Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My Problem Is Your Solution...

"Wouldn't it be nice if your problems were my solutions--and vice-versa?"

Is this really a line from a movie?  Or am I imagining it?  Strangers on a Train perhaps?

I feel like there's some movie where someone says almost exactly this.

For my online course, the other day I was outlining some structures in Sunset Boulevard

I realized that a very common structure is:  
  • one character has problems, 
  • and another character has problems, 
  • and together they find a single 'solution' for both problems.  
Joe needs a job and money.  Norma needs a screenplay.  Voila!  Hijinks ensue.

In Sunset Boulevard, Joe muses:  "here was a cozy set-up."  It's a nice line to describe the appeal of the purported 'solution.'

In fact, it's usually a terrible idea.  

But if it were a good idea, we wouldn't be interested in watching what happens next--since we often watch a movie not much differently than a rubbernecker at an accident.

How many movies have this structure?!
  • Leia needs to be rescued by a Jedi knight.  Luke needs to get off the farm and become a Jedi knight.  Voila!  Adventure ensues.
  • Tennis player has loathsome wife.  Psychotic loafer has loathsome father.  Psycho suggests they each kill the other's problem--but the tennis player doesn't really agree.  (Only unconsciously.)
  • You beat your son, hate your wife and drink, and we have an isolated hotel that needs a caretaker who won't murder his family and himself.  
The charm and richness comes in each problem in itself being banal, but the 'solution' of the two problems together is likely to be more unique and memorable.  

--E. R. O'Neill

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