Variables of Realism – Part 1

Something I’ve observed in my study of storytelling in literature, on stage, and on screen, is that characters are all so different from each other—like in real life. This is one instance that art patterns closely after reality. Then again, sometimes deliberately, characters are so strange and unrealistic (on purpose) to tell a strange or exagerated story. But I want to write a little about the first group: the authentic-to-reality characters.

The group of students counting cards in the movie "21."

The group of students counting cards in casinos in the movie "21"

I was watching the new release (on DVD) 21 the other day, so I’ll use it as an example. You don’t need to bother watching this film. It was pathetic. I’m not even going to give it a review. One of its huge flaws I saw was the weak characters. While the film tried to maintain a sense of authenticity with a little glamour added to the real world, they did a poor job of authentically molding several of the characters.

The characters made choices that up to a point you wouldn’t expect them to take.One way or the other, the characters were being inconsistent with two sets of values: what would be true to their characters, or what would be true to the intelligence of an equal person in the real world. The first flaw, not true to their character, is harder to judge altogether, unless there’s an instance obviously contradictory to that character.

An example of this in 21 was from the main character. The guy wants to go through medical school at Harvard. It is all that he’s ever wanted to do. He never wanted to work in any other capacity escept in medicine, and he never wanted to go to a different school. As it play out, you learn that if it wasn’t for school, he’d probably still be living in his mother’s house (you get the impression father has past away).

He is committed to a project with friends to develop a robot on a GPS system. They’ve been working on the robot for more than a year together intensively—like full-time nerds. All of this is to set the stage of happens at the end of act 1.

The main guy gets an offer to join a select group led by his favorite teacher to go to casinos and count cards. Why would they do this? to make lots of money and have lots of fun in the process. Long story short, our main man joins the group because he trusts his teacher, wants to get to know a girl that is in the group, and needs more than $300,000 for tuition. He sure of himself that when he’s got the money to do that he’ll leave the group.

Now, here’s the big flaw: As issues with the group of casino counters rise and the pressure is turned on their job to rip the casinos off, this gets in the way of his former time with his closest friends. Friends our main man would tell anything. Knowing these friends, they would have kept all of this development a secret—the casino playing—if the main man had wanted them to. COnsidering the rest of their poor morality, they would not have held it against him for any lack of virtue. They would’ve done the same thing in his shoes.

The main man has a climatic moment or two with his old best friends where he refuses to tell them what’s going on. It’s obviously interfering with their relationship to the point of ridiculousness, and he won’t tell his best friends. He can’t maintain his end of designing the robot together, so rather than explain that his life and free time is all absorbed in the casino group and his new girlfriend, he just remain silent and walks away from his friends without giving them so much as a lie to cover his inconsistency. [I bring up that he could’ve lied about it because he was willing to lie to his mother for the same reason.]

Why couldn’t he tell his friends? To be continued…

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