point in a two film. One coudl argue that the point of no return had already occurred, after all, the explosion had stopped them going back through the German tunnel. However, the death of Blake meant that if Schofield didn't continue, the message wouldn't be delivered. 

Moving on, 1917 requires a death/end at the 3/4 point. I found this hard to spot, if there at all. I feel most of the story elements are there but not in the conventional order. But they could be there in terms of time. For example, he gets shot in the head at the 75 minute point. So it's the right time for a death. But he gets up - this might work as the resurrection as they then trudges on. But we get more acts, the scene in the cellar and near the fountain. Finally, for the final battle, he's sort of resurrected again, being lifted to his feet post getting wet. 

The final battle - the run - felt a little short for me but there was plenty enough elsewhere for it not to matter. He passes on the message and has a resolution moment with Blake's brother.