When the Character is You
We all relate to certain characters in the fiction we like. Heck, it’s part of why we like it. Sometimes it’s as simple as empathizing with a character’s problems or seeing ourselves as the struggling anti-hero we’re watching onscreen.
But then there are the times when the character actually is us. It goes beyond just having things and common and maybe you don’t even like this character- but it’s you, or us rather, as the audience.
When we’re first introduced to a world, we’ve got to have some way of understanding it. Often jumping right in with no explanation whatsoever is confusing and it makes you uncaring as to what’s happening because you don’t know what’s going on anyway. So the writer has to create a “surrogate” of sorts. Like that terribly mediocre Bruce Willis movie, yes.
Sometimes this turns out to be a character with no personality and no specific traits of their own, but other times it’s the best character in the series. It’s all in how it’s written, baby! Duh.
If ever you’re introduced to a character that only knows as much as you do, that’s it: that’s the writer’s way into your head and the way that you allow them to have so much crap explained to you without thinking “Why are they saying all this stuff out loud? I thought all these guys were professionals?”
It’s why Inception is a two and a half hour non-stop exposition movie. But it’s cool- Ellen Page is there and while intellectually capable, as one must be to a degree watching the movie, she doesn’t know anything about Cobb and his team of dream thieves.
By George, I think he’s got it! Here are a few more recognizable examples.
Luke Skywalker (Original Star Wars)
There’s a reason this character is just as liked as he is disliked and much of it has to do with his whining throughout the first film. In this particular instance, Luke is the audience and their desire to get away from it all. Their jobs, their problems, etc. Luke himself wants to join his friends in the galactic war and be a part of something that matters.
And while Luke’s whining grated on many of us initially, throughout the series we see him mature from an annoying farm boy in A New Hope to the learned Jedi (though still in training) in The Empire Strikes Back. Yet it was pretty noticeable to all of us as the audience by Return of the Jedi how much calmer Luke had become. Even when facing with situations he’d never dealt with, he keeps a level head.
This is us in the story by the third film, we didn’t know everything, but we knew to expect anything. So in a sense, we had become movie Jedi. While inexperienced in Sci-fi Space Operas initially, we came to be as familiar with the world (and the Force) as Luke did.
What does this mean? It means you’re not Han Solo. Sorry.
Ryuk (Death Note)
This is a particularly intrinsic case, as the series isn’t possible without Ryuk or the audience. From the moment Ryuk drops the notebook until the last shot, Ryuk is indefinitely our surrogate into the dark world of Death Note. Notice that while he follows the villainous antagonist Light throughout all of his tricks and deception, he still doesn’t particularly care for Light past what Light can do to entertain him.
Light may get one over on someone or they might trick him, but Ryuk’s reactions are the same; he laughs, he awes in amazement, and he even feels pity when certain characters are gone because he knows that means there’s no more challenges to watch played out.
A specific example would be the end, when (SPOILERS) Light’s game is up and Ryuk allows him to run away for just a moment before writing his name in the Death Note. Light had run wild for long enough and it was us as viewers that decided to call it quits. The series burned too brightly to run on in Dragonball Z fashion and now that Light had been outed, there was no reason to keep going. So Ryuk calls it a day, and moves on.
Raiden and Otacon(The Metal Gear Solid Series)
Raiden plays a similar role to Metal Gear that Luke Splayed to Star Wars; impetuous at first but we all came to love him. Raiden was designed to do two things: please the little girls that didn’t want to play as an “old man” and to be the audience to see how people in the game even view Snake. Being Snake just makes you any other action hero of a franchise in a sense, but being this girly man Raiden allows to you feel the same way Raiden does through much of the MGS sequel; “Where the hell is Snake?”
Raiden didn’t know it was Snake, but he knew Plisken sure was a slippery one.
Heck, this entire entry is made valid by the fact that when you look at your dog tags at the end of the game, the name reads whatever you entered at the beginning. Me? I was Butt Hole, of course.
Now Otacon was one I didn’t catch until a recent interview with the creator of the series, Hideo Kojima. In the interview, Kojima likens himself to Snake; out in the field, doing what needs to be done, often being viewed as the hero. While the nerdy Otacon on the other hand, is us- shut-ins on staring at a screen while Snake goes out and does all the dirty work.
And we always thought we were the man himself. A bit difficult to take in seeing as how Otacon first meets Snake with piss in his pants.
Bella Swan (The Twilight Series)
For anyone familiar with the series (Who isn’t now?), we all know the story: Girl meets the perfect vampire guy and also has a perfect werewolf-like guy fight for her attention. But the entire time these two perfect supernatural pedos are fighting over lil’ ol’ Bella, it took many a while to realize that there’s really nothing to fight over. Bella isn’t given any distinctive traits of her own for the reader/viewer to have a defined idea of. And that’s because she’s you! Sucks, right?
Not for fans, who could easily put themselves in the place of the “girl who just moved into town.” There was no reason to think you weren’t good enough to be with the sparkling vampire guy or the werewolf child because she wasn’t good enough for them! But in her position, she was still wanted and by proxy, so was the reader.
Jake Sully (Avatar)
Another semi-obvious case, Jake’s role in the story is a strange one as he starts off simple enough- just a dude in a wheelchair. Though he was a soldier, it doesn’t help him much when it comes to actually inserting his mind into the ten foot tall Na’vi body.
It’s at this point that’s he’s taken into the world that we are too; Jake is unsure of how to use his body but he doesn’t want to take it slow and neither do we. Though things are a bit hazy at first, as soon as he can, Jake takes off to see what his new body can really do. And us? We’re in a Sci-fi/Action movie, why would we bother hearing all the rules and regulations? Just let us go!
Notice that the more the movie goes on, the more heavily involved Jake is in the Na’vi world. The audience is deeper in too and any time we have to see Jake in his human form (aka the real world), it feels like we’re wasting time and we’ve got to get back! Because while Sci-fi is arguably the best way to get a real-life point across, it’s simultaneously the best escapist entertainment there is.
Next time you hate a character, think about what the writer might be trying to say. It could be what they think about you.
Anything else you’ve got on the audience being a part of the movie, comment below.
This entry was posted on 06/24/2014 at 4:51 pm and is filed under Whatever with tags audience participation, avatar, bella swan, death note, luke skywalker, metal gear solid, otacon, raiden, ryuk, star wars, surrogates, twilight. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.