I’m taking a break this week from my Brain Triggers series and returning to the ever-popular Casting Call series. Today I have four characters, each selected from my strange bedfellows category. For the most part these characters fall into a romantic subgroup. Twisted though they may be, these common archetypes work for characters of either sex unless otherwise noted.
These are the slobs, the ill-tempered, the morally bankrupt. These romantic prospects have lousy jobs, messed up childhoods, and a history of failures a mile long. Perhaps they even have a stint in rehab, or an incarceration or two darkening their troubled past. So why do we love them? Because they show us a glimpse of their inner goodness, not often, but we know it’s there. Despite a life of hardships, underneath the crusty shell beats a warm heart just waiting for the right person to reform them. This archetype only works if we believe the character is redeemable. It’s easy to make this archetype look appealing with a criminal case like George Clooney as Danny Ocean in the Oceans franchise, but a lot trickier with someone less attractive or more emotionally damaged. Sinners abound in movies and TV; look to The Vampire Diaries’ Damon Salvatore for a darker version. We all tend to love anti-heroes, characters who still know how to save the day (and get their lovers back), although they leave behind a scandalously high body count while they do it.
We tend to find the reformed romantic archetype endearing. This archetype is the former “player” who now sees the error of his/her ways. It’s a joy to watch this character get swept up in their first taste of true love. And if a string of jilted past lovers land some well-deserved payback punches along the way, all the better. Despite their mistakes, the reformed romantics tend to get a happy ending, as we saw in Groundhog Day, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, and 50 First Dates. Keep in mind, this archetype is a tricky minefield for a female character. Henry Roth (Adam Sandler’s character in 50 First Dates) would seem clingy and desperate as a woman. Even the male romantics walk a fine line between love and something prosecutable by a court of law. It always helps if we feel this character is either an innocent when it comes to love and courtship, or poking fun at their past relationship foibles. Perhaps no one does this archetype better than Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral. He’s self-deprecating, confused, and willing to admit he’s making a total fool of himself by pining way for the unattainable girl of his dreams.
The flip-side of the reformed romantic is the confirmed player. These are the thrill seekers, the race car divers and the spies. This archetype’s motto is: live fast, die young, and leave a pretty corpse. Playboy and playgirls are often promiscuous because they can be. Their special brand of recklessness appeals to something deep and primal inside us. This character is often wealthy and narcissistic, they want to hook up with strangers, have friends with benefits, and be able to leave them behind with no hard feelings. Although, be prepared, they might expect to jump back into their old lover’s bed the next time something brings them to town. The attraction for the viewing is the vicarious adventure. The adrenal factor, the exotic locations, and the heart stopping adventures. Some people adore this commitment-free lover; I know I do. Other people are only happy when this archetype finds a mate, either someone who’s their equal in the fast lane or someone their willing to give up the lifestyle for. I prefer my playboys kept wild, to let them stay true to themselves and spread the joy around. For the female version, I would normally say Angelina Jolie is the tried and true icon here for her role as Lara Croft Tomb Raider, but Helen Mirren gets my vote as Victoria, in RED.
The Ill-fated and unlucky:
Romeo and Juliet are the classic ill-fated couple, but they’re not the only ones. Whenever two people can’t put things together at the same level of commitment at the same time, we see a tragedy in the making. These are sad archetypes, fate deals them a heavy burden, and at every exchange their plight tends to grow. Much of the ill-fated love archetype is overloaded with characters who are not really in love, but are just too selfish and/or immature to understand what real love is: Carrie and Big in Sex in the City, or Rhett and Scarlett in Gone With the Wind. While always an emotional train-wreck, the ill-fated archetype is more interesting to me when their on the verge of a major character evolution. In many cases these archetypes make their first mature sacrifice at the story climax, often but not always, for the sake of their lover. These coming of age characters learn they can’t control major events, and that their own happiness isn’t the most important thing in the world. Casablanca is a great example of the ill-fated archetype. I also like Roman Holiday for this one. A journalist and a royal? Such a sticky union. Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) must grow up and put aside her own feelings so she can assume her rightful place as a ruler.
Love is such a complicated emotion, is it any wonder that lovers come in so many different archetype packages? I happen to love messed up lovers, hopefully I’m not alone. As with all archetypes, mix, match and look for ways to modify or smash the molds. Make something uniquely your own creation.
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