13 July 2008


Emerging entirely unscathed from my recent misadventure—even my dress shirts survived!—I experienced a brief, puzzled euphoria that reminded me of one of my favourite films: Peter Wier's Fearless.

It's one of those pictures that's best seen without preconceptions, so I'll not tell you a thing about what happens. Instead, I'll tell you why I love it.

Through most of the picture, it seems like a beautiful mess. Interesting characters in a peculiar situation, played by terrific actors ... some of whom would later become a lot more famous. But where is it going?

It's going somewhere.

In fact, it has as satisfying a character-driven climax as you could hope for, that shows up by surprise. The two main characters are talking, and one of them makes an admission that just about breaks her. Which almost breaks the other character, until he realizes what he must do, what the entire film has been setting him up to do.

It's the essential structure of tragedy. We learn about the characters, and come to care about them. As we do, the wheels of the story turn until everyone is in place, and you realize what the climax will be just as it starts to happen. The artistic achievement is in creating the tension between your wish that the tragic ending won't come and your commitment to the narrative logic which tells you that it will.

Fearless produces the same tension in its climax, only the ending isn't tragic. Not exactly.


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