Screenwriter and reviewer Brian Godawa (who wrote the screenplay for the excellent film, To End All Wars) suggests what to look for in order to understand a movie’s vision of redemption, which is a key part of its worldview:
1. Look for the protagonist and the antagonist.
Consider whose side you are on. With the tendency in modern cinema toward relativism, the graying of right and wrong, and the villification of virtue, heros are becoming more like villains and villains more like heros.
- Is the protagonist a hero with a fault to overcome . . . ?
- Or is the hero a villain made sympathetic through endearing traits . . . ?
- Are you rooting for bad guys to get away with crime simply because they’re played by some ”cool” actor . . . ?
- Has the villain been linked to the “evils” of traditional morality and religion . . . ?
Remember: the protagonist/hero and antagonist/villain represent worldviews in competition for the way we ought to live.
2. Look for the hero’s weakness/fault/need.
Right from the start you should be able to recognize what the hero wants and what keeps him from attaining it. What is the way he looks at the world or lives in it that is not quite right? Look first at his behavior, but then for his rationale for his beliefs or behavior. This is the setting of his need for redemption.
But also look for the same thing from a different angle in surrounding characters. Their faults will usually be reflections of the main character. And their outcomes reflect contrasting aspects of the same theme.
3. Look for the hero’s self-revelation.
The point near the end of the movie where the hero has his speech about what he learned or how he changed his mind is the redemption of the story. This is how the storytellers think we ought or ought not to live in this world.
4. Look for the opponent’s rationale.
Why does the opponent do what he does? This is also usually a speech of some sort early on or revealed near the end in confrontation with the hero. This view is what the movie wants us to decide against in our lives. Remember, even exaggeration in a character can be a subtle reflection of a less extreme viewpoint. . . .
5. Look for the factors that make the characters change their minds and why.
This is the means of redemption offered by the movie. . . .
6. Look for the four “W”s.
- Who wins?
- Who loses?
- Who dies?
- And why?
Whoever wins is usually the storyteller’s model of how we ought to be and whoever loses is usually the storyteller’s admonition of how we ought not to be. And if the writing is clever enough, it will make the winners and losers closely represent actual ways that people think in the world.
Whoever dies is often the “weaker” viewpoint that cannot survive in this world. . . . But be careful. Death can be tricky. The context of death can have the opposite effect. . . .
7. Look for consequences to behavior.
If a behavior doesn’t end in negative consequences then it is often being considered legitimate. . . . If behaviors or beliefs result in bad consequences then they are undesirable character traits for society. . . .
8. Look for repeating phrases.
Often, a phrase will be repeated throughout the film that focuses attention on what the storyteller is trying to communicate. . . .
9. Look at how it ends.
This is simple enough, but often missed. Do the bad guys get away . . . ? If so, then the movie’s message is that crime does pay.
If the bad guys are caught, as in most movies, then part of the message is that crime does not pay.
But don’t forget the nature of morality tales that waken us up to our own ignorance by showing how evil can win if we fail to do the right thing. . . .