Last night I watched Daniel Day Lewis’ character in There Will Be Blood self-destruct. Self-destruction is never enjoyable to watch, but it is usually fascinating within the confines of a movie theater or watching on DVD at home. And that leads us to our quote of the day.
“Stories of self-destruction are often the stuff of great movies because the lines of action and the opposition are built into the characters.”
Screenwriting Tricks of the Trade
Of course, he’s right. Look at these films that come to mind:
The Lost Weekend
Leaving Las Vegas
Death of a Salesman
Aviator (Howard Hughes)
When you look at that list it’s hard to miss that self-destruction is rooted in some sort of obsession. An obsession with drugs, alcohol, greed, sex, power, control and/or money. If all the self-destruction movies were rolled into one we’d just call it Sin City.
It’s no surprise either that many of those movies are based on real life characters because stories of self-destruction are never far from the headlines. Just a few months ago in Florida a well respected real estate developer committed suicide. He owned three homes, had many successful projects completed over the years, and he and his wife had recently donated $2.5 million to a local college’s medical school.
But many of his current hundreds of million dollar projects where stalled with the downturn in the real estate market and it is now alleged that he stole at least $21.4 million from investors. And from the world of New York City high finance, just a couple days before Christmas a 65-year-old money manager who had lost $1.4 billion of an investment fund in a scam committed suicide in his Manhattan office by cutting his wrists with box cutters.
The good news is self-destruction doesn’t always mean ruin and suicide. It can be a low point on the road to redemption as is the case of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line where he overcomes a heroin addiction.
And sometimes redemption comes outside the theater like some kind of cathartic Greek play. When the real life Jake LaMotta asked his ex-wife if he was really as paranoid and abusive as he was portrayed in Raging Bull she replied, “You were worse.” After the film came out it helped turn LaMotta’s life around; ”I was real low before the film, I was barely surviving. The book came out, I started to get interviews. The stand-up took off and the movie hit. Then the Oscar, that was it. I was famous again.”
Copyright ©2009 Scott W. Smith
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