Broken Pieces

I saw Silver Linings Playbook the other day and loved it (it is currently my favorite of this year’s Oscar nominations). For many reasons, really. Like the brilliantly intelligent script that doesn’t talk down to its audience, some great cinematography, stellar acting and so on. But what really got me was how the protagonists were just so broken. No, not their lives; they were broken. There’s a difference.

Let’s take Uncharted. Nathan Drake is not a broken person. Sure, he’s got crappy luck but he’s a whole person and never finds himself completely lost and gone.

Cloud Strife of Final Fantasy VII, on the other hand, is broken. Events prior to the game traumatized him into adopting the identity of someone else. When this illusion comes crashing down he is left a quivering, paralyzed husk. Cloud is compelling due to his need to put himself together to beat the villain. This is accentuated all the more by the help his friends provide. That’s what a broken character is.

Another example? Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly is in pieces. He saw everything he believed in abandon him in the Unification War and now he’s stuck living in the ruins. His demons haunt him and shadow everything he does. Mal doesn’t want to get too attached to his crew for fear that he might leave them, but he does anyway and hates to mention it. He never came back from the war and he can’t; the man just wants to find some semblance of Home. His brokenness isn’t just a motivation: it’s his very being. When Mal makes a sarcastic biting remark he’s not trying to be funny, it’s him masking his pain.

 See, what makes broken characters broken is their traits, complications if you will. They have their goals but their personal complications get in the way. It’s an incredible sort of internal conflict. A guy has to defeat himself to defeat the villain.

Iron Man 2 features a broken Tony Stark. Sure, his brokenness not as developed as the characters in Silver Linings Playbook (more on that in a bit), but he still works as an example. What’s wrong with Tony? He’s realized he’s dying, the hero schtick isn’t working out and he’s lost. So he does stupid things and alienates everyone near him. In order for Tony to beat Vanko he first has to deal with his own issues. Only when he gets past his brokenness can the plot continue.

But that’s when there’s a villain. Silver Linings Playbook has no classical villain. See, Pat has issues. A lot of them. As does Tiffany, the female protagonist. They’re cruel and sarcastic to try and compensate for their hurt. What we get from the movie isn’t some story where the protagonists have to overcome some obstacle so they can fall in love, they have to get past themselves.

It’s unusual for a cinematic romance; two characters having to become someone worth loving in order to be loved. It’s painful as we find out why these characters are who they are and it’s crushing to watch them fail and hurt each other. But more than that it’s honest; an honest look at brokenness and damaged people.

It’s different and it makes for a compelling story. So yeah, Silver Linings Playbook is my pick for Best Picture, ‘cuz it’s a love story about broken people. Go watch it.

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