Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Helen's Lost Arc in THE INCREDIBLES

My Moral Premise pen pal from Greece, Geroge C. wrote me with this very good analysis of Helen's arc in THE INCREDIBLES, thus pointing out a weakness in my book.

George, this is great work. I'm glad you understand the power of the moral premise so well.

Here's Geroge's email, verbatim:


Stan, You mention somewhere in your book that in ancient Athens they didn't allow works of art that were damaging to the citizens' moral values. Well, actually that is only a proposal Plato makes in his work regarding how an ideal city should be like, but there wasn't such a law in Athens. And thank goodness, cause, who gets to decide which works of art are good and which ones are bad?! In ancient Greece, the thing which I believe is the most indicative of the close bond between stories and moral premise, is that the origins of theater and the presentation of plays can be found inside religious events. It was within such events that theater and drama was first born. I think that tracing the roots of drama gives us a whole new perspective that doesn't allow us to accept the notion that movies should be simply brain candy.

Thanks for the correction, George. That's important information. (SW)

Stan, I watched the Incredibles and I discovered there's a beautiful character arc (Helen Parr's) that has escaped you! :-) And it's an arc that brings a whole new dimension to the story. You propably don't recall much from the movie right now, but if you ever happen to watch it again, I think you'll agree with me!
Actually, I've lectured on THE INCREDIBLES several times since the book came out, and enjoy showing the clips to groups. As a result, I've seen more clearly Helen's arc, which, as you point out, I did not fully understand when I wrote the book. (SW)
In the arc tables of 'The Incredibles', pg 130-133, you say: "The moral premise is that battling adversity alone leads to weakness and defeat, while battling adversity as a family leads to strength and victory." You also cite how Buddy Pine/Syndrome (the baddie) practices a distorted version of the moral premise: He and his partner, Mirage, appear to be working as a family, but in truth Syndrome just uses her and doesn't really appreciate her. When he's given the opportunity to aknowledge the importance of relying on his family, he rejects the idea and shows he's willing to sacrifice Mirage...

Regarding Helen Parr's arc plot (Mr Incredible's wife) you say that "she practices the good side of the moral premise most of the way..." And that's where I have a very different opinion: I think that Helen Parr, just like the villain, starts out by practicing a distorted version of the moral premise's virtue! Helen Parr appears to be the family's bedrock, but what she really does is suppressing the other family members. She doesn't let them be themselves! She strives for a united family, but on her own egoistic terms. And this results in misery and a dysfunctional family. Later, confronted by a moment of grace, she abandons that attitude, embraces the true virtue of the moral premise, and becomes the heart and soul of the family. I've included some story beats which I think prove my point:

We see Helen being called to the principal's office due to her son's problematic behavior at school. When she talks with her son, we find out that Dash's frustrated because she won't let him go out for sports. Dash is naturally competitive and loves sports, but Helen just won't allow it. Dash tells his mom: "You always say, 'Do your best'. But you don't really mean it. Why can't I do the best that I can do?"

Later, at the dinner table, Helen scolds Bob (her husband) for being impressed with their son's superspeed. She says "We're not encouraging this!" Bob himself is very unhappy cause he cannot be Mr Incredible, and it's because of that reason that he has trouble connecting with his family. Even Violet (their daughter) is unhappy; she has an outburst, saying that she's forced to be 'normal' although she isn't. In other words, she's forced to fit a stereotype, and she's not allowed to be real.

Later, when Bob comes home late, he and Helen have a fight. In that scene it's clear that Bob and the kids suffer because they aren't allowed to use their powers. Bob says to Helen, "You want to do something for Dash? Then let him go out for sports." And Helen rants defensively:"I will not be made the enemy here!" She's the one who tries to hold the family together and meet their needs, but she doesn't realize that by trying to make them 'fit in' and by not allowing them to be who they truly are, she sabotages her own goal. In a way, she is the enemy!

Later Helen finds out Bob's been lying to her and that he does superhero work behind her back. She starts crying when she realizes it. She goes to find him and the kids sneak in with her in the jet. There's a big moment of grace here as danger appears, and from that point her attitude becomes very different. She puts on her costume and when things get dangerous she tells her daughter to put a force field around the plane. Violet responds,"You said not to use our powers." Helen says," I know what I said. Listen to what I'm saying now!"

Helen abandons the distorted version of the moral premise's virtue from now on. There are sequences where Helen works with the family and coordinates them so that everyone's power works harmoniously in conjuction with the others. It's fascinating how Helen's character changes; she becomes a true field leader!

Later at the cave, Helen once more encourages the kids to use their powers. She says to her son, "Dash, if anything goes wrong I want you to run as fast as you can." Dash cannot believe his ears. He responds, overjoyed:"As fast as I can?!"

In the movie's final scene when a new supervillain appears, Helen doesn't prevent anyone from using their powers. In fact, she even puts on her mask before Bob does, and gives him an approving look.

Let me know what you think, Stan. Thanks again!


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