David Cronenberg, Subplots, and Plot Twists
July 25th, 2014
On a recent trip to Amsterdam to the EYE (national museum of film) I visited the major exhibition of director David Cronenberg’s work. One section, featuring clips and information about his film, A History of Violence, reminded me of this powerful work that I also referenced in my book, Savvy Characters Sell Screenplays! – specifically in the chapters in which I discuss subplots and plot twists.
In this family, we do not solve problems by hitting people!
No, in this family, we shoot them!
Tom slaps his teenage son, Jack.
In A History of Violence (screenplay by Josh Olson), family man and small town Indiana diner owner, Tom Stall, becomes a local yet reluctant hero after he shoots two thugs, who attempt to rob him. National news coverage of this event prompts the arrival of Fogarty and his two henchmen from Philadelphia to confront Tom.
Plot twists can be illustrated through character revelations; who they truly are and what they are capable of doing for survival, loyalty, love, and so on, or during the story when an unexpected event occurs. In the case of this film, the plot twist unfolds when it is revealed that Tom Stall is not only Joey Cusack, an ex-killer from Philadelphia—but he has kept his true identity secret for twenty-years from his wife and their two children. Hence the title A History of Violence -- the underlying meaning for Tom Stall centers on his own personal history of violence.
There is nothing more satisfying to an audience when they are taken by surprise, but plot twists should be true to your story and not tacked on just for the shock element.
One subplot of the film centers on the school bully, who continuously taunts Tom’s teenage son, Jack, who does nothing to protect himself. However, after Tom’s notoriety as a hero, Jack decides that confronting the bully is the right choice to make, which supports the themes in the main plotline of violence and identity.
Subplots can enhance the major themes and settings of your script -- they can also help to inform the main plot and can be used to propel the main plot forward.
Subplots can be used to: 1) Push the main plot in a direction that the main plot could not achieve on its own; 2) Parallel the main plot and not directly affect the main plot, but it should provide supporting information about characters, plot conflicts, stakes, setting, genre, and so on; and 3) Convey information about your main characters and the main plot that cannot otherwise be learned.
From the EYE Web site:
From 22 June through 14 September, EYE presents a major exhibition focusing on director David Cronenberg, who acquired cult status with his idiosyncratic films about the relationship between body, mind, technology and mass media. The exhibition explores Cronenberg’s world through the main themes of his films: the physical and psychological transformation of his characters.
Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker Susan Kouguell is chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, and industry executives worldwide. (www.su-city-pictures.com). Her short films are in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection and archives, and Whitney Museum’s Biennial. Kouguell worked with Louis Malle on And the Pursuit of Happiness, was a story analyst and story editor for many studios, wrote voice-over narrations for (Harvey Weinstein) Miramax and over a dozen feature assignments for independent companies. Susan wrote THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself) Without Selling Out! and SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises, available at $1.00 off on https://www.createspace.com/3558862 and using DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD. On Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009SB8Z7M (discount code does not apply). Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell on Twitter, and read more articles on her blog: http://su-city-pictures.com/wpblog/
About the Author
Susan Kouguell, award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, is the author of THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER and SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! A comprehensive guide to crafting winning characters with film analyses and screenwriting exercises (available at $1.00 with DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD: https://www.createspace.com/3558862 ). Susan is a regular contributor to Indiewire/SydneysBuzz, Script Magazine and The Script Lab.
Kouguell teaches screenwriting at Purchase College, SUNY and presents international seminars. As chairperson of Su-City Pictures East, LLC, a motion picture consulting company founded in 1990, Kouguell works with over 1,000 writers, filmmakers, executives and studios worldwide. Recipient of many grants and fellowships, including the MacDowell Colony, Jerome Foundation, New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Edward Albee Foundation, Kouguell’s short films are in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection and archives, and were included in the Whitney Museum’s Biennial. Kouguell worked with director Louis Malle on his film And the Pursuit of Happiness, was a story analyst and story editor for many studios, (Paramount, Viacom, Dustin Hoffman’s Punch Productions), wrote voice-over narrations for (Harvey Weinstein) Miramax and over a dozen feature assignments for independent companies. www.su-city-pictures.com. Follow Susan at Su-City Pictures, LLC Facebook fan page and SKouguell on Twitter, and read more articles on her blog: http://su-city-pictures.com/wpblog/.