Saturday, May 9, 2009

home sweet home

This week we took a look at Junebug, a personal favorite but also a good example of what is known as the "Co-Protagonist." In Junebug Madeline (on the left) goes home to North Carolina with her husband. There she meets Ashley (on the right) and the two strike up a sort of unlikely friendship. The co-protagonist is the sort of character most often seen in "buddy pictures" and that could mean everything from "The Sure Thing" to "Lethal Weapon." The key role of your co-protagonist is to show the protagonist an alternate way. Up to this point the protagonist has been getting by with a malfunctioning sense of self or the world. In Madeline's case she's a somewhat career obsessed art dealer who has distant and breezy relationships with those around her. We get the sense that her family life was somewhat cold and that she's never had a deep love life up to this point. She's lukewarm on the idea of having children (which is fine - but for her it's more of an emotional issue in that she doesn't have the capacity for loving a child).
Ashley on the other hand, is not at all worldly or even all that well educated, but she knows love. She knows how to be a good friend. She knows how to treat people around her as "real" as opposed to Madeline who sees her husband's family in a distant and perhaps even ironic way. She views his brother as a child. His father as a potential artist for her gallery. One isn't sure what she makes of Ashely though I suppose she views her as tragic in some ways. As for the mom... Madeline knows that this woman can see right through her.
The co-protagonist is there to teach the main character lessons. They have in abundance what it is that the main character is lacking. Ashley teaches her (0r us) about being a good friend. She teaches her about being gracious and loving. She even teaches her in an indirect way about the importance of being there for one another. Madeline, in attempting to help her brother in law with a book report on Huckleberry Finn is given the opportunity to learn something; that she is not viewing her husband's family as real people. We're never told whether or not she learns these lessons. It's left very much up to us to decide what she knows. In the classic "independent cinema" fashion, it is the audience who learns if not the main character. In The Sure Thing (not a good film, by the way- I just saw it recently so it's a fresh example in my head) the co-protagonist changes the protagonist- she teaches him about the importance of Love as opposed to "the sure thing" meaning easy sex. It becomes something he values and needs by the end. The key to making your co-protagonist more than just a sidekick is to give them the keys needed to unlock your protagonist's deepest and most painful need.
Next week we'll go camping with Joan Crawford in 1932's "Rain."

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