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Tag Archives: Oscars 2016
It’s hard to say how much knowing what happens in a story affects our enjoyment of it. We live in the age of the spoilerphobe, where nerds like me abandon social media in the days leading up to a major release for fear of having significant plot points or major twists revealed too soon. But in Shakespeare’s day, everyone more or less knew the ending ahead of time, and the lack of novelty didn’t lessen the draw. That’s a reminder that what the story is need not, and arguably should not, overshadow how the story is told.
Which is to say, I’m not sure how much the greater effect of Spotlight was lost on me given that I already knew a decent amount about the molestation scandal within the Catholic Church that played out in the newspapers and on our television screens for years after the time depicted in the film. The movie is, if not exactly a mystery, then certainly a story of the intrepid reporters of the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team starting a small investigation and slowly but surely uncovering how widespread a pathology there was.
Caution: This review contains major spoilers for Brooklyn.
Dan Harmon, the creator of Community, is known for several things — his trademark bottle of vodka, his tendency to spill his guts to audiences full of strangers, and also his Story Circle. The Story Circle is a device that Harmon uses to create nearly any story he writes or supervises. It consists of eight steps for how a narrative ought to progress under his watch: 1. A character is in a zone of comfort; 2. But they want something; 3. They enter an unfamiliar situation; 4. Adapt to it; 5. Get what they wanted; 6. Pay a heavy price for it; 7. Then return to their familiar situation; 8. Having changed.
Brooklyn is basically “Story Circle: The Movie.” Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) may not have the best life in Ireland, but she is certainly comfortable there. And yet she hopes and wants for a better life than any she could expect to have where she grew up. So she moves to Brooklyn, and the unfamiliarity of her new situation is hammered home in every interaction she has, from the coaching she receives from a more experienced Irish immigrant that she meets on the boat to America, to the snotty comments she hears from the more experienced residents in her boarding house who better understand the local culture, to the homesickness that plagues her in her quieter moments.
Despite a number of well-crafted elements, the success or failure of The Martian absolutely depended on Matt Damon’s performance in the lead role. It’s true that, in contrast to spiritual predecessors like Gravity and Castaway, the film was not a one-man show, instead featuring a murderer’s row of stellar supporting players. What’s more, its narrative thrills were not limited to its protagonist’s adventures on Mars; The Martian told an equally compelling story of what was happening back home.
But Damon’s Mark Watney, and his lonely trials and tribulations on a desolate planet, were the lifeblood of the film, commanding the lion’s share of its run time and focus. That meant that for much of the movie, Damon alone had to convey his character’s distress, his resolve, his humor, and his humanity, with no one but the camera to talk to. And despite that handicap, he succeeded with flying colors. Few major roles share the degree of difficulty of Damon’s here, where the main character spends much of the film in solitude, with little in the way of major plot developments or action to maintain the energy of the picture, and the performance Damon delivered with that backdrop more than lived up to the challenge.