Much of our viewing consumption, whether at the cinema or through streaming services, has grown stale. There is a repetitiveness to the story structure, genre, theme, and the subliminal messaging. Superhero stories predominate, and what’s worse, the sequel-generating machine has diminished the spark that may have existed in the original. The disconnected and visually numbing Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, is a case in point.
What’s the reason for this? I’d venture a lack of originality and character authenticity which the presence of the brand alone can’t compensate for. Then there’s the easy access to tons of tv series and films on streaming services which has educated audiences about the tricks that go into a story. Formulas are exposed for being just that—formulas. Add the avalanche of cardboard characters and limp story lines and you get the picture.
So, what’s the remedy? My instinct is to go back to creating strong, authentic characters driven by credible goals, hopes and ambitions—characters who harbour wounds and secrets, and who are immersed in situations, albeit fantastical on occasion, that we find believable.
“We should banish what is stale in our stories by getting back to the basics, by concentrating on originality and verisimilitude.”
One of the things that makes Chinatown a great story is the power of the wounds and secrets that Evelyn Malwray harbours. These drive the entire story—wounds and secrets whose consequences affect the characters, generate subtext, and create story questions. And what a staggering reveal late in the story when Evelyn finally comes clean to Jake Gittes!
Citizen Kane too is an enduring classic in no small part because Kane has a painful secret that the audience is dying to know. Indeed the whole film is predicated upon unraveling the meaning of the word ‘Rosebud’ uttered by Kane on his deathbed. The theme that is encoded in that word—that the value of family outweighs material wealth and fame, also lends the story a transcendent meaning that elevates it and keeps it resonant and fresh. If only we could inject such verisimilitude into the current parade of stories.
Many stories have fallen prey to stale, repetitive formulas, plots, and shallow characters swimming in the sludge of endless franchises of dubious worth.