July 22: complicating the narrative

I happened to see the last couple of minutes of The Saint with Roger Moore on the telly today. The Saint was a Sixties crime series that I remember liking when I was little. In the couple of minutes I saw Roger Moore saved a girl from a burning building and defeated a baddie. He exited the building after the fist fight with the baddie and escorted the girl back to town and, presumably, his bed. He left the baddie in the burning bilding. Saving him would have complicated the narrative. I remember watching an old adaptation of The Day of the Triffids from the early Seventies quite recently. In that production most of world is rendered blind over night, nearly everyone except the hero and his girl (handily). There is a scene near the end of the film where the hero abandons a group of blind people to their ignominious fate at the tendrils of the Triffids. Again, it would complcate the narrative to have him saving a bunch of blind people. These kinds of neglect are unthinkable in narrative in 2016, narrative complication or not.

In general, it is important for the tone of overall narrative not to condone unpleasant behaviour, although this does not mean that the main characters have to be blameless in their action.If that were the case we would have the anodine narratives of children’s and totalitarian literature. However, if you feel there is a gap between what the author seems to be thinking about his protagonist and what we think of the protagonist then we start to think that the author is not in control of his material. We can see this in some action movies. I remember seeing a film with Sylvester Stallone where he is on a bus and someone refuses to stand up for an old lady and he beats the refusnik into a pulp. We might  feel (and I did) alienated from the stand that the author/director wants us to take. A film, or a novel, always has a moral centre, even if the characters are immoral. Without that, it is difficult to see what is being done by the author on a technical level.

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