Generally, in a conventional film, the principle character will possess these qualities:
* We identify with him or her
* They engage us.
I want to be clear here that we do not necessarily have to like the principle character, but we do have to be engaged by the character; perhaps curiosity is enough. However, in almost every conventional film, the film tries to make the principle character likable. It accomplishes this through any number of ways:
•The character has suffered some kind of loss, or faces some kind of loss •The character is the victim of some kind of injustice.
•The character has done good for some other character
•The character experiences unrequited longing
•The character is in some way vulnerable
•The character is playful or funny
•The character has a clear goal and the drive to achieve that goal •The character has clear motivation for wanting the goal and for being willing to work to achieve the goal
* They are the principle agent of action; generally, they act, or fail to act, and therefore "earn" their dilemma; they act and earn the resolution. * They grow in some way, which means that in some ways, they are naïve at the beginning of the film.
With this laid out, let's look at The Shawshank Redemption, and consider how the film draws us to the principle character in a number of ways:
A. First Impressions
When we first meet Andy Dufresne, he's in distress, waiting outside the bungalow where his wife is having an affair with the golf pro, and so our sympathies are in his favor. Notice that we don't have to know what he's upset about-just that he is upset. Shortly, we find that he is under assault in a courtroom. We do not yet know whether he is guilty or not, but because the film first showed him in distress, and led us to feel concern for him, we cannot shut off that feeling, and so when he's in court, we're in his corner when he's under cross examination by the prosecuting attorney. First impression is the most important impression as a film works to draw us to a character. Think about how other characters are introduced in the film-the first thing we know about Red, for example, is that he's up for parole, and gets denied; we are sympathetic to him, because we are sympathetic toward characters whom we perceive have unrequited desires. When we meet Captain Hadley, what do we first learn about him? He's no nonsense; in the screenplay, he beats Andy on their first encounter. In the final cut, he speaks crudely and in a dismissive way toward the first man off the bus, and then later uses his baton to punish a prisoner who asks an innocuous, if sarcastic, question. The warden: when we first meet him, we know that he is a hard task master. We also know that he will not make life easier for the prisoners, as he refuses to tell them all but one rule (no blasphemy). Notice, too, how in our first meeting of these four characters, we see the first seeds of their function in the film. Andy has to come to terms with himself for being emotionally aloof, and the judge even tells him this when he passes sentence. Also, we learn almost right away what Andy's external goal will be-to get out of prison. For Red: eventually, he gains his release, and in our first meeting, the film already has set that arena for us. Hadley's principle role will be to use violence to move the drama forward-to kill Fat Ass, to threaten Andy on the roof, to rid Andy of Boggs, to kill Tommy-and our first meeting with him also rests in that arena. The warden will eventually bend the rules to his own benefit, by taking kickbacks and bribes for his Inside Out program, and in our first meeting with him, he's telling us that he controls the rules.
B. Secondary characters help establish primary characters
It's not enough to create a primary character, like Andy or Red, and give him the traits appropriate and necessary to move forward the drama of a film....