Fearless ....Subject: Character Development
The screenplay for the film, "Fearless," uses the protagonist, Max Klein (Jeff Bridges), and his struggle to overcome post-traumatic stress
disorder as tools for developing the main characters in the story.
Max is an architect who survives a plane crash and leads many of the passengers from the plane to safety.
As a result of the crash, he develops post-traumatic stress disorder, a psychological problem in which survivors of traumatic experiences continually relive those experiences.
Max undergoes a three-stage process from this psychological disorder, and the process creates conflict for his family, friends, and fellow crash survivors, helping us learn about them as characters.
In the first stage, he returns home after the plane crash and unsuccessfully tries to re-establish himself as a family man--someone who is a husband to his wife, Laura
(Isabella Rossellini), and a father to his son, Jonah (Spencer Vrooman). This takes place in Act I.
In the second stage, Max acts as a savior for fellow plane crash survivor Carla Rodrigo
(Rosie Perez) and for his business partner's wife, Nan Gordon (Deirdre O'Connell). This takes place in Act II.
In the third stage, he becomes a survivor, returning to normalcy by allowing Carla and
his wife, Laura, to save him from psychological and physical death. This takes place in Act III.
During all three stages, his wife, son, friends, and fellow crash survivors remind him of
the crash, unintentionally making him relive it mentally and motivating him to do something dangerous to feel immortal and remain fearless.
Shortly after the crash, he enters stage one of his psychological disorder. He returns home, where he has trouble re-establishing himself as a family man.
At home, he is unable to interact normally with his wife and son because he is still re-playing the events of the crash in his mind.
When his wife, Laura, asks him why he didn't tell her that he was alive after the plane crash, Max says: "I thought I was dead."
He does not look at her. He shows no emotion for her whatsoever.
The next day, Max is unable to comfort his son, Jonah, who becomes jealous when a young boy named Byron Hummel (Daniel Cerny), a plane crash survivor, tells reporters
in front of Max's house: "He [Max] saved me [in the crash]."
Byron's presence makes Max fearful. It reminds him of the crash. So, to conquer his
fear, he runs down the street to a highway, blindly walking across the road and risking his life by carelessly passing in front of fast-moving cars.
That night, at home with his wife and son, he is unable to rest peacefully. When he falls asleep in bed, he dreams about the crash, showing us the terror he felt when the plane's
hydraulics failed and showing us his friend, Jeff Gordon (John De Lancie), who sat next to him on the plane and died in the crash.
In stage two of Max's psychological disorder, he plays the role of savior for Jeff's wife, Nan, and for fellow plane crash survivor Carla Rodrigo. Though he does so to remain
fearless and to avoid facing the reality that he is mortal, Max's interactions with them make him remember the crash.
To save Nan Gordon, the wife of his business partner, Jeff, from financial problems,
Max agrees to give legal testimony saying that her husband, Jeff, suffered during the plane crash.
This testimony will help Nan get a large amount of money from the airline in a legal settlement.
But, the agreement to give the testimony creates psychological conflict for Max, who risks his life yet again to overcome the fear created by this conflict.
While Nan and Max's wife, Laura, meet with a lawyer to discuss Nan's lawsuit against the airline whose plane crashed, Max goes up to the roof of the lawyer's building and stands on the ledge.
He is once more trying to remain fearless.
But, his death-defying feat on the building is witnessed by Laura, who becomes furious
at him and later says: "Every day you have to jump off a roof or stand in front of a train so you can lose your fear? Is that it?"
When Carla, one of the plane crash survivors, becomes distraught and confesses to Max that her baby boy died during the crash because she didn't hold onto the boy tightly enough, Max becomes fearful again.
She is an all-too-vivid reminder of the crash.
To remain fearless and act as a savior for Carla, Max puts her in the back seat of his
car, has her hold onto a toolbox, and tells her to pretend the toolbox is her baby. Max then drives the car into a brick wall.
The impact of the car crash pulls the toolbox out of Carla's hands and propels the box through the windshield of the car, making her realize that she couldn't have held onto her baby during the plane crash.
As a result of this realization, Carla recovers psychologically.
Now there is no one left for Max to save but himself. So, he enters stage three of his
psychological disorder, the recovery stage in which he becomes a survivor.
During this stage, Carla saves him psychologically and Laura saves him physically.
Before these women do so, they meet with each other to resolve their disagreements with each other. Laura believes that Max and Carla are having a love relationship. Carla
reassures her that this is not the case by saying, "[Max is] my friend."
Carla saves Max psychologically by making him realize he must save himself. She tells
him that he can't take care of her anymore. He must concentrate on taking care of himself if he is to survive.
At the end of stage three, Max tells his wife, Laura: "Save me." He then eats
strawberries, food to which he is highly allergic. He immediately has a severe allergic reaction and stops breathing,
But Laura gives him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, saving him physically. Afterwards, he
tells her joyfully, "I'm alive. I'm alive."
Max has become a survivor.
"Fearless" is a psychological drama that uses Max's three-stage bout with post-traumatic
stress disorder to develop the main characters.
As Max makes the three-stage transition from unsuccessful family man to savior and
eventually to survivor, he involves his friends, family, and fellow plane crash survivors in his mental conflict, making them react emotionally.
Their reactions reveal the elements that help define these characters.
"Fearless" uses the protagonist and his psychological conflict as tools for effective character development.
To do so for your own screenplay:
A. Use news articles to base the protagonist (hero) of your story upon a
real-life person who had a traumatic experience.
Look for articles about someone who had an experience involving either a
car accident, a murder, a rape, a fire, or a robbery.
This person will be the subject of your story. His traumatic experience will
be the focus of your story.
B. Define the three-stage psychological process your protagonist undergoes
when trying to return to a normal life with his family.
1. This process will depict him:
Returning home to family and friends after having a traumatic experience
and having trouble interacting normally with them.
2. Meeting with other survivors of traumas and bonding with one of them
3. Allowing a family member and the trauma survivor he has bonded with to
help him return to a normal lifestyle.
Define the main conflict of your story by explaining how an incident
traumatized your protagonist.
1. To do so, ask yourself the following questions:
Who is responsible for involving the protagonist in a traumatic incident
such as a car accident, a murder, a rape, a fire, or a robbery?
2. What happened to him physically during this traumatic incident? Was he
burned or shot? Did he see someone else being burned, shot, or raped?
Were his bones broken?
did the traumatic incident take place? Did it happen during the
protagonist's wedding, vacation, shopping trip, or business meeting?
did the traumatic incident take place? At work, at home, on the
5. Why did the incident occur? Was the protagonist having an affair? Was he
driving drunk? Did he like to participate in dangerous sports? Was he
trying to travel during bad weather? Was an old lover, business colleague,
or friend seeking revenge against him?