Saturday, February 7, 2009

Structure of The Abyss

Spoilers: The Abyss

Sorry for the little delay since my last post! Since I’ve been talking about The Abyss (written by James Cameron), I figured I might as well break it down according to three act structure.

Main Character: Bud.

Prologue: The sinking of the Navy submarine is a prologue even though it is kind of an important part of the story. However, it could be cut out and the story would still make sense since the accident is explained to the main characters later. Opening with this scene does two things which prologues often do. First, it starts us off with an exciting event to draw the audience in and establish tone. Second, it introduces the mysterious “aliens.” Since we won’t see them again for a while, this lets the audience know that this is a world where such things exist. It’s important to establish that fact early on. The audience won’t accept something fantastical if it’s introduced too late in the story.

Domino: The domino is when the crew is ordered to participate in the rescue mission. This event starts the story in motion but does not yet introduce a real problem for Bud or the Main Conflict of the movie. The rescue mission is not the main conflict – it’s over before the end of Act I.

Catalyst: Lindsey first encounters the alien. This may seem a little late, even given the length of the movie and deducting the prologue. But Cameron has done a good job of giving us exciting and interesting sequences to carry us to this point, particularly with the investigation of the sunken submarine. The encounter with the alien introduces the Main Conflict so it’s the catalyst.

Main Conflict: This is a bit tricky. It has to do with the aliens and with Coffey who is the primary antagonist. Coffey dies at the end of Act II, though, so the conflict with him is the second act tension, not the main conflict. I’d phrase the Main Conflict as: “Will the aliens become friends or foes?” That’s the question that’s really driving the action – and the source of the conflict between Bud, Lindsey and Coffey. If Coffey gets his way, the humans will go to war with the aliens. Bud and Lindsey, however, want to establish a peaceful relationship.

Act One Break: The undersea facility is cut off from the surface by the storm. The people on the ocean floor will now have to resolve the issue of the aliens without any outside help or interference.

Midpoint: The alien pseudopod enters the facility. This is a high point for the main characters – Bud and Lindsey communicate with the aliens.

Act Two Break: Though Coffey is killed, he succeeds in launching the robot sub with the nuclear bomb. It sinks to a depth never before reached by divers with a timer ticking down. Bud and Lindsey have failed in their attempt to prevent Coffey’s attack on the aliens.

Twist/Epiphany*: Bud agrees to go on a suicide mission to stop the bomb using special deep diving apparatus brought down by the SEALS.

Resolution: Bud disarms the bomb, thus saving the aliens. In return for his actions, the aliens save Bud, then rescue the rest of the crew of the undersea facility.

*The term “twist” is confusing because a structural twist is not the same as a twist ending such as what the Sixth Sense has. Rather, it’s the point where the main character figures out how to solve his problem. One of my students recently suggested the term “epiphany” which I like, though it’s not always a mental realization that lets the character succeed. Sometimes it’s the locating of an object or other device, or overcoming of an obstacle. But epiphany is still perhaps a less confusing term then twist.

1 comment:

James Hubbs said...

Perhaps the term "breakthrough" might work better as a replacement for "twist" or "epiphany".