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They Make You Believe

Banes at 12:00AM, Aug. 24, 2023

A long time ago I read something, I think an interview with a respected screenwriter or something, where he brought up the movie “Rain Man”.

If you haven't seen it, it's about a struggling wheeler-dealer type guy, played by Tom Cruise, who goes on a road trip with his previously unknown older brother, an autistic man played by Dustin Hoffman. Even though Hoffman won many accolades for his performance, this screenwriter/producer said that much credit had to be given to Tom Cruise and his performance as the brother. The screenwriter said that the Dustin Hoffman character wouldn't work without Tom Cruise. It's because as unusual as Dustin's character was, it took Cruise's performance to make you believe.

This comment has always stuck with me, and I can see the concept at work everywhere, with everything from fantasy and science fiction, to horror and superheroes and thrillers. It's the REACTION from a well-written character and, in live action, a strong performance from an actor (or more than one actor) to portray something extraordinary and also make us BELIEVE in the reality of that extraordinary thing.

Sherlock Holmes is made immeasurably stronger as a character because of Watson. Superman is greatly helped by Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen, and other supporting characters. They spotlight Superman by being the grounded ones, in terms of physical power and human abilities. Of course, Superman at his core is a grounded guy in his personality, the boy scout with strong values learned from his Earth parents.

As much as Hannibal Lecter dominates The Silence of the Lambs with just a few minutes of screen time, it's Clarice Starling that we are with throughout the story, and she makes us believe like…well, like mad!

A demon, or vampire, or ghost, or monster is made truly effective by the human beings reacting to that extraordinary entity in a way that makes us FEEL it.

I would point to Iron Man, as well, in the original movie. The outlandish personality of Tony Stark works much better when he's contrasted with his friends and cohorts. Pepper Potts, Obadiah Stane, Happy Hogan, and Jim Rhodes are interesting characters too, and have some banter with Stark, but they contrast with his glib, rapid-fire wit as well. Things aren't as strong when too many characters become ‘Tony Starks’. Granted, I think the strength of Stark managed to stand out throughout most of the movies. Even with other characters being witty, Tony is just way too good at it to not stand out.

It's once again the power of contrast. And of having something extraordinary beside something more “ordinary” in some way. There are many versions of what that might look like.

See you next time!

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hushicho at 12:56PM, Aug. 25, 2023

I don't think you quite get it, especially with Superman. How he relates to his supporting cast defines him, not how much he can lift or how fast he can go -- he will always be up to the task, that's the point of the character. A lot of these characters that are supposedly dependent on others, though, are just hard to write and people are lazy writers. Rainman wouldn't have worked without either of them, especially Hoffman's character. The "straight man" is often important in an act defined as a pair, like Abbott and Costello, but less so when it's someone like Tom Cruise...a passable actor at best, who is good at playing boring white men. Without Dustin Hoffman, that movie would be even more unwatchable than it is.

Genejoke at 3:12AM, Aug. 25, 2023

Another obvious reference you missed, Pirates of the Caribbean. Jack sparrow works best in the first movie because of limited screen time and playing off other characters. Like Hannibal lector, put too much focus on the character and it starts to either fall apart or become unlikeable.

jerrie at 1:43PM, Aug. 24, 2023

Hannibal Lecter, in that Silence of The Lambs movie, in that cell, was one SCARY mother effer. In those scenes, I was going...''please...don't let this guy get out.KEEP him away from society." When he escaped, wearing that cop's FACE? An "OH SH-T! "moment. Then the ENDING..."I'm going to have a friend for dinner...'' for me, that was one of the best Horror movies I ever saw.

J_Scarbrough at 8:19AM, Aug. 24, 2023

This is why most of the greatest comedy duos in history have worked because they were a duo, specifically when one is the straightman and one is the foil: neither are funny on their own unless they have the other to react to their antics, in such cases, the straightman is only funny when he/she reacts to whatever trouble the foil gets them into, and the foil is only funny when he/she gets the straightman into trouble.

Tantz_Aerine at 7:17AM, Aug. 24, 2023

That's very true. Asterix and Obelix work because they bounce off each other so well. Same for Tintin and Captain Haddock. Tintin worked somewhat in the books where he was on his own thanks to Snowy, but the best scenes and the most compelling adventures are those from the moment he and Captain Haddock meet.

PaulEberhardt at 6:10AM, Aug. 24, 2023

Seconded, too. Never underestimate the power of contrast. I'd say the stranger the the story, the more important to becomes to provide some kind of basis of what passes for normal in the world it is set in. That goes both for outlandish and realistic settings.

Ozoneocean at 12:58AM, Aug. 24, 2023

True. You need to have a double act in order for things to work... It's like the old adge that there's no light without darkness. You can't show a big thing without a small thing for context- people focus on the big thing but both items are just as important to getting that message across.

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