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Technomancer and troubleshooter by trade. Programmer by choice. Creator of Deviant Paradigm, somewhat by accident.
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Sunday, December 02, 2007
Heroic Deaths (A Short Analysis)
I got into a disagreement about the validity of deaths for heroes, and in particular the necessity of deaths in a story with a fellow forumgoer at TwoKinds the other day. I thought I'd use the thought I put into that argument (it was a friendly argument, don't worry) and do a bit of explanation here. Based on my experiences with cinema, there are generally three kinds of "heroic" deaths (note that heroes don't always die heroic deaths, but they're the most common): the Redeeming Death, the Poetic Death, and the Inspiring Death.
The Redeeming Death, while being heroic, isn't actually a death for heroes. The Redeeming Death is almost always reserved for the foil of a story. The reason that this death is important is because of its finality. The foil has spent the whole story, teetering between good and evil. Through their sacrifice, they help the heroes complete some objective, and by dying, they prove that they're good at heart -- they secure their place in Heaven, more or less. The finality is important because it leaves no doubt in anyone's minds where the foil now falls. They can't switch sides back to evil now; they're locked into good.
The Poetic Death is common for a lot of Asian cinema (Hero is a spectacular example). It's the ending for Romeo and Juliet as well, what I call, "everyone dies happily ever after." Dying in your lover's arms, or some other "meaningful" death that really is simply designed to tug at your heart strings. I'm not always in favor of these deaths -- many of them would be more striking to have the character live on with the consequences of their previous actions (as my fellow forumgoer pointed out). However, they make for a nice wrap-up sometimes, and, if properly executed, can leave the audience in tears.
The Inspiring Death is actually something I enjoy. The Inspiring Death is that moment of self-sacrifice where the character dies in saving others. These sorts of deaths challenge the viewer to become something better than themselves. United 93 showcases this sort of death. Due to my worship of heroes, an Inspiring Death almost always leaves me in tears. I can feel that challenge to rise above myself deep in my heart. These deaths are incredibly powerful from a storytelling perspective. The mark of a true master is providing the same effect without the impact of death (see Shindler's List, which does this with an artistic precision I've never seen since).
The Inspiring Death is that which haunts us. We forget the Redeeming Death, the Poetic Death lingers, but only in that it was poetic. But the Inspiring Death? Done right, we will never forget it. We do not forget sacrifice. We should never forget those who stand. And it remains in our hearts, giving us the strength we need to stand in the future. Death is an important part of cinematic storytelling. A story is a life -- just as there is birth, so too must there be death. Not everything can "live happily ever after."