Monday, 16 January 2012

Anticipation is Crucial for Story Telling

At the weekend I saw two films, War Horse and Iron Lady.  War Horse I had neither read the book nor seen the stage play.  Iron Lady I knew the story well, as it was the story of my own life as I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s.  So, which was the story that had me gripped, the one where I knew the plot or the one I didn't?

Iron Lady was the answer.  War Horse was so filled with cliche that you knew what was going to happen at every turn, and your anticipation was never wrong.  Will the horse and his boy ever meet again?  Well, what do you think?  I don't want to give the plot away, but every plot question was answered in exactly the way you expected.

Iron Lady, on the other hand, had the clever device of switching between Margaret Thatcher in the present (elderly, with the onset of dementia) with her incredible history.  You may have known the history, but you didn't know the present, nor when there were going to be parallels between the past and the present, nor when the switch was going to happen. 

When we read, we often anticipate the ending - the guy gets the girl, the murderer is uncovered, the jewels are found and restored to the rightful owner.  Anticipating the ending doesn't matter; in fact, we'll be disappointed if we don't get the answer we expect.  What we enjoy is not going the route we were expecting, but still ending up in the right place.  That's the trick of story telling: giving us what we expect but not in the way we expected it. 


Eliza Green said...

I was around when Maggie ruled Britain, so I watched the film understanding the background of her time as PM. While the elderly Maggie was a new twist in the tale, I felt the lengthy focus on the present slowed the pace of the film completely. I would have liked to have seen more of her political life and the problems she faced when she was in power.
It's just my thoughts but I went into the film expecting a Frost/Nixon type interpretation.
The film created some anticipation but failed to deliver at the final scene.

Sarah Duncan said...

Interesting - your expectations were different from mine, and so you were disappointed. But hope you agree that it was very clever to create a sense of anticipation from a story which many of us were already very familiar with.

Jan Sprenger said...

Interesting comments on War Horse, a film that so many are raving about.

You might be interested in this article from Laurie Hutzler, as she has a similar opinion: War Horse – Spielberg Loses His Way