Capable Idiots: Protagonist Arch-Type?

A Study Of The Stupid

At A Glance…

Many film Protagonists come off as “smooth operators” but when given the opportunity to put out the fires in their own lives, time and again it seems as though they prefer to use gasoline instead of water.

In the last 24 hours I’ve watched a couple films,”The Big Sleep”-1946, “The Maltese Falcon”-1941, “Goodfellas”-1990, “Blood Simple”-1984. As I’m writing this I’m watching Blood Simple, the Coen Brothers’ first film, this is is my first time watching it. 

It’s Man’s Film!…

I want to start by saying that my “palate”, my understanding and philosophies in regards to film, come from a very culturally, gender, and racially biased place. Meaning, I grew up watching mainly American films with predominantly white casts, usually told from the man’s perspective.

I Thought It Was…

Ironically enough, to my pleasant surprise, Frances McDormand, a female, is the “true” lead here. Initially, it came off as a couple’s getaway kind of thing. But like the Coen’s so often do, they flaunt convention, MY IDEA of conventions. However, in this film it seems to be a case of stretching a dime for budget’s sake, I’m all for it. 

We Can’t Look Away

Not to go too deep into plot; I’d like to do a proper essay on this film, but in a nutshell, the Protagonists pretty much make one “bad” choice that provokes an exaggerated reaction that this then followed by stupid choice, after stupid choice resulting in as many corpses. Maybe that’s why the name “Blood Simple” there isn’t too much depth here, as far as thinking goes, but the impact of the actions are profound, a common thread in the Coen Brothers’ films.

But Don’t Know Why

Then look at Goodfellas, Henry Hill, our film’s protagonist and narrator proclaims in the Opening Scene, after shutting the trunk of his car on a man his so-called friends just killed, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster,” it’s probably safe to assume his story isn’t going to end happily-ever-after. All the same, we’re drawn in. I want to know why.

The Battle Within, The Arc

Most characters in films if you pay attention have what is referred to by some as an “arc”, a trajectory or course their story follows usually broken down into either 3 or sometimes 4 acts before reaching the resolution. 

[Oversimplified Example 1: Poor boy grows into a rich man, who is consumed by greed and destroyed by it; GOODFELLAS] 

[Oversimplified Example 2: Pregnant teen decides on adoption, gets cold feet, but ultimately follows through with proceedings; JUNO]

Wether one agrees with the choices of the character, philosophically isn’t of significance here, as much as the gravitational pull of the actions. Like witnessing a car crash or a crime, we’re repulsed, we’re supposed to look away but you peek through your fingers. How is this going to end?  

Capable Idiots

The appeal one would have to think lies in the excitement one feels watching something that should fall apart hold itself together either by wit, luck or shear power of will. Like when a character says “That just might be crazy enough to work” we don’t say it out loud ourselves but subconsciously we’re right there… (That shit might work, huh?! Indiana Jones, you’re so crazy!) 

But then, the opposite has to also be the case right? When we watch something that we know should, and will, but we very much don’t want to happen; watching that unfold is equally, if not more exciting because it places our “HERO” in CLEAR-AND-PRESENT-DANGER, more Akin to a Horror Film. 

“Menace II Society”-1992, Directed by the Hughes Brothers was as terrifying a cinematic experience as any Alfred Hitchcock-Directed film, because of the choices of our “Capable Idiot”. Caine, our maybe-not-so-ironically-named Protagonist, from the Opening Scene, where HE IS an unsuspecting accessory to robbery-homocide, makes a decision to be a part of this world. One could argue, he had no alternative due to conditioning. Or, one could argue he was presented 2 alternatives, Kansas with Stacy and Sharif, and Atlanta with Ronnie. He reluctantly agrees to move to Atlanta but by now Caine’s fate is all but sealed. A carload of masked gunmen pull up to the house where Caine is staying and he is left to die, bleeding out on the sidewalk. The filmmakers end the film as Caine is in mid-thought, gasping for air, fade-to-black! No Closure.

Is it empathy or sympathy? Envy, maybe? Whatever it is that attracts us to the “Capable Idiot”, it will take further reflection and a proper entry, because as proud as I am with how this turned out, we didn’t actually speak on the “Capable Idiot” as a conscious being, their possible motives, phobias, etc., so much as we brushed over the nuance of their existence in relation to a film.

This is my first actual post about film and to be honest I may have overlooked some things, but as I’m writing this I’m very conscious of “Non-Idiot” Protagonists, played by Denzel Washington, John Wayne and so-on, so for me, this looks like the beginning of a Thread within a Thread, “Protagonists”; ARTISTIC. But for the fear of putting people to sleep, I think I’m going to bring this entry to a close.

As a lover of words, I will make it a point to end every post with a dope quote from a film I love.

“I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” – Alvy Singer; “ANNIE HALL”,-1977

To anyone who’s made it this far, I thank you and I appreciate you!

¡Executives, Mañana! 🖤🗽✌🏾

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