Paul's Here

The Star Dies

19 posts in this topic

I am curious about what others think of this issue. I can't generalize about this too much as I am not an avid moviegoer. One of the main attractions to go see a movie with well known stars is their name recognition as well as their acting ability. People, including myself, will often go see a movie with star name recognition even though the movie may not be that good.

One of the things that has been increasingly occurring in movies of recent vintage, and bothering me quite a bit, is that the star of the movie dies at the end. And what bothers me is that the star is portrayed as a good hero, not a villain. It may be just my observation in the movies that I've seen as I usually don't watch a movie unless there is a likelihood of a good story.

[WARNING: THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS ABOUT SOME MOVIES]

The most recent movie I've seen where the star dies was Gran Torino. It also occurred in Eastwood's movie, Million Dollar Baby. Other movies that I've seen where the star hero dies include The Gladiator, Children of Men, Serenity, The Departed, Pan's Labyrinth. Those are some of the ones I can remember.

I know that there were other movies over the past decades where the star dies at the end, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, Vera Cruz, or even in the beginning like in Psycho. But those stars usually were not presented as good.

Does anyone see a philosophic issue in this presentation of modern day heroes? Does anyone see this as a problem? Although I can enjoy all of the particular movies above, I find a subconscious conflict between my enjoyment and the death of the heroes that detracts from my fuller enjoyment. I feel like one of the reasons for me going to see the movie has been betrayed when the star dies.

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One of the things that has been increasingly occurring in movies of recent vintage, and bothering me quite a bit, is that the star of the movie dies at the end. And what bothers me is that the star is portrayed as a good hero, not a villain.

It isn't confined to recent movies. You also see it in Greek and Shakespearean tragedies, Victor Hugo's novels, Cyrano de Bergerac, and We the Living.

The cause is a major value conflict.

For the Greeks it was primitive tribalism vs. a newly-emerging heroic view of man and the discovery of reason. For Shakespeare, it was medieval brutality and religion vs. the rebirth of reason, for Hugo and Rostand it was a personal conflict between their heroic view of man and cultural ideas that conspired against a hero, and for Ayn Rand it was the individual vs. the state.

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One of the things that has been increasingly occurring in movies of recent vintage, and bothering me quite a bit, is that the star of the movie dies at the end. And what bothers me is that the star is portrayed as a good hero, not a villain.

It isn't confined to recent movies. You also see it in Greek and Shakespearean tragedies, Victor Hugo's novels, Cyrano de Bergerac, and We the Living.

The cause is a major value conflict.

For the Greeks it was primitive tribalism vs. a newly-emerging heroic view of man and the discovery of reason. For Shakespeare, it was medieval brutality and religion vs. the rebirth of reason, for Hugo and Rostand it was a personal conflict between their heroic view of man and cultural ideas that conspired against a hero, and for Ayn Rand it was the individual vs. the state.

Are you saying that the cause of the death of the star is the major conflict value? If that were the case, then wouldn't any or all major value conflicts result in the death of the star/hero? Is not the writer saying something about life in general (or at least life as portrayed in the story) by choosing to portray a story where the good dies at the end?

If the major value conflict is the cause of the hero's death, then why isn't the hero able to overcome or avoid death by changing his values? For example, why couldn't Clint Eastwood character in the story choose to kill the bad guys and then escape or run away? Such a choice would dilute the value conflict for sure.

Also, I'm not primarily concerned with the death of the hero in this context as I am with the death of the movie star which is what draws people to the movie. Suppose some unknown actor had portrayed Clint Eastwood's character in Gran Torino. There is a different sense or feeling about the character because he is or is not a major star. Did Gary Cooper or Errol Flynn ever die in a movie?

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Having not seen the film in decades I could be mistaken, but did not Gary Cooper's character die at the end of Wings. Errol Flynn's Custer died at the end of They Died with Their Boots On.

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Having not seen the film in decades I could be mistaken, but did not Gary Cooper's character die at the end of Wings. Errol Flynn's Custer died at the end of They Died with Their Boots On.

I meant to add, that although these are two instances of the major star dying at the end of a film, I think your larger point -- that there was a time when such a thing was generally infrequent -- is probably correct.

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One of the things that has been increasingly occurring in movies of recent vintage, and bothering me quite a bit, is that the star of the movie dies at the end. And what bothers me is that the star is portrayed as a good hero, not a villain.

It isn't confined to recent movies. You also see it in Greek and Shakespearean tragedies, Victor Hugo's novels, Cyrano de Bergerac, and We the Living.

The cause is a major value conflict.

Are you saying that the cause of the death of the star is the major conflict value? If that were the case, then wouldn't any or all major value conflicts result in the death of the star/hero?

To be more precise, it indicates an unresolved value conflict, usually on the part of the writer who does not believe that the great values his heroes represent and seek can be achieved on earth. In the case of We the Living, Ayn Rand 's goal was to show that there is no way to resolve the conflict between a life-loving individualist and a totalitarian state.

An unresolved major value conflict does not always result in the death of the protagonist, but it is very often the case that the death of a protagonist -- particularly while pursuing his goal -- is indicative of such a conflict.

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To be more precise, it indicates an unresolved value conflict, usually on the part of the writer who does not believe that the great values his heroes represent and seek can be achieved on earth. . . .

That's certainly my sense of the vast majority of films being produced today -- or rather, of the writers' views of the possible. It's one of the major reasons I have cut back on my movie-going: I want to see the successful achievement of values in art and, although I have been surprised and delighted by a film now and then that does so, this is a rare thing anymore.

I meant to mention in my responses to Paul that there are also several major instances in the films of earlier eras of film heroines/movie stars dying -- Bette Davis (Dark Victory, etc.), Greta Garbo (Camille, etc), etc. I don't see these deaths as necessarily indicating an irresolvable value conflict. Is that what your qualification was addressing?

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Having not seen the film in decades I could be mistaken, but did not Gary Cooper's character die at the end of Wings. Errol Flynn's Custer died at the end of They Died with Their Boots On.

Haven't seen Wings, but isn't Custer typically considered a "bad" guy?

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To be more precise, it indicates an unresolved value conflict, usually on the part of the writer who does not believe that the great values his heroes represent and seek can be achieved on earth. . . .

That's certainly my sense of the vast majority of films being produced today -- or rather, of the writers' views of the possible. It's one of the major reasons I have cut back on my movie-going: I want to see the successful achievement of values in art and, although I have been surprised and delighted by a film now and then that does so, this is a rare thing anymore.

I meant to mention in my responses to Paul that there are also several major instances in the films of earlier eras of film heroines/movie stars dying -- Bette Davis (Dark Victory, etc.), Greta Garbo (Camille, etc), etc. I don't see these deaths as necessarily indicating an irresolvable value conflict. Is that what your qualification was addressing?

Not enirely. The storyline is the major aspect of a movie that attracts me. As long as the actors are competent in their roles, whether its an unknown or famous actor shouldn't make a difference to the story. Yet getting a big name star to play in a movie is part of a movie's appeal. Why? Often when I recommend a movie to a friend or relative, I'll get asked, "Who plays in it?" If "who plays in it" is important, then killing of that person, who portrays a good character in the movie, would seem like it should produce a negative evaluation or reaction. It seems that a value is being attacked in some way. Should one really want to go to a movie in which Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, etc. are killed when they are portraying good characters?

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One of the things that has been increasingly occurring in movies of recent vintage, and bothering me quite a bit, is that the star of the movie dies at the end. And what bothers me is that the star is portrayed as a good hero, not a villain.

It isn't confined to recent movies. You also see it in Greek and Shakespearean tragedies, Victor Hugo's novels, Cyrano de Bergerac, and We the Living.

The cause is a major value conflict.

Are you saying that the cause of the death of the star is the major conflict value? If that were the case, then wouldn't any or all major value conflicts result in the death of the star/hero?

To be more precise, it indicates an unresolved value conflict, usually on the part of the writer who does not believe that the great values his heroes represent and seek can be achieved on earth. In the case of We the Living, Ayn Rand 's goal was to show that there is no way to resolve the conflict between a life-loving individualist and a totalitarian state.

An unresolved major value conflict does not always result in the death of the protagonist, but it is very often the case that the death of a protagonist -- particularly while pursuing his goal -- is indicative of such a conflict.

I see what you are saying, but such results occur because of the artistic choices of the writer. As it pertains to making a movie, I have no problem with evaluating that aspect of the movie in the same way I'd a book. But if I am to go to a movie because I want to see Clint Eastwood or John Wayne, who portray good characters, should I simply accept their death in the movie as just someone acting a part? If that is to be the case, then why do I need to see major stars in that particular role?

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I feel like one of the reasons for me going to see the movie has been betrayed when the star dies.

What reason, and how betrayed? I have very different feelings when a star dies in one movie, than when they die in another. To take two of your examples:

Warning: Major Spoilers for Serenity and Pan's Labyrinth

I thought that the deaths of Wash and Book were very emotional, but I did not feel that they were a betrayal, especially being familiar with Joss Whedon's work. He does not just kill characters to manipulate the audience, he doesn't just kill anyone, and he doesn't do it often. If he had killed Mal, then I would have been pretty angry. What he does do is show the audience that values matter because life depends on them. The story doesn't have to be a life or death struggle to show this, but Whedon's stories are. And I think for him, a story conflict of that sort without an important loss would be trivializing the fight. So I did not regard these deaths as naturalistic or senseless, but as underscoring and making real the stakes of the conflict, which in turn makes Mal's reaction natural and believable (for a character who was traditionally the reluctant hero who avoided the Alliance whenever possible). And in the end, he wins the "battle" and lives to continue fighting the war.

Where I would consider Serenity a benevolent film and its deaths tragic but based on a pro life premise, the death of Ofelia in Pan's Labyrinth was malevolent and escapist. The story places its heroic virtues in the character of a fragile little girl, pitting her against the evils of a seemingly omnipotent dictatorship. Not only is the girl destined to be a victim of that evil, but we are to regard her life as a test of suffering, for which she is either released by death or rewarded with a kingdom in the afterlife (depending on which version of the ending you accept). So the death has a very different meaning, and my reaction was more one of disappointment and disgust. That said, I thought it was an otherwise beautiful film visually and musically.

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WARNING: There may by spoilers here for Spartacus and Finding Neverland.

A couple of films come to mind for me where a major character in the story dies at the end of the film, but in which I see no value-conflict in the character that would be responsible for his death: Spartacus (1960) and Finding Neverland (2004).

I've cried when I've seen these films, but I've never been depressed by them. In the case of Spartacus, what I find up-lifting in it at the end is the experience of looking up to a hero who would rather die than abandon his principles or betray his values in this life. Also, the movie seems to be saying that we are not on this earth to suffer, but rather to enjoy our lives and achieve happiness. In the case of Finding Neverland, I'm tearfully reminded of the fact that death is not important, and that it is wonderful that we are alive on this planet, no matter what the duration of one's life. And I find this very uplifting.

(Incidentally, both films were inspired by true events. They are "true stories", but are not treated Naturalistically; the fact of an important figure in the story dying at the end is a "given".)

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Is not the writer saying something about life in general (or at least life as portrayed in the story) by choosing to portray a story where the good dies at the end?
I am also not an avid moviegoer and have difficulty rating acting ability independently. As a proportion of total movies per year over time, I wonder if the frequency of the hero's death as a means of plot/conflict resolution really has increased? I do think it is generally accepted in every culture that one is supposed to die for one's values if one is a true valuer - the best thing you supposed to be able to do is give up your life. That's not fiction at its best in every or all cases. I think ingenuity in fiction - and in life - can be better than that (depending on the type of story/conflict, etc.). Put another way, if the same circumstances can result in something better in reality than in fiction, the fiction had better be better.
If the major value conflict is the cause of the hero's death, then why isn't the hero able to overcome or avoid death by changing his values? For example, why couldn't Clint Eastwood character in the story choose to kill the bad guys and then escape or run away? Such a choice would dilute the value conflict for sure.
I frequently think that if the man was a real hero he would have found a way to avoiding having to die for his values, and lived for his values for a change. Many stories would be a great deal more interesting and wonderful if more writers thought that way.
Also, I'm not primarily concerned with the death of the hero in this context as I am with the death of the movie star which is what draws people to the movie. Suppose some unknown actor had portrayed Clint Eastwood's character in Gran Torino. There is a different sense or feeling about the character because he is or is not a major star. Did Gary Cooper or Errol Flynn ever die in a movie?

I did not note this distinction in your first post and it is something I've wondered about in terms of how convincing the story would be if portrayed by an unknown or lesser-known actor. I've wondered whether a particular actor *must* be used to create a certain desired effect on the viewer, not necessarily in terms of recognized acting ability, but public evaluation of the person. Few knew the real details of Rock Hudson's personal life and he could be cast in particular roles determined by a studio or director as a result of that. I wonder if the actor choice you refer to is a combination of watching someone humiliate or degrade themselves to be "naturalistic" and the emotional impact of that celebrity's on-screen death, rather than the audience wanting to revere someone on-screen.

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Having not seen the film in decades I could be mistaken, but did not Gary Cooper's character die at the end of Wings. Errol Flynn's Custer died at the end of They Died with Their Boots On.

Haven't seen Wings, but isn't Custer typically considered a "bad" guy?

Actually, the Custer of They Died with Their Boots On is a noble, heroic character, not at all a villain. His "Last Stand" is the portrayed as having been deliberately devised by unsrupulous politicians and their business associates to stir up conflict between the U.S. and the Sioux Nation and to provide an excuse for stripping the Dakota Sioux of land. In this rewrite of the historical record, both Custer and his men and Crazy Horse and his are portrayed as a victims of this chicanery.

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The storyline is the major aspect of a movie that attracts me. As long as the actors are competent in their roles, whether its an unknown or famous actor shouldn't make a difference to the story. Yet getting a big name star to play in a movie is part of a movie's appeal. Why?

Well . . . because they're GREAT at what they do, and the producers, directors and audiences KNOW it!! And this works both ways: a good actor wants plum parts with wonderful character development (the "Craft", don't you know!) and a great script. This is what they do, this is their work. Furthermore, there are times when the merely "competent" simply doesn't cut it. And that is true in any field, let alone film acting.

I mentioned Dark Victory: This is a movie about how one chooses to live one's life despite the inevitable approach of death. Quite frankly, I cannot imagine any actress other than Bette Davis playing the part of Judith, certainly not one who could bring the same degree of forcefulness, brilliance and fire that made Davis the vivid individual she was on-screen.

You appear to be asssociating the plot element of of a major character's death in a particular film with an attack against the good as represented by the great actor playing the part. I must admit that I do not see how you arrive at this, at least not as a general sense.

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I see what you are saying, but such results occur because of the artistic choices of the writer. As it pertains to making a movie, I have no problem with evaluating that aspect of the movie in the same way I'd a book. But if I am to go to a movie because I want to see Clint Eastwood or John Wayne, who portray good characters, should I simply accept their death in the movie as just someone acting a part? If that is to be the case, then why do I need to see major stars in that particular role?

The movies that can affect me most have actors I don't know. "Stars" ruin it for me, because one can never separate the screen character from the actor doing him. It is John Wayne first, and character second. The "star" should be invisible, so I don't know why you want to see him as such.

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I see what you are saying, but such results occur because of the artistic choices of the writer. As it pertains to making a movie, I have no problem with evaluating that aspect of the movie in the same way I'd a book. But if I am to go to a movie because I want to see Clint Eastwood or John Wayne, who portray good characters, should I simply accept their death in the movie as just someone acting a part? If that is to be the case, then why do I need to see major stars in that particular role?

The movies that can affect me most have actors I don't know. "Stars" ruin it for me, because one can never separate the screen character from the actor doing him. It is John Wayne first, and character second. The "star" should be invisible, so I don't know why you want to see him as such.

I disagree. I can enjoy the movie and the "Star" at the same time. I enjoy watching John Wayne movies because I do know the type of character he will play, most times.

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I see what you are saying, but such results occur because of the artistic choices of the writer. As it pertains to making a movie, I have no problem with evaluating that aspect of the movie in the same way I'd a book. But if I am to go to a movie because I want to see Clint Eastwood or John Wayne, who portray good characters, should I simply accept their death in the movie as just someone acting a part? If that is to be the case, then why do I need to see major stars in that particular role?

The movies that can affect me most have actors I don't know. "Stars" ruin it for me, because one can never separate the screen character from the actor doing him. It is John Wayne first, and character second. The "star" should be invisible, so I don't know why you want to see him as such.

Because, as Vespasiano points out above, "they're GREAT at what they do." I'm sure there are many scripts prepared with particular stars envisioned as playing the character. I've seen reports where directors will read a book and decide this would make a great movie, and think of specific stars playing the characters in the movie. There are some movies where it works better not having a famous name play the characters. But this is not generally the case. Here on The Forum there have been discussions about which actors would be best at playing characters in a potential Atlas Shrugged movie.

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The storyline is the major aspect of a movie that attracts me. As long as the actors are competent in their roles, whether its an unknown or famous actor shouldn't make a difference to the story. Yet getting a big name star to play in a movie is part of a movie's appeal. Why?

Well . . . because they're GREAT at what they do, and the producers, directors and audiences KNOW it!! And this works both ways: a good actor wants plum parts with wonderful character development (the "Craft", don't you know!) and a great script. This is what they do, this is their work. Furthermore, there are times when the merely "competent" simply doesn't cut it. And that is true in any field, let alone film acting.

I mentioned Dark Victory: This is a movie about how one chooses to live one's life despite the inevitable approach of death. Quite frankly, I cannot imagine any actress other than Bette Davis playing the part of Judith, certainly not one who could bring the same degree of forcefulness, brilliance and fire that made Davis the vivid individual she was on-screen.

You appear to be asssociating the plot element of of a major character's death in a particular film with an attack against the good as represented by the great actor playing the part. I must admit that I do not see how you arrive at this, at least not as a general sense.

You've made some interesting points that bear on my main point. True, they are great at what they do, but when you watch a movie with a major star, do you see the character or the star first? Let's take one example. Arnold Schwartzenegger played in many actions movies. Many of the characters are basically interchangeable in terms of his acting. When I watch Terminator or Predator or the like, I see Arnold beating up people or killing enemies. There is no character to me. If he (or another major star) had not played in those parts or if some unknown had played them, I doubt there would be anything memorable about those movies.

I agree that I appear to be "associating the plot element of a major character's death in a particular film with an attack against the good as represented by the great actor playing the part." Do you see this as an error? What is the error? I don't grasp it yet. If I go to see a movie because it I like the actor, should I be willing to appreciate that he died for a good plot? I went to see Gran Torino because Clint Eastwood was the star. Had it been someone I had never heard of before, I probably would have waited for it go come out on DVD if I had read that it was a good movie.

(Remember, I am talking about when the star is portraying a good character. I am not objecting to the death of the star when he is a bad guy and actually deserves it.)

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