Monday, December 29, 2014

TODAY'S NUGGET: Silkwood (1983) - "Likeable" vs. "Empathetic" (Choose the Latter)

[Quick Summary: Karen Silkwood is contaminated for uncovering health hazards at her plutonium plant.]

"I don't like that character."
"He isn't likeable enough."
"Can't you make her more likeable?"

What the hell is "likeability"?

I've discovered over time that if you ask a few more questions, it boils down to this:

People use the word "likeable" when they actually mean "empathetic."

[Heads up writers, your job is to decipher what this shortcut means:

-"I don't like him [because I don't get why he made the decisions that he did]."
- "He isn't likeable enough [because he's always angry for no reason]."
- "Can't you make her more [conflicted/contradictory/complicated]"?]

Nora Ephron's scripts are pure gold for empathetic characters. 

Karen Silkwood is a great example. She makes radical decisions in 1970s Oklahoma. She smokes weed. Her three kids live with their dad in Texas. Her boyfriend can't take the stress and leaves.

Yet we identify with her facing her dilemmas and struggles. 

ex. "DENISE reaches out to hand her half-eaten hamburger to KAREN.

DENISE: I finished.
DONNY (to Drew): Do you still sleep with Mama?
DREW: Yes.

The hamburger drips ketchup all over KAREN'S dress.

KAREN: Oh shit.
DOLLY (without turning around): Don't say that, Mama.

DREW hands KAREN a napkin, sits down at the table.

DONNY: Do you hit Mama?
DREW: Not unless she hits me first."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED:  Our job is to get the audience to empathize (understand) with the characters, not necessarily to approve.

Silkwood (1983)
by Nora Ephron & Alice Arlen

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