Friday, August 10, 2007

External Goal vs. Internal Need = SPLAT

In a previous entry I used the film Indiana Jones and the Last Cruisade as an example of the protagonist's exterior goal (finding the Holy Grail) versus his interior need (to "let go" of certain things, including his resentment towards his father).

Exterior goals don't have to be world-saving like Indiana Jones' usually are (saving the world from nazis and the like). They simply need to be important to the protagonist, and we need to care enough about the protagonist that we want her to accomplish her goals... OR we don't want her to accomplish her goal because we know that her interior need is in direct conflict with it.

Two of my all time favourite films are Pieces of April and What's Eating Gilbert Grape. If you haven't seen these I highly recommend that you do. Unfortunately there are no copies of the scripts on-line, although there is a transcript of the dialogue for W.E.G.G. Both stories were written by Peter Hedges. Both have beautifully simple plots and well-developed characters.

April's exterior goal is that she wants to make the perfect Thanksgiving Dinner for the family from which she has alienated herself. We want her to succeed because we want her to be reunited with her family. She has realized how much she needs them and we empathize with this. There is also a time concern that I won't spoil, but suffice it to say that she needs to fix this relationship before it is too late. At the climax of the story, the dinner and the relationship are almost both lost.

(spoiler alert)

In What's Eating Gilbert Grape his goal is to be a good person. That's it. That's what he wants. But we don't want him to succeed because he has sacrificed his own happiness. Well, we do want him to be a good person, just not in the way he has interpreted it. His interior need is that he has to stop being responsible for everyone else's happiness and express what he wants. At the climax of the story he finally loses it because can't make everyone happy. He does the one thing he says one should never, ever do. He hits his mentally ill brother. He realizes that sacrificing his own happiness is detrimental to his relationships.

This is a great example of one's external goal colliding with one's internal need. Gilbert can't have them both. He is reunited with his larger self when he pushes through SPLAT. Yay!


Vicki said...

Hey, another great post. These couldn't come at a better time. :)

Hope you have a great weekend.

OpenChannel said...

Thanks, Vicki - always happy to help.

Anonymous said...

I"m not a writer but I am a big film fan, I see at least 3 or 4 films a week. I had never heard of the expression "splat" before and I think it's a really perfect way to describe that moment. Very interesting. I think I've lived through several "splats" myself. :)