Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 78: That’s all I need.....a sinking ship!

I like Jack Dawson, he’s a spirited and dauntless kinda guy, I can see what Rose Dewitt Bukater sees in him.

Jack is a young man, who doesn’t blink when faced with conflict, he stares it down alright and if anyone ever faced conflict coming at them from all angles, it was Jack Dawson, one April night in 1912, somewhere out in the North Atlantic.

First, he’s got personal conflict coming at him from all angles: you don’t need me to remind you that Jack is in love with Rose, which in itself is rubbing a lot of people up the wrong way. For a start, there’s Rose’s husband to-be, the dastardly and cowardly Cal Hartley (played indubitably by Billy Zane) and Cal's personal manservant (henchman), Spicer Lovejoy (great character name), both after Jack’s blood. Then there’s Rose’s forlorn and widowed mother - Ruth Dewitt Bukater - who is bent on making her daughter’s marriage a fine match, in order to save the Dewitt Bukater family name and rescue them both financially. On top of that, at any given point in time, Jack has any number of the ship’s pursers and masters-at-arms, chasing him from first class to steerage at the behest of his enemies. Even, the object of his affections - Rose, herself - can get in the way of Jack loving her.

Then there’s his Inner Conflict: Jack’s a free spirit; the mop of hair that falls in front of his eyes, the whole story of him sketching scantily-clad madmoiselles in Paris; he’s a drinker, dancer, lover and a gambler who won his berth on the ill-fated ocean-going liner in a card game. Jack doesn’t suffer fools gladly, likes to dress comfortably and isn’t big on small talk. Outwardly Jack Dawson just hollers that he ain’t the settlin’ down kind; even the prairies of Midwest America are too small to fence him in. Then there’s the class thing: Jack isn’t one for having to mind his P’s and Q’s, stand on ceremony or dress for dinner. Even Jack is questioning whether he wants to get involved with someone of Rose’s standing and give up this ‘freedom’ of his.

If Jack’s Personal Conflicts and Inner Conflicts weren’t enough to thwart his objective of winning Rose’s heart, well, then there’s the matter of the ship that’s about to go down, losing 1490 other souls.

One of the ironic or paradoxical things about the film Titanic, of which I talk, is that the sinking-of-the-ship-story - one of modern times’ most fabled tales - is actually relegated to second place in this movie’s plot and subplot hierarchy. The most important plot, indeed, the Central Plot, is Jack and Rose’s Love Story. Coming in second, is the sinking of the “unsinkable” Titantic. That’s remarkable when you consider it?

But back to our hero, Jack.

Somewhere there, towards the inevitable end, never mind the ship; so unsinkable is our Jack (by the forces marshalled against him), that on top of the fact that he is aboard a vessel that is heading down to Davy Jones’s locker faster that you can say “hello sailor”, his prosecutors up the ante a tad and handcuff him to a pipe or something in a cabin on a level of the ship that has been long-abandoned and in which the flooding waters are rising fast, with not a ship’s cat in sight to help him, just to make things a little tougher.

Maybe one of the reasons that I like Jack is that he rises to a challenge or challenges, he never shirks, no matter what the odds stacked against him. Throughout Titanic, at most given points in time, Jack and/or Rose are always facing at least one form of conflict - Inner, Personal, Extra-Personal - if not two and sometimes conflicts on all three levels at once.

Day #78 Tip: Extra-Personal Conflict: it’s out there
Personal conflict is the hero at odds with others, Inner Conflict is the hero at odds with himself. Extra-Personal Conflict is the hero at odds with just about everything else that’s out there:

Mother Nature: cyclones/tornados (The Wizard Of Oz, Twister), raging seas (The Perfect Storm) quicksand (Lawrence Of Arabia) perilous mountains (Cliffhanger, The Eiger Sanction) rain (Lost In La Mancha).

All forms of man-made malfunctioning technology: a spacecraft (Apollo 13), a skyscraper (Towering Inferno), airplanes (Memphis Belle, No Highway In The Sky) cars (Herbie, Cars), trucks (Duel) ships (The Poseidon Adventure, In Which We Serve) submarines (Das Boot) trains (Brief Encounter)

Institutions: the Catholic Church (The Verdict) the US Government (JFK, All The President’s Men) School (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club) Hospitals (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest)

Big Business: pharmaceutical companies (The Fugitive, The Constant Gardener). Animals: a shark (Jaws) crocodile (Rogue, Black Water) snakes (Anaconda) frogs/toads (Magnolia)

Inanimate objects: a barbed-wire fence (The Great Escape) alcohol (the Lost Weekend, Leaving Las Vegas).

Ideologies: Racism (In The Heat Of The Night, Mississippi Burning, Do The Right Thing), Homophobia (The Laramie Project, Philadelphia) sexism (Working Girl) evil (The Exorcist) illness & disease (The Doctor, Watership Down) the class system (La Cérémonie) terrorism (United 93) prejudice (Three Colours White) madness/insanity (Apocalypse Now).

Conflict comes in many shapes, sizes, colours and forms. The greater the forces of antagonism marshalled against a protagonist, the greater the challenges that he, she or they have to rise to, the more we invest in them, knowing that life is like that for us too. It is not unusual to have the three forms of conflict - Inner, Personal and Extra-Personal - taking place simultaneously, for as Shakespeare rightly said: “...when problems come, they come not single spies”...or something like that.

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