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He simply cannot escape these expectations. So, when Robert DeNiro takes on a comedic role, such as the role of the potential father-in-law in Meet the Parents, the moment he comes on the screen, the audience is aware that he is Robert DeNiro, in addition to the character that is being portrayed. Therefore, his character can do things that other characters could not. Who but Robert DeNiro could portray a father who would give an actual lie detector test to his daughter's suitor (Roach)? Another actor who has made a career of playing essentially different versions of the same basic role is Hugh Grant. In each of his films, Grant plays a bit of a romantic doofus, who is handsome, and because he is handsome, has some success with women, but is essentially clueless about women. This is a characterization that he brings to each of his roles. Therefore, when his characters end up being cads, the audience is not even angry with him; they knew he was a cad before the movie even started.
What all of the examples above make clear is that characterization in a film is complex. It involves combining what the character does on screen, what the actor is known for off screen, and whatever is directly said about the character. What this means is that some movies are not at all effective at creating character. Even some of the best and most talented actors have been miscast in movies, where their presence simply did not sell the character correctly. On the other hand, some of the more memorable characters in film were created by relatively unknown actors, who were able to seize upon a role and make that role their own. In fact, the most effective characters in movies are so believable that they become real people in the minds of the audience. One prime example of this is Gregory Peck's portrayal of defense lawyer Atticus Finch in to Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus was not even the main character in the film; the film actually focused on Atticus' daughter Scout, and was her coming-of-age novella. Atticus was a relatively absent father figure, who raised Scout with a type of loving negligence. However, Peck took the role of Atticus and breathed life into it. He dressed the part of a Southern lawyer in the time of the Depression, complete with glasses and sharply ironed clothes, which the audience just knew had been washed and pressed by his hired woman, Calpurnia. Peck was handsome enough to make Atticus attractive, so that the overt flirting by the women in the neighborhood seemed plausible, but not so handsome as to seem fictional (See generally, Mulligan). No wonder then that, when asked who inspired them to enter into the field of law, more lawyers site the fictional Finch than any real life lawyer. That is the power of excellent characterization in a movie; the character becomes a living, breathing human being in the minds of the audience.
This paper will begin with an examination of direct characterization. How do films directly convey information about their characters? Moreover, the paper will investigate whether or not direct characterization is likely to be somewhat dishonest? Do films that have narrators generally have omniscient narrators, or narrators who are limited in the scope of their knowledge? If limited, are these narrators hampered by their lack of total perception? Do the narrators actually convey a direct characterization of the characters in the movie, or does the audience still tend to rely primarily upon its own instincts in order to form opinions about the various characters in a movie?
Next, this paper will examine the five different types of indirect characterization. In the speech section, the author will address not only what a character says, but also how the character says it. Next, the author will examine thoughts, and how film can reveal what a character is feeling even without employing a narrator. Then the paper will look at how characters interact with the other characters in the movie, and how these interactions reveal things about their character. After that, the author will look at how a character's actions reveal details about that character, even more so than speech. Finally, the paper will look at how a character's appearance impacts character perception in a film.
After looking at the five types of indirect characterization, the paper will address some of the more notable characters in films. Each individual examination of a character will reveal how the above five elements can help contribute to a realistic performance. However, examination of the individual roles will also allow the author to examine how external factors can influence how one perceives the character in a movie. The notable roles addressed in this paper include: Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, Atticus Finch in to Kill a Mockingbird, Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Verbal Kint in the Usual Suspects. While there are obviously significant differences in these characters, they are all notable in that they completely conveyed the personality of the character in question.
Most movies do not feature narrators, but some movies do feature narrators, and they contribute to the impression the audience has of the characters. In addition, when another character makes observations about a character in the movie, which is a form of direct characterization. Direct characterization gives the audience information about a character without having to interpret it. In that way, direct characterization takes away the ambiguity that comes along with characterization. However, narrators are not always reliable. In fact, in a movie, the director replaces the traditional omniscient narrator one would find in a book. This makes the narrator obsolete. Therefore, when a director chooses to include a narrator in the book, that choice suggests one of two possibilities. Either that narrator is very reliable, and the director has chosen to include him or her so that the audience can rely upon what the narrator says, or the narrator has an agenda and is included so that he can further that agenda through his narration.
An example of a film with a reliable narrator is the film the Princess Bride. In the Princess Bride, the grandfather is the narrator. He goes to visit his grandson, who is ill. The grandfather and the grandson have a distant, but loving relationship, and the telling of the story serves as a way for him to establish his relationship with his grandson. When the grandfather describes Buttercup, Wesley, or Count Reuben, he accurately describes them physically and emotionally. Therefore, it becomes clear that one is able to rely upon him as a narrator. This trustworthiness permits the audience to embrace those characteristics described by the narrator, so that the narrator truly characterizes the film.
However, what about in instances when the narrator is unreliable? At the start of a film, the audience generally knows nothing about the narrator or any of the other characters in a film. Therefore, when a narrator begins characterizing the people in the film, the audience is generally going to believe what the narrator says unless the narrator is apparently unreliable. Take, for example, Verbal Kint in the Usual Suspects. He narrates the majority of the movie, weaving a tale that places the blame for the crime on another person. It is not until the very last of the movie that it becomes clear that he is unreliable, causing the audience to question his narration. However, that does not mean that the narrator's characterizations do not help create character in a movie; it simply means that the audience has to filter what the narrator has said through what the audience has come to understand about the narrator.
One of the primary things that an actor does is use speech to convey feeling and emotion in a film. Therefore, speech is probably the most important element of characterization. What a character says gives important clues to that character's motivations and beliefs. However, perhaps even more critical than what a character says, is how the character says it. How a character speaks can reveal tremendous details about a character before he even has the chance to say more than a dozen words. For example, speech can reveal accent, which reveals a character's cultural and educational background. Speech-speed can be used as an indicator of speed of thought, which serves as a proxy for measuring character intelligence. Additionally, word pattern and usage can, like accent, reveal educational and cultural background. The timing of words and emphasis on certain words can reveal which elements of the spoken word the character feels are the most important. They can also indicate whether the speaker is a native language speaker or someone who has learned the language later in life. The tone of the speech can also help reveal the true intention behind the words. Finally, an actor's use…[continue]
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