Spiraling Downwards, And Back Up: Another look at Negative Character Arcs

I hadn’t planned to write a second part to my post about negative character arcs, but someone asked me a great question.

Can you have a negative arc with a positive outcome?

I tend to spend a lot of free time browsing for new indie films to watch on top of  reading and writing. Film has always been a big passion of mine. I actually was in film class for most of my high school career, so I enjoy analyzing movies just as much as analyzing books. That being said I just got through watching two slightly similar themed films Chatroom, and Suicide Room.

Lets start off talking about Chatroom.

 

This one was a bit more low-budget. It starts with a teenage boy, William, who is obviously troubled. He goes online and starts a chatroom for other teens and him to talk. It becomes obvious fairly quickly he is collecting information on the others, just like a predator looking for the weakness of its prey.

From what we see of William’s home life, he feels neglected, the black sheep of his family and is attempting to recover from self-mutilation. He spends the majority of his time online, finds videos of people committing suicide and seems to get a rush from it, so when one of the boys in the chatroom expresses a deep self-loathing, William zeros in on him. He finds a way to replace his own self-hatred and mutilation by attempting to manipulate Jim into committing suicide.

While William takes a very bad turn for the worst,  Jim’s character arc was very positive. I can’t say much more without ruining the film  for those that may want to watch it. Suffice to say, if there is a positive outcome for one character throughout the other’s descent, I suppose it can be considered a positive outcome, though not for all parties involved.

 

Onto the second film, Suicide Room. This one is Polish, with subtitles.

In Suicide Room, we meet a boy named Dominik. At the beginning of the film, he is a good looking boy and fairly popular. His family is wealthy but it becomes evident he does not have a good relationship with his parents. They do not pay attention to him at all, which in my opinion was a complete catalyst for his descent. At the school dance he ends up basically getting dared to kiss another boy (in order to see two girls kiss). The boys share a very passionate kiss and later start sharing flirtacious glances at school. Dominik starts accepting that he may be gay, but things go awry when they are wrestling in gym class and Dominik has an unfortunate “accident” while  being held down by the other boy.

Terrible ridicule ensues, Dominik feels alone and starts talking online to a girl that harms herself. Through her, he is introduced to The Suicide Room- a chatroom for others like her that wish to kill himselfs. Dominik doesn’t wish to kill himself, but feeling disconnected from the rest of the world he finds comfort in interacting with this girl.

For the girl, Sylwia, I felt as though she started at the bottom of her arc. She hasn’t left the house in 3 years, lives in complete isolation and has accepted that she is going to commit suicide.  These two literally went in opposite directions because of one another.

Again, without giving away everything about the film, if Dominik’s character arc was tragically spiraling downward, but because of it Sylwia’s took an unexpected turn up, wouldn’t it be safe to say that this negative character arc also had a positive outcome as well?

 

So my short answer to that question is yes. Yes a negative character arc can have a positive outcome.

As to whether it can be positive for the one with the negative arc… I am still looking into that.  From these two examples, it appears to me that it would probably be quite difficult, and some still may not see the end result as a positive outcome.  But I like a good bit of controversy, so I would be interested to see such an arc.

There is actually a lot more I would like to post about these two films, regarding how the digital age has changed our human interaction, self-harm, and adolescent issues in general, but we will save that chat for another time.

Until then, what do you think?

Can you have a negative arc with a positive outcome?

 

1 Response

  1. Sarah

    Hellz yeah! You tackle this question much better than I did in my brain…

    I watched Chatroom on a recommendation from LoveFilm and with mixed reviews, I was apprehensive. Actually though I enjoyed it. I like the idea of it, the plot and the character interaction (can you call it ‘real’ interaction? Maybe a question for another time…) completely captured me.

    I’m glad your short answer is ‘yes’, ’cause I think so too. Although it’s difficult to justify or explain methinks, it’s almost like calling black ‘white’.

    ^.^

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