A Dreamer Walking

Martin Scorsese- An Observation- Where is the Arc?

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on January 20, 2011

martin-scorsese_M_jpg_627x325_crop_upscale_q85After recently watching three of Martin Scorsese’s most critically acclaimed films, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas, I have noticed one key factor that seems to be true with each one of these films. The main characters stay the same. This is very different from the normal Hollywood film. Or at least the normal critically acclaimed film. Usually we are taught to create an arc for the main character. We need to see them start one way and through their journey learn something new and change because of it. Not really the case with these three Scorsese films.  (If you continue you will hear spoilers for all three of these films).

I am not saying the characters don’t change at all. But all the change we see seems to be a outward change. The soul of the characters stays the same. A good example is Henry Hill in Goodfellas. At the beginning Henry loves the life of being a Gangster. We see how Henry was introduced to the Gangster life and his voice over gives us all the details to why he likes this way of living. At the end Henry rats the gangsters out. However, it has nothing to do with him not liking the gangster life anymore. He even tells us strait up that he misses it. The problem for him is the circumstances changed. He needs to leave the gangster life to save his own neck.

In Taxi Driver the movie ends the same way it began. In fact this was the filmmakers intention. We are introduced to a paranoid man in Travis Bickle. The paranoia becomes so great Travis goes on a killing rampage. Somehow he is hailed as a hero in the public’s eye and starts the cycle all over again. The reason why we know the cycle is going to start all over again is because on the inside nothing has changed with Travis. In Raging Bull the only change in the main character Jake LeMotta is he goes from a famous boxer to a washed up showman.

To be honest, Martin is being more honest to reality in showing these characters with faults that do not really change. For the most part we are unwilling to look at ourselves and make the changes needed to transform who we are on the inside. Martin also is a skilled storyteller and is able to tell intriguing stories even though the his main characters don’t have an arc.

It is interesting to see how the characters life styles and who they are on the inside effect how they deal with outside situations. Seeing Travis’s self loathing and paranoia effect the way he judges situations was interesting to me. Seeing how Jake LeMotta’s mistrust and his obsessions took a hold of him and caused him to lose everything, was also intriguing. For me however these things by themselves leave me unsatisfied.

No matter how good the filmmaker is a story still needs an arc both in the the plot and the characters. I am not nearly as interested in the outward alterations as I am in the inward change. If you are not going to have any change on the inside you should be able to get done with the story much sooner. I knew Travis was crazy in the Taxi Driver thirty minutes into the film. I knew Jake was a good boxer with relationship issues fifteen minutes into the film. I realized that Henry liked the life of being a gangster within the first five minutes of the film.

We only need to go outside to see people who don’t have any inward change. Sadly, the world is full of those kinds of people. However, for me the movies should be different. They should show us growth, both good and bad. I am fine with films that have good people choose to go bad based on the circumstances. That is a interesting observation that if told right will make me think. I also am fine with films that have bad characters change for the good. I am not saying there needs to be a huge change. Not saying  they should go from completely bad to completely good. Just, I want to see a difference the story made on the character. I want to see the inner transformation that takes a master filmmaker to express.

3 Responses

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  1. Stephen said, on January 21, 2011 at 8:37 am

    Very good points.

    I wasn’t really aware of this, though it is most obvious in GOODFELLAS (a film that I think lacks any kind of arc or subtlety).

    What does change, as you refer to, is the appearance of the character as well as the way that character’s personality is manifested. I think as long as something changes (so that there is a properly developed story) then the film will take you with it.

    I think too, to an extent, that Scorsese’s films (especially in the 70s – 90s) involve the same character in different situations.

    • striker49 said, on January 21, 2011 at 11:36 pm

      Well almost all Scorsese’s characters are so obsessed or paranoid about something that it ends up ruining their lives (for the most part). I don’t think all the characters are the same. I agree with you that as long as something changes the film will take you with it, especially in a Martin Scorsese movie. However, I think what interest me the most is inner change, and I feel slightly gipped when nothing really happens with a characters inner self.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. pep said, on October 27, 2015 at 6:58 am

    Even though the characters don’t really “change” do you think that Scorsese makes the main characters sympathetic enough for you to keep watching?


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