Sunday, May 2, 2010

Redeeming the Bad Boy Hero


An Affair to Remember
My mother used to watch the 2:00 movie every week day afternoon. I would often come home from school to find her eyes and nose red from crying. On one such occassion, I came home in time to see the end of the movie, An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. I have never forgotten the scene where he realizes she is the woman who bought his painting - the woman who cannot walk. This is the same scene discussed in Sleepless in Seattle. Deborah Kerr's characer is supposed to meet Cary Grant's character at the top of the Empire State Building if, after six months, they still love each other and plan to run off to get married. He waits there in a thunderstorm not knowing she has been hit by a car.

I watched the movie again as an adult, as a writer, wondering how they transformed the hero from a playboy into a likeable man worthy of our heroine's love. Most of the small steps taken were shown in the scene where the Deborah Kerr character meets his grandmother.

1. They show animals and children like him, so he must be okay. We are often told that animals and children are instinctually correct about a person's character.
2. His grandmother adores him and we get to see him through her loving eyes. If someone else loves a person we tend to believe they must have some redeeming qualities.
3. He dotes on his grandmother, thus showing his softer, loving side. He even gives her a painting he made of his deceased grandfather knowing how much she loved him.
4. The grandmother tells the heroine her grandson was once an altar boy. We tend to think he can't be all bad if he has roots in the church.
5. He gazes upon the statue in the chapel and then admires the heroine praying. We see signs of some religous beliefs lingering and his growing affection for our heroine.
6. The grandmother tells us he is a talented artist but gave it up because he is such a harsh critic of his own work. We feel a bit sorry for him here.
7. He later tells the heroine that he wants to be worthy of marrying her, so he is going to spend the next six months trying to earn a living. During an interview with his current fiance, he announces he is getting married in six months and he plans to support his wife with his painting. We are shown here that he is still committed to the heroine and the plans they made. (But he still needs to get out of his current relationship. The heroine is watching the interview with her fiance, whom she still needs to leave.)
8. The hero becomes more likable yet when he refuses to sign his own name to his paintings and thus capitalize on his playboy image.
9. We know he has changed his ways when he no longer acts like the playboy even though the heroine did not show up for their meeting.
10. His most heroic move is when he shows he still loves the heroine even though she cannot walk. That is the scene that stole our hearts.

Although we are told repeatedly our hero must be likable, this movie shows you can have a bad boy if you show early on that the character has redeeming qualities. The reader needs to know our hero will be worthy in the end, just like Cary Grant's character did in An Affair to Remember.
Until next week,
Happy Writing!
Tina LaVon

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