Three Dramatic States

Each element in a movie has three states:

  • An imperfect state
  • An agitated state
  • A resolved state

When I say “element,” I mean the:

  • Main characters
  • Their actions
  • Their words
  • Their environment

Let’s focus on characters:

The main character is flawed at the beginning. In Finding Nemo, Marlin is scarred by the tragic loss of his wife and her eggs and, so, views his only remaining child as something to be protected, not as the wonderful, capable child that he is. This is imperfect and self-destructive. Marlin is then agitated (his son is taken and he must traverse a strange, dangerous, and wonderful ocean to attempt a rescue), and finally resolved – he has not only physically found Nemo, but he is seeing his son as his son in action for the first time.

The love interest (if present) is also flawed, often with his/her own scars that will be agitated by the main character. The interplay between the love interest’s flaws and the main character’s will not resolve, but will heighten, until act three.

The antagonist is similarly imperfect at the start, in need or desperation. Star Wars would not have happened if the Empire hadn’t let slip the plans for the Death Star. They are agitated, and resolved when they plant a homing beacon on the Millennium Falcon to lead them to the rebel base. Every main character exhibits the three states.

Let’s focus on actions: the three states appear in many scales:

The WHOLE FILM begins with an imperfect state (act one), sees its elements agitated (act two), and finally resolved (act three). Jaws is about a landlubber cop who must go out to sea in a small boat with a dysfunctional crew to face a shark that threatens his family and townsfolk. Imperfect state: a police chief on an island afraid of the water, plus, the killer shark thing. Agitated state: dysfunctional crew on a small boat searching for and fighting a shark. Resolved state: shark dead, Chief Brody swimming a few miles back to shore.

To achieve their goal, the protagonists will set forth plans, and the antagonist will construct a series of obstacles. These subdivisions of the movie are the SEQUENCES, and each sequence has the three states. In Star Wars, Ben and Luke need to find a pilot to take them to Aldeeran. The need for a pilot is the imperfect state. The agitated state involves getting into the bar, finding a pilot, and arbitrating a price. The resolved state is their agreement and leaving aboard the Millennium Falcon.

On an even smaller scale, each SCENE exhibits the same three states: imperfect, agitated, and resolved. In Mission: Impossible, Ethan needs to get the NOC list without upsetting any of the security measures in the computer room (imperfect state). Time, body heat, rats, and an untrustworthy partner rear their heads as he attempts to get the list onto disc (agitated state), which he then escapes with (resolved state).

Note that, while the protagonist is successful in each of the above scenarios, “success” is not required to have “resolution.” Resolution is simply the final state, and it is often negative (unsuccessful) until the very end scenes and sequences.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment