A Dreamer Walking

The Sympathy Factor!

Posted in Personal Philosophy by Jacob on November 28, 2010

I watched the movie The Shawshank Redemption last night and was amazed how much sympathy the film was able to create for the main character Andy Dufresne .

Sympathy is one of the greatest leverages a filmmaker has. I do not think it is a good idea to create a completely sympathetic main character right from the start of your movie. The key in The Shawshank Redemption, was how cold and sort of shallow Andy seemed at the beginning of the film. There is nothing audiences like more then a redemption story.

We first meet Andy and immediately think of him as being a lifeless banker who has just killed his wife. However, from that point on we start to understand Andy better and get pulled onto his side.  Our views on Andy do not change quickly, in fact the whole movie is about the redemption of Andy Dufresne.  That is why you do not want to be completely sympathetic towards your main character from the very get-go, it is a process that usually takes the length of the movie to see to completion.  At the end of The Shawshank Redemption we find ourselves completely on Andy’s side, rooting for him to get out of the prison and find the dream home by the beach that he has always wanted.

It is not crucial to make your character out to be completely innocent at the end of the film. Showing that our characters have imperfections and flaws is a good thing, it gives us a way to relate to them. However, sympathy usually comes from the arc that the character goes through from the beginning to the end of the film. With Andy we saw true growth. Andy was a sort of cold character at the beginning of the film but through out the story he was able to find life and change himself  from the inside out. The unfair things that happen to Andy only built onto the empathy we already had for him.

The Sympathy factor in film is crucial. Just make sure your character’s earn the audience’s sympathy. Our sympathy must be built from the love for who the character is on the inside. The unfair stuff is just icing on the cake.

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