Screenwriting Structure — A FEW GOOD MEN — Meeting the Nemesis by Michael Hauge
Michael Hauge: [Regarding A FEW GOOD MEN] That’s pretty much for both the outer journey and the inner journey level, how Stage 1 and Stage 2 work. Now we come to the second key turning point in what I call “The Change of Plans.” This is the moment when the hero has now formulated the goal they want to achieve. In his case, he’s going to get the best plea bargain he can get for these defendants and they begin pursuing it. Now the point to notice if you’re a screenwriter or a filmmaker or even if you’re a novelist, that whatever the outer motivation, whatever this visible goal, your hero is going to pursue, that defines your movie. Your hero shouldn’t start actually pursuing it and taking action to cross that finish line until the beginning go Act 2. You’ve got to take entire 25% of your screenplay just to build up to your hero taking those first steps. Everything up to now has been him gathering information to figure out “What are we going to do?” It’s only when he takes that first step of going to Guantanamo Bay that he is now moving toward the goal. And this is Stage 3 in what I call Progress because his plan is “Okay I’m going to get the facts and I’m going to juggle them around and figure out a way that I can get them off with the least sentence possible” and that is when he meets another key character in the story and that is his Nemesis. That’s my term for the person who is at cross-purposes with the hero. If the reflection [character] is there to help the hero, then the nemesis is going to stop the hero from achieving his goal. He’s the one in opposition. He’s the villain. In this case he’s more like a villain but he could be an opponent if it’s a sport’s story, or it could be a rival if it’s a love story or a romantic comedy. But it’s somebody who goes against the villain.
And when we meet Jessup (Col. Nathan R. Jessup — that’s the Jack Nicholson character), a few things are apparent immediately. One is, he is way way more powerful than (Tom Cruise’s character — Lt. Daniel) Kaffee is. This is a must! When you’re writing a screenplay or a story of any kind, you always want your nemesis to exceed your hero in their power and abilities and strengths and so on. It must seem like it’s going to be impossible for your hero to overcome the Nemesis.
So Jessup has all the power, all the rank, he puts Kaffee down. Kaffee is sort of meek with him and shy and just wants to get out of the situation. He seems almost wimpy in the face of Nathan Jessup, which is exactly as it should be because now we’re involved. Now we realize the conflict is big. And the bigger the conflict the more our emotional involvement is in the story.
So he starts working and working and working toward (Kaffee does) figuring out or putting together defense for them.
Now on the inner journey level, remember he’s got this tug-of-war going on be between his identity, his safe persona that keeps him stuck in a place that is familiar in his comfort zone but he’s not going to lead to any fulfillment. And (by the way) I don’t think I mentioned this, the rule is, if the hero doesn’t move into his essence, if the hero is not able to shed his identity and have the courage to live his truth, he cannot achieve the goal. He doesn’t realize that at the point of the story, he thinks he’ll pursue this goal so he can keep his identity in place. But it will always follow because you (as the writer) are going to make it this way. But unless the hero finds the courage to leave his identity, he’s not going to get that goal.
So now, your hero is vacillating, moving into his essence a bit because he’s got to in order to move closer to the goal. But that becomes very scary because he’s lost his armor or his emotional protection is gone so then he’ll retreat and go back into his identity. So you’ll see when you watch the movie (or if you watch the movie again) as you watch this during this stretch, Kaffee is at times going to seem like a really good lawyer. He’s going to do smart things he’s going to figure out things, he’s going to know how to manipulate things (not Kaffee but some of the other characters). He’s coming up with ideas, other times he just wants to back off, get a plea bargain or whatever until finally (when he realizes his defendants are not cooperating at all) he says “I can’t understand these guys, I’m going to quit. I’m going to get the lawyer replaced.” And he makes that threat right before we reach the next key turning point, what I call The Point of No Return.
Question for the Viewers: What is the Point of No Return in Aaron Sorkin’s movie A FEW GOOD MEN?
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