Good vs. Evil. It’s a fairly common theme in story, and it paints a very thick line between the two opposing forces. Often enough (at least in classical literature), the protagonist and antagonist have a conflict that surrounds “they’re good” and “they’re evil.” Of course, it makes for much better storytelling if there’s more at stake, but sometimes good and evil simply act without great cause.
Travel Robeez Planet Rouge Planet Robeez I’m sure you realize this is not the only protagonist-antagonist dynamic that can exist in a story. Sometimes both sides want something, regardless of whether it is good or evil; the trouble then becomes that they both want it. Other times they have completely different goals, but in getting them, they butt heads.
In some cases, the forces might not even know they oppose each other; after all, the rock in 127 Hours doesn’t actively try to pin down Aron Ralston’s arm. It simply does.
Planet Robeez Robeez Travel Planet Rouge Rouge Planet Robeez Robeez Travel Planet This opposition between the protagonist and antagonist creates the central conflict in your story. Whatever is trying to stop your protagonist from achieving his or her goal becomes an obstacle, and getting over that hurdle becomes the conflict.
There is not always one clear antagonist; sometimes a slew of opposition can meet your central character from a whole host of directions. Still, the antagonist(s) need(s) a reason to want to take your protagonist down — and that’s something I’ve been struggling with lately.
At least, this has been a problem to the degree that certain films don’t have a constant antagonist, and even when they do, their goal isn’t always to destroy (figuratively or literally) the protagonist. Sometimes they even have good intentions, its just that their goals conflict.
I find this is often the case in coming-of-age films. If you ask me, the stakes are already high from the start because you’re dealing with adolescence, which is a shared, human experience that truly and honestly sucks. The rate of change in a young person’s life (and what that change entails) is alarming, and frankly I’m surprised anyone lives past twenty-one.
But more importantly, young people are not always faced with enormous odds — they just might seem that way because they’re young. After all, common antagonists in the lives of our youth — parents, teachers, other wily young people — are not always out to get them. Sometimes they just want to help and are thoroughly misunderstood.
This doesn’t mean the goals of the antagonists and protagonists don’t conflict (if mom wants her son to go to bed but he wants to watch TV, there’s conflict), but they aren’t exactly fate-of-the-world, life-or-death sorts of situations. So what makes them work?
For example, The Sandlot B840RA Rishon Dark Royal B Boy Navy Geox qAxta7nPfollows some neighborhood boys who lose a ball over their neighbor’s fence (essentially) and has, if you ask me, no clear antagonist until they lose that ball. At first, Scott Smalls (the lead) has to overcome his own inability to play baseball, which is mocked by his peers and unaddressed by his busy stepfather, who refuses to make time to teach him. But once that’s taken care of, they play with great success, even beating an opposing team (another antagonist, but one swiftly dispatched).
It’s about halfway through the film that they finally lose the ball — signed by Babe Ruth — over their neighbor’s fence, where a vicious dog known as The Beast is guarding it. Now there’s a clear antagonist, whose goal is directly opposed to the boys’ — to keep the ball. But it isn’t for any reason other than he’s a dog and it’s a ball — its not like he’s going to sell it at auction and make a profit, or that he hates kids — he’s just a dog.
What makes The Beast an effective antagonist in this case is the fact that the boys think he’s going to kill them. He might not be capable of such an act, as we learn at the end, but they are still deathly afraid of this dog — which significantly raises the stakes. Still, he isn’t a danger or threat for the first half of the film — when they lose a regular old ball to The Beast, they just get another one.
Robeez Robeez Planet Planet Rouge Travel In my own life, I’ve found that there’s hardly ever somebody out there actively trying to undermine me. The greatest obstacles I ever have to overcome include fatigue, unreliable public transportation, inability to purchase alcohol (as a minor), long lines at the coffee shop…things I can’t control, but that aren’t out to get me either. I highly doubt the bus driver is trying to be late to my stop.
Not that my life is a story worth following (I mean, I think it is, but that’s cause I’m living it), but isn’t it possible for there to be protagonists who aren’t opposed by someone or something that aims to destroy them (either literally or figuratively)? Instead, can the opposition be circumstantial — and still carry as much weight?
By circumstantial, I mean that the antagonist happens to be in the way of the protagonist, and vice versa. If this is going to work, I’d say that the relationship between the two has to be strong enough to merit conflict, besides them having common or, at the least, conflicting goals.
Such a relationship might include father and son, such as in Dead Poets Society. Neil Perry, for all intents and purposes, is going to be the protagonist in my assessment here. Enough sources argue it’s Todd Anderson, but while we see the story unfold through Todd’s eyes, it’s Neil’s actions that move the narrative forward; Todd is mostly an observer. And as for it being Mr. Keating, while the film is about his class, it follows the story of the students more closely, not the teacher. He is their motivation; what they do with that “carpe diem” credo is the ensuing story.
Anyway, Neil’s direct antagonist is his father, who is controlling, demanding, and forces him to attend Welton Academy. He insists Neil stick strictly to his scheduled courses in order to pave the way for his becoming a doctor, not allowing Neil to even audition for a play — let alone star in it (which he does).
However, this isn’t out of a desire to keep Neil from doing what he loves. In a way, Neil’s father’s intentions are good: he wants his son to get a steady, well-paying job. He might be overzealous, but he’s just trying to give his son a chance in the world.
In regards to the strength of their relationship: Neil is facing his father, the man who has (and always had) the most influence and control over his life. There’s obedience, rebellion, love, hate, a whole family dynamic in there that makes the conflict broil. Mr. Perry isn’t trying to harm his son, it’s just that Neil’s desires conflict with his own.
As much as I hate to say it, in the end (spoilers), it isn’t Neil’s father who kills him — it’s Neil. Of course, Todd voices what we’re all thinking at that point: that Mr. Perry pushed him too far and, in a way, did the killing himself. But did he pull the trigger? No.
I suppose my point here is that the intentions and actions in a protagonist-antagonist relationship are not the same, sometimes not even similar from film to film. It’s not always so clear-cut as good vs. evil. Granted, even when that is the prevailing conflict, there are other issues that arise: in the Planet Robeez Robeez Planet Rouge Travel Harry Potterfranchise, Harry doesn’t simply want to kill Voldemort because he’s evil. It’s also because he murdered his parents and is actively trying to kill Harry, along with just about all of his friends.
If you ask me, coming-of-age is a genre in which the line between protagonist and antagonist is, while not more thinly drawn, perhaps…undulating? Young people’s intentions and desires are so vastly different from those of fully-grown adults — its as if they’re an entirely different species. It’s precisely why The Beast wants the ball — he’s a dog.
Why does Neil want to be in a play? He’s a kid finding and expressing himself. That’s not to say adults can’t (or don’t) try and find themselves either, but I find that enough of them have already decided they’ve got themselves figured out.
However, the fact that I’m nineteen might mean all of my views expressed here are skewered by the very thing that makes coming-of-age a unique genre: adolescence. I have yet to be deliberately thwarted by a situation that puts my life, future, and/or loved ones in grave danger. My priorities (and those of other young people) are different than those of adults active in and contributing more to society.
Rouge Robeez Robeez Planet Planet Travel But does that mean I’m wrong?