The Pursuit of Unhappiness

        When a writer or a film maker wants to create a story for others to partake in, I think having an element of unhappiness be apart of it makes sense. There is even a genre of movies called “drama,” which I believe means just that, a movie dealing with ups and downs, good and bad, misery and happiness. If there were never an element of opposition, the story would be bad. Honestly a lot of movies go in a pattern: introduction of characters, explanation of setting, conflict and ending with resolution. I understand that is a very general and simple example, but it is true. If you notice, there is a stop called conflict. Some writers and film makers switch the order of these steps, but they are usually always there.

         Look at it this way; stories are about people that are worth something. I know everyone is special and unique but movies and books are usually about people that become great. One cannot have a great character without that person doing something that makes him or her great; there lies the conflict, the misery or the unhappiness. The question was worded very well in it that it said, “With all the misery in the world, should writers…” that is one big reason it should be included. If the viewers can relate in some way to the characters in a story, then the writher has done well. If one does not relate to a character, it is very difficult to understand his or her feelings. “Put yourself in another’s shoes” is a phrase that works as an example of what I mean. The main reason that phrase even exists is that one cannot relate to someone if he or she has not been through what one has, seen shat one has, done what one has.

         However, on the other hand, if stories depict a plot that is unique, bizarre and unheard of, then audiences can be captivated by it. I suppose that is what fantasy genres are for. Ever so, fantasy movies involve very real hardships we go through everyday. Misery and unhappiness we depicted in almost every movie we see and every book we read; the difference is how subtle it is.

         Another good phrase is “The good would not be so good without the bad,” and it is very true. If a movie wraps up with a positive message or a good outcome, it is only there because of the negative side of the plot, because of the hardships the characters had to endure.

         I believe that with hardships and misery come great acting skills. I bet that, if you were to ask someone what situation would require the most skill in acting, the answer would be in a sad scene. It is one thing to be able to set in a happy and sunny scene, but I believe it to be more difficult to create a character that is depressed through acting. The same could be said about writing. An author can depict a positive scenery by the will have to focus on making a segment of the book miserable.

         A film example is My Fair Lady, directed in 1964 and based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 Pygmalion. I really enjoyed the story, and I thought it was well written. It contained misery and hardships as it was required to. My Fair Lady could not have had the ending it did because of it. There were two major parts in My Fair Lady that involved misery. First, while Eliza (Audrey Hepburn) was in her training, she went through a lot of hard days and nights. Not only could she not quickly grasp the speech techniques she was being taught, but also at the same time she was loving the man teaching her, Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison). Second, after he had taught Eliza and she had succeeded at the ball, she was totally ignored so that during that whole section of the movie Eliza and the Professor were fighting. Their entire relationship was defined by those moments of unhappiness, although the ending turned out to be positive.

         Another example would be The Innocents, directed in 1961 by Jack Clayton and based on Henry James’s 1898 The Turn of the Screw. Honestly the majority of the movie is hardship and misery. Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) goes through so much. Not only is she dealing with a pair of odd children, living in a house with a horrible past, but also she is being haunted by ghosts! This is another example that the ending could not have happened without what I just listed. I thought The Innocents was good I was impressed with Kerr only because she proves her worth by clearing her obstacle.

         My second thought on the matter is that there is a line. A story should involve hardship and an opposition, but it should not be consumed by it. I so not want to watch a movie or read a book that just tortures its characters by this situation. Call me a softie, but I am not that cruel. If I watch a movie or read a book that leaves me feeling depressed afterwards, I am not going to like the story. A story should leave its viewers happy, excited, wondering and also that funny feeling after a surprise ending. The surprise ending can even be negative; as long as it is done, right it is good. Maybe when it comes to a bad ending does “right” it is totally opinion based; but my point is, I do not even mind a bad ending as long as the movie does not envelope me in a setting of sadness and negativity. It is almost as if some writers and film makers have seen the consequences of the antagonists in other movies or books that say, the “good guy” wins, and applied it to every character in their story. I do not dislike this enough to waste two hours or read two pages of people suffering. Obviously there are people out there that do because we have those stories in the first place.

         An example of this, in my opinion, was Wuthering Heights, directed in 1939 by William Wyler and based on Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel. I disliked the movie a lot for this very reason. There was just zero happiness in the plot. The only person that was positive in a small way was Edgar Linton (David Niven), but he still had to worry about Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) when it came to Catherine (Merle Oberon). From the beginning to the end and the two time aspects, the story consisted of characters being in horrible situations dealing with love, status and jealousy. From the very short time that Lockwood (Miles Mander in the movie) was even mentioned to the end of the book even he was not in peace. Catherine was haunting him and he could not even sleep. One could even hold out for the ending of the story Wuthering Heights but that too was disappointing and depressing. Of course it had to end in death.

         An example of a movie dealing with hardships but being well made is The Heiress, directed in 1949 by William Wyler and based on Henry James’s 1880 Washington Square. That entire movie was about a life of a woman, Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) that was ruined by two men—her father, Dr. Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson), and her lover, Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), that she had thought could love her, men that she had thought that she could trust. That movie had one of the best endings I have ever seen but only because of the way she reacted to her horrible circumstance.

         In conclusion stories have to have hardships and misery so that the characters can gain their worth as great people. We put ourselves in their shoes and relate to them, feeling every emotion in the story. Good or powerful endings are so great because we know without the bad the good would not be so good. I believe in the pursuit of unhappiness; if writers or film makers forget how much value life has then they have lost sight of their characters.

Jarrod Bock

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