Monday, January 30, 2012

When the Hero Dies. . .

Last night I watched a film (I won't tell you which one because of the massive spoilers that will result). It was a thriller about a (fairly) good man who finds himself embroiled in a world of high-powered intrigue, murder, war and all manner of uncuddly things. And he was alone - to heighten the tension, there was quite literally no one on his side throughout the film.

And at the end, just when he has finally won out, and I'm ready to go to bed with a cup of herbal tea  . . .
. . . he gets hit by a car.

I was not happy. I felt cheated - I had rooted for this guy for two and a half hours (including very long ad breaks) and he dies at the end.

I'm not categorically against heroes dying. One of my all-time favourite films is Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, which has one of the most famous heroes-peg-it endings in cinema history. I also love Bonnie and Clyde, which ends with a similar shoot-out. And don't even get me started on books where the heroes die - I'll be here all night listing the ones I love.

But I didn't feel it worked within this genre. I don't watch a thriller to be challenged. I watch it to be entertained. As I switched off the TV feeling down, I wondered if that was what the filmmakers were after. I wondered if that was the feeling they wanted to leave the viewer - melancholy and miffed.

What do you guys think? Is it always acceptable to kill the hero, or are there times when he or she must survive, no matter what?


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  2. Oh, this reminds me of The Mist and Thelma & Louise. [Spoiler alert!]

    I thought the ending of Thelma & Louise was perfect. Bittersweet. Left me with a feeling of both euphoria and sadness. I think if the movie would have had a happy ending, it wouldn't have had such an impact on me and on the rest of its audience.

    I had different feelings about The Mist though. In the end the main character shoots everyone in the car with him, including his son, only to find the mist disappearing five minutes later. And then he's out of bullets too, so he can't commit suicide anymore. It's a little ironic. It aggravated me, though. In this particular case I felt there should've been a happy ending, or a happier one in the very least. It was dissatisfying and left me feeling a bit down. (I was blown away by it though.)

    But anyway, to answer your question: I guess from what I wrote in the above you can gather I don't feel it is always okay to kill the hero. The story has to build up to it, like in Thelma & Louise. If the hero is killed, it should contribute to the story, enhance the story; it should fulfill a purpose. For example, I thought the hero dying in The Mist was rather random.

    So I know what you mean!

    1. I felt the same at the end of The Mist. I was seriously cranky-faced. >:/ But upon reading your take, I have to wonder... If there had been more of a 'never give up' theme woven through, would it have ticked me off so bad?

      And having said that, I wonder if that theme was there and I missed it. I watched it once and never again! Stoopid mist monsters.

  3. Thelma and Louise is a great example, Sabrina, can't believe I didn't think of it!

    It really did enhance the film, but I think sometimes it can feel very artificial - 'The film is good but it's not *profound* enough. Let's kill the hero!'

    So yes, it's not a fix-all but it can be very effective.

  4. I'm pretty sure I know the film you're talking about, and yes, I totally agree. I was left with a feeling of 'what just happened? Why did I waste all that time willing him to win?'. Sometimes the heroes need to die - this wasn't one of those times.

  5. It's definitely acceptable to kill off the hero, but like everything else in a story, it has to have a purpose. If the hero has won through his trials and is then killed off at the end by a seemingly unrelated incident, it's cheating the reader.

    It's kind of like the ending of City of Angels. There's no need to throw in arbitrary tragedy in order to try and make your story more "high-brow."*

    *One of my college professors explained to us the difference between "high-brow" and "low-brow" fiction. In low-brow, the hero gets a happy ending and rides off into the sunset. In high-brow, they suffer horrible tragedy at the end. :-p

  6. I wish you would tell us the name of the movie, so I could be spared of wasting time watching it. I would hate that ending too.

  7. Hm, I think I"m more of a traditionalist with my movies and books. I need a happy ending. I want to be entertained and escape from the hardships of the real world. I don't want to experience the same things I read about in the paper or see in the news. Take me to another world for a couple hours and make it end all happy and pretty :)

  8. I can't think of the movie. It would feel frustrating to me.

    I do think if the hero dies, it has to make sense, be meaningful in relation to the rest of the story... and can't cheat the reader or audience.


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