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