Raising the Stakes: the Midpoint Crisis

I’ve recently seen a movie that I was really excited for. It was okay, had a simple plot, amazingly shot, a bit of whimsy, a turn or two of dark humor, engaging characters, decent performances, and from a critical standpoint was nothing all that special but I personally really liked it. One problem: I was bored. Through out the whole of the story was “fight to stay alive” and in the beginning that was enough. But then after a while it was just tedium; there was no real change in stakes, no surprise plan or action that made me sit up in my seat. By the time the climax began to unfold, I had already been there for two hours and was a bit blazé about the whole thing. I would have probably enjoyed it more if it was running in the background while I did paperwork or something. Boring.

So what happened? What would make a movie that seem pretty cool in the trailers (flippin’ incredible actually) then just feel like it was in second gear throughout the whole thing. My answer: sloppy midpoint.

In the middle of the second act, there needs to be a shift in stakes, something the audience wasn’t expecting and has suddenly made the protagonist’s job a hullavalot harder.

The classic “Rising Action Model” I was taught in my intro-to-film class, I absolutely **HATE**. My questioning why teachers give overly simplistic lessons that are just going to have to be relearned later aside, this looks about as boring as the movie I saw. A slow, steady trudge uphill that crests, then ends. Bored.

No idea why I was taught this. It never helped me then, doesn't help me now.

What this model should be to more accurately show what happens at the midpoint crisis is that halfway up the hill, just when the protagonist feels that he can do it, he falls down a hidden trap set by the antagonist. Immediately it’s not a just a climb and having to fight normal hill climb stuff, but now the antagonist is actively working against the protagonist. And very much succeeding.Crappy stick figures!!! :D Very poud of my crappy stick figures.

This is the crisis point, where one turns to the other and says, “Dude, I think we’re in deep sh*t,” where the difficult but attainable goal now seems next to impossible, where a simple trek up a hill becomes a battle for surviving a fall, 147 hours style. It becomes more intense, more dangerous, and above all: personal. If the antagonist/protagonist relation didn’t exist, it sure as hell does now. Only by overcoming the antagonists obstacles does the strength, will, and determination bloom in the protagonist and becomes more: a hero.

This MUST happen in every movie, and there is not a story that I love that does not have this. And yet, I too often see sloppy midpoints and then the movie loses its potential and even as the action rises, my interest declines.

Stakes. Raise them. (I’m talking to you Hollywood)

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend and I wish everyone a productive and successful week! 😀


About jpdailing

Author and dabbler in nerdy-type stuff. I like cat, red pens, avoid cliches like the plague, and suck at these kinds of bios. View all posts by jpdailing

2 responses to “Raising the Stakes: the Midpoint Crisis

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