Wednesday, June 17, 2015

SUSPECT (1987) Moral Premise

Pam and I are investigating murder mysteries, looking for the Protagonist, Moment of Grace, and Moral Premise. We were challenged to do by Michael, a fan of the the Moral Premise, who lives and writes in South Africa and who noticed that I had not analyzed any murder mysteries.  (Even I was surprised by this observation.) Michael is writing a murder mystery and needed some help understanding protagonist arcs in the murder mystery genre.

While it is true that not all murder mysteries may have a clear protagonist and an arc, I will suggest that the movies that have both, emotionally connect with audiences.

Tonight we watched SUSPECT (1987) which is a great film noir, detective story that is a text book example of following many of the genre's rules, but switching enough of them around to make the movie interesting and satisfying right up to the end. It was a good investment of time.

No spoilers here, but I will share a few things that will make the movie more satisfying to watch.

The story in short from IMDB (Sami Al-Taher):
A judge commits suicide, and his secretary is found murdered. A homeless deaf-mute man, Carl Anderson is arrested for her murder. Public defender Kathleen is assigned by the court as his lawyer. She sets to find the real killer, and gets help from the congressional advisor, Eddie Sanger who is called to be on the jury panel. Together they discover a dangerous circle of corruption in high places.
Kathleen, a public defender, is the protagonist.
She has a clear arc and a Moment of Grace at the 50% mark.
Kathleen (Cher) is a public defender in need of a vacation. She's ordered to defend a homeless man, Carl (Liam Neeson), who's a deaf-dumb Vietnam veteran on trial for killing court clerk, Elizabeth Quinn (Katie O'Hare) for $9. A cocky lobbyist, Eddie Sanger (Dennis Quaid) ends up on the jury. Eddie is also an amateur detective, and recognizes that Carl could not have killed Elizabeth. To pursue justice, he violates the law and makes contact with Kathleen to give her clues that he's independently uncovered.

So, here are a few things to make the movie even better to watch:

Protagonist: Kathleen Riley (Cher)

Moral Premise: 
Embracing the law for what is false leads to guilt; but
Breaking the law for what is true leads to innocence.
Moment of Grace explanation:

The scene right after the Moment of Grace, which demonstrates
Kathleen's willingness to accept help from Eddie. Here she
returns the grace he offers by bandaging him up.
When Eddie begins to take an interest in the case he begins an independent investigation and tries to meet with Kathleen secretly to pass information to her. She shuts him down because his contact with her is illegal. She tries to obey the judge's orders to a "T" but she's not happy about his uncooperative nature. Kathleen suspects that her client, Carl, is innocent, but she is willing to let him be convicted of murder because she has so much respect for the law and the judge that she dare not break the law, even if it means discovering who the real murdered is.

But Eddie is persistent. In the middle of the story (at the 50% mark) another drifter who knows Carl, threatens Kathleen's life, and is about ready to kill Kathleen when Eddie shows up and saves her. Eddie's appearance in this scene in saving Kathleen from death is the moment of grace. Eddie brings "GRACE" to Kathleen in two ways: (1) by saving her life, and thus convincing her to risk disbarment for the ruth; and (2) let him help her for the second half of the movie by being her investigator.

Thus, Kathleen arcs from embracing the law and letting Carl be found guilty, to breaking the law so they can find Carl innocent.  AND IN THAT, we have a good hook:
Harassed public defender breaks the law to procure justice.
There are many other beats in SUSPECTS that match traditional story structure.

Highly recommended.


Pam said...

Nicely done, Dr. Stan. Great analysis. And, a classic movie whose characters are joyfully rewarded by their life choices in the end! Great acting and story with just the right amount of suspense!

She Wang said...

Dear Dr. Williams,
This is will be first comment on your blog which is my daily reading now.
Could I say, Cher is in a way a parody of the figure Jesus - who, in order to fulfil the spirit of the law (commandments of love others as yourself) had to first of all break the law (the doctrine of the Pharisees.)
And the judge is certainly a parody of the high priest...trying even to murder the advocate for the wronged in the end in order to remain in power
Oh, thanks so much for your recommendation of the film and your analysis!