Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Importance of Character Development

by Charles Foster Kane

The best stories are, at their heart, about the characters they introduce and how they develop. This is true of films such as 12 Angry Men and even Star Wars. These movies are about people who feel real. Real people change.

Citizen Kane, widely regarded as the best motion picture of all time, is about just one character. However, the fatal flaw of this movie is that this character does not develop, except perhaps in the last minute of his life. The story here should have been about an idealistic young man whose ambitions eventually turn him into a cruel megalomaniac. This would have been a good story about a very depressingly realistic character. But this is not what happens in the film.

Kane is evil from the beginning, the film just shows us all of the bad things he did. He lived a terrible person and died a terrible person. This is not character development. He did not make any choices near the end of the movie that he would not have made at the beginning.

There is a difference between a change in scenery and actual development. Suppose a character is unhappy at the beginning of a story because he or she does not have something. At the end he or she is happy after getting that thing. This character has not necessarily developed. The world around that character is what has developed – if the character had that thing at the beginning of the story, he or she would have acted the same way. In Citizen Kane, the situation is somewhat reversed, but it’s still the scenery changing, not Kane himself.

While watching the film, I was never invested in Kane’s character because he never showed any good side to him. A character who began with some kind of kindness or integrity would have made me care about him before his downfall.

If you make a movie about a character pushing people away from him his whole life, what is there to draw the audience in?

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