So we have this theory here at the The God Project Dot Net that Hollywood’s so-called standard “story structure” is based upon the New Testament. This is probably not a conspiracy. Cause and effect are not clear because the “Passion of the Christ” (actual, not Gibsonized) is structured similarly to even earlier stories.
The story of Jesus’ life caught on so spectacularly in the past twenty centuries because it is perfectly shaped — organized in that mysterious way that seems for some reason to work, again and again.
What’s is the perfect story? Thanks for asking. A few years ago, we spent time studying dozens of classic films, outlining their structure. Not sure why, exactly. We were young and stupid. Details of these stories differed but contours were eerily the same.
Here’s our prototypical outline with examples from various popular films to make it tangible. Next time we’ll explain the New Testament connection (hinted here).
(Numbers represent minutes, assuming 120 minute length)
Act I – “Traveling”
0-10 minutes: Hero introduced with major flaw that implies his goal (i.e., Rocky is a loser: goal therefore is to win)
10: Something unexpected happens to the Hero that shakes up his life (Luke’s adoptive parents are killed in Star Wars)
20: A meeting or a landing (spaceship touches down in Alien). Hero has formed a team to help him meet his challenge (beep beep R2D2)
30: Enemy does something short, sharp and shocking. Stakes are raised. (Bus blows up in Speed)
This starts an odd mini-war that Hero appears to win. (Alien escapes and appears to die … but did it?)
Act II – “Love”
40: Day dawns. A change of scene. After the unsettling mobility of Act I, we spend 20 minutes or so from 40-60 getting to know the characters so we care more what happens.
We see the Hero with the thing most important to him (family, lover, child). (Mel spends time with buddy’s family in Lethal Weapon; Sandra does same in While You Were Sleeping)
60 (half-way): “The Reversal” — a sudden big physical event that hits the Hero close to home and out of the blue. All-out war is declared between Hero and Enemy. (Stinger missiles surround the building in Die Hard; Benjamin goes on his first date with Elaine in The Graduate)
Around 70-75 the Hero “lets go” — s/he takes a leap of faith, commits totally to the situation. (Jane Eyre admits her love to Rochester)
Act III – “War”
80: Day dawns. A change of scene. (They go to San Francisco in Pretty Woman)
Hero realizes to his/her dismay that s/he’s in love. Or there’s a killer in the woods. The final goal becomes more clear — and it’s not exactly what s/he thought. (Benjamin realizes he wants to marry Elaine; Melanie’s boss comes back in Working Girl)
90: “The Revelation” — often a major betrayal by somebody close to the Hero (realizes the Mens’ Association is making robots in Stepford Wives); all secrets are out now (Jodie sees killer is “making a dress” in Silence of the Lambs)
The next 20 minutes are a series of thrusts-and-parries.
100: Hero battles an underling of the Enemy
110: Final confrontation in a precarious location (dangling in the sky in Air Force One). The Hero seems to die (Culkin is captured by robbers; boathouse blows up in Body Heat). His old self dies. Then he rises again …
(see the New Testament parallel here, sisters?)
115: … to defeat the Enemy …
120: … and embrace the life s/he had before more fully. The end.