Following her abduction, a naive activist risks everything to escape and becomes the very ideals she was imprisoned for.
In a dying world, a grieving man fights against those willing to sacrifice everything to fix the past, to save his loved ones and let go of his pain.
A lower-class prodigy student wins a scholarship at the world’s most prestigious film school and taps into the “fountain of dreams” to lead a team of rejected students into cinema history.
Movies and reality are different things, this we all know (do we?). The fact of the camera following the action gives away the fantasy, placing us in a somewhat protected spot from which to experience the story. This is where the narrative comes in, and in some cases (if it’s good enough) it can brake that protection on the spot, tossing us back into a vulnerable state. And even if it happens at some points in the story, Utøya manages to do just that. So, I ask; do you want to experience a terrorist attack first hand? Want to know how it feels like to have someone on your back trying to murder you with a rifle? Then Erick Poppe’s Utøya is the movie you were looking for.
Wanna read the logline?
“A teenage girl struggles to survive and to find her younger sister during the July 2011 terrorist mass murder at a political summer camp on the Norwegian island of Utøya”.
I actually didn’t know about this terrorist attack or had any idea of the horrible situation that unfolded in the otherwise peaceful city of Oslo (which is also the setting of one of my favorite movies; Oslo, August 31st), and the movie portraits it in a straightforward way. No time for philosophical debate about the intentions of the assassin or sociological interpretations of the Norwegian culture, none of that. What we get is a movie about a girl trying to find her sister in the middle of increasing danger. And to be honest, this is, at the same time, the weakest and strongest aspect of the movie.
Because it is a suitable protagonist for the story, it works. We understand why she prefers to risk her life to find her sister than to run away like the rest of her friends. But, we understand her because of the somehow “cliché” character build. She’s the girl who “always does what’s right”; yet being like that works to make the whole story happen. I mean, it’s because of her fighting the desire to escape that she stays in the danger zone long enough to explore it. Along the way to find her sister, she meets other characters that are unable to escape; like this child who’s waiting for his brother (presumably killed) or this other girl who’s already been shot, in an increasingly dangerous situation from her. From the farthest as possible from the killer and slowly building into meeting him, the movie dares us to stay and face the situation.
This is actually a pretty clever design, the movie starts with the protagonist literally telling the audience they’re never gonna understand because they’re not there (she’s actually talking over the phone but the intention is clear) and then present us with a normal world in which young people vacationing in this island outside of the city are just hearing about a terrorist attack on a government facility. From there we get to understand a bit about the protagonist (this cliché establishment) because of a discussion with her sister, who seems unable to put herself in the shoes of others. It’s interesting to note that the camera never leaves the side of the protagonist, until the very end, and so we’re at her side as gunshots are heard. From there on and until the end, the in crescendo of peril will certainly keep you rooting for salvation.
But, does it happen?
I guess you’re gonna have to watch the movie to figure it out since I’m no fan of spoilers. I can tell you that it will be an entertaining and frightening experience. Utøya’s cinematography might not be as polished as a classic movie’s, especially since it relies on a “hand-held” documentary style of camera work, normally used in the horror genre, but especially effective to convey the experience.
If you watched it before, what do you think of the ending?
You can watch Utøya on MUBI.
Just by watching the initial 5 minutes of Taipei Suicide Story, I got immediately unnerved and had to reach a search engine to look for information. There was a question in my mind that needed an answer right away…
Are Suicide Hotels a real thing?
Turn out they don’t, but the sole idea of them being so completely changed my perspective on life. I think this is one of those what if… that better showcases the current state of human affairs. And I have to be honest here, I think that they shouldn’t be real for the most part, at least not in such an open way. I think killing oneself is a grave mistake, especially given the plasticity of the brain and our capacity to reinvent ourselves over and over again. Does society fail to provide meaning to us? Of course, but at the same time we are part of society I think, we are agents of meaning.
So, what do any of these ideas have to do with Taipei Suicide Story? Well, a lot actually! But let me explain. This short film (at 40 + minutes this is hardly short but anyways) by writer/editor/director KEFF, his second film so far, presents us with a setting in which suicide hotels are a real thing. Many people go to these places and they are allowed to stay only one night, by the end of which they can decide either to kill themselves or walk away. Following the protagonist of the story, a receptionist in this hotel, we get into a procedural mood all over the place. Workers go about the rooms of the hotel “cleaning” the place, which means taking out the bodies. Our protagonist doesn’t seem too interested in any of this and this proves to be his downfall. Just at the beginning, he has a chance to “see the truth”, when a repented customer comes to him to deliver the keys to his room, having decided to “give life another chance”. You can guess how the protagonist responds to this; he doesn’t care.
I’m tempted to imagine what could have been about that customer after leaving the hotel…
But anyway, the protagonist has another chance at empathy when a coworker tells him that one of the customers has been staying in the hotel for over a week now. Pissed off at the bureaucratic problem this situation poses, he goes to take charge of it all. It is then that his life changes 180° after meeting the woman living in the room. Her situation is simple, she wanted to kill herself but then decided against it, but still, she doesn’t want to live either. So, her only choice is to remain in the hotel. Not knowing exactly what to do, the protagonist gives her one last night to decide, either she kills herself or walks away.
From here on, the two characters get to meet and spend a significant amount of time together, initially because the protagonist feels guilty because of his inconsiderate way of acting, which quickly becomes interested in the woman, who doesn’t say much about her life and is more curious about this man who lives as if there was nothing bad going on. Yet the protagonist’s answers offer little comfort to someone lost of meaning, as he talks about the positive aspects of being a nobody, a regular whatever guy with a whatever life. The woman clings silently to some melancholic feelings as she chooses her last meal and they part ways with some sense of hope, as they both seem to connect on a sentimental level.
Yet every hope dissipates when the woman unexpectedly asks for a razor blade, asking the protagonist to deliver it himself into the room. And it’s here that the protagonist ultimately fails, as he’s given a new chance to change the destiny of this woman, yet some inexplicable fear of commitment, or perhaps his own failure to grasp a valuable meaning to life, impedes him from making a choice that could have saved both of them.
The offering of a helping hand. You can guess how the movie ends, nothing too hard to understand. I absolutely encourage you to watch Taipei Suicide Story and admire the simplicity of its presentation, the nakedness of its truth, and the masterfully created plot that keeps you hoping for something maybe you could not deliver yourself. In a sense, I think no one can walk away from this movie unchanged.
Hi there, it’s been a while since the last time we went into this amazing prison story and the sick challenge. Last time we built the second act start, an aspect of the truth acting as an antidote to the specific lie (a moment of truth). This time, we’ll go forward into K.M. Weiland’s theme template to write the first part of the second act.
But what happens in this part of the story?
The protagonist gains a growing awareness of the truth, meaning, everything it will take to achieve the goal.
I think, given the story so far, the protagonist needs to understand that he won’t be able to do it alone and that to do it with others he needs to regain hope, to inspire others to follow him.
Now, let’s remember that the goal of the story is to win the challenge and escape from prison. Okay, so the first part of the second act comprises the lock-in (the moment the character decides to go into the plot, which was our last endeavor) and up to the mid-point, where the character experiences a halfway truth.
So, a good question to ask is…
Think about it as an antidote to the specific truth, which was something like this;
If generally “Hope makes people suffer and waste their lives”, then specifically, “Hope can make you suffer and get you killed”.
Considering that idea, let’s say that a half-truth can be suffering because of hope it’s called living, and it’s okay because it keeps you moving forward.
Now, how does the protagonist learn this?
There’s one element that can help us here, remember that people regained hope because of him and also that there are people that have been here a long time, these are the senior prisoners and they have information others don’t have, specifically, information on how to stay alive (but not how to win).
How about if one of these prisoners is his father, the one responsible for the family’s demise in the past. He’s also a senior prisoner and has much experience in “how to stay alive”, but not much about actually living. If we can make him change this perspective after meeting the protagonist and also sacrifice himself to teach this lesson to him at the midpoint, voila, we have our first part of the second act.
We have to understand that, up to this point, the protagonist has been reacting to the prison setting and the antagonist by exposing himself, he’s not thinking about escaping, he’s thinking about revenge. So, in a sense the character is not fighting to free himself because he has no hope for a better future, he’s trapped in the past. At the mid-point, we need the character to distance himself from that past and we’re going to use a mentor figure to make this happen.
At the end of the last chapter, the protagonist was beaten up by the guards as a reprimand for winning the first challenge. He also had his first encounter with the antagonist, who doesn’t recognize him and lets him go, underestimating him. As we already know, because of the protagonist’s win, people in prison town regained hope and started talking again. But, seeing the protagonist comes back harmed after his victory, a question is raised; who will have enough courage to maintain hope? At this point, we should introduce our mentor, which is also the protagonist’s father.
The important thing about this part of the story is that the protagonist enters a learning phase, by which he prepares and acquires the “tools” needed to complete the goal of the story.
And we already established that what he needs to learn is:
The understanding that he won’t be able to do it alone and that to do it with others he needs to regain hope, to inspire others to follow him.
As we know from previous installments, the protagonist lost hope after his father failed to show up in a war situation, resulting in the death of his mother and sisters. Because of this, our protagonist now prefers a lonely life and keeps hope away from his mind, which gives him a “coldhearted” persona. But there’s more because this coldhearted persona has a positive side, it allows him to analyze situations rationally and find the best possible ways to face them. Problem is, being led by the specific lie, the protagonist is only half of his true self and he’s also not realizing his full potential.
To make him face the lie he’s been living all this time, we need to make him confront the source, the father, while also making him learn what it takes to win the challenge, to escape the prison. The way we’re using the father, as a senior prisoner, gives us these tools because the father has valuable knowledge about how the prison town works and also because, in a way, he’s the one that caused the wound of the protagonist. What’s interesting here is that the father also believes in the specific lie, “hope can make you suffer and get you killed”. This is the reason he has survived all this time; it may also be the reason he didn’t show up that day in the past. Yet, seeing his son accomplishing the impossible, actually winning the first challenge, makes the father change. Deep inside he can now see the truth:
This means that the attitude of living by the rule “hope can make you suffer and get you killed” is not actually living, and having survived in the past while losing his family, and even surviving now inside the prison is not actually living. He may not need to say this, but the father has made his choice, he will rekindle hope inside his son’s heart as a final testament of his own life, a tribute.
Now, to build the first part of the second chapter we need to keep in mind our main plot lines:
Let’s start from the top.
As we remember, last time our protagonist came back to prison town after being beaten up by the guards. People had regained hope and now they can see, yet again, what hope really means in this place. So naturally, they walk away, scared even to help this man who helped them just hours ago. But there’s one person who doesn’t walk away… you guessed right, the father. He obviously doesn’t reveal his true identity immediately, he presents himself as an interesting party and inquires about the protagonist’s objective, even offering to help in achieving this goal. Now, because the father already knows about the upcoming events, he issues a warning, to win the next challenge, the protagonist will need more than himself, he will need a team.
I understand that this might seem a bit “plot-driven”, but I want to explain. At this point, I want to open the story by introducing different characters that can reflect upon the theme while showing interesting characterizations, to enrich the story. It’s also fair to assess that the protagonist has met some of these characters in the first round, he must have found some interesting characters there, especially the ones that didn’t go into the maze blindly. Let’s say he even has one or two in his mind already, added to the ones the father is thinking about.
And so, the day of the new challenge arrives and expectations are high. There’s a new tendency on social media surrounding the event, people are betting on the protagonist, and they want to see him succeed. This poses a problem for the antagonist because he can’t have another prisoner win. He goes hard on the guards, on all the people in charge of the event to make sure this time things go according to plan, yet at the same time, he has to maintain a positive attitude towards the audience and their desires, which forces him to lose control, thus changing the status quo for the first time.
As we know, the new challenge is about teamwork and the stakes are higher than ever. Will the protagonist achieve a second victory? I guess we’ll find out next time, as we’ll go into building this second challenge and moving the plot towards the midpoint of the story. Until then, good luck in writing!
Mother and daughter face the oppression of the Church as they are both cursed by a demon, which becomes their only weapon of deliverance.
This has to be one of the toughest shootings I’ve ever had. Filming was a logistical nightmare! and many of the crew members were talking about the place being actually haunted. I don’t know, some part of me thinks they might have been right.
“Even if an endeavor built on lies seems to get off to a good start, the truth will always prevail in the long run”.
Margo, a world-class procrastinator, has a chance at success by stealing the shadows of the talented, taking their abilities but causing turmoil that forces her to assume major responsibilities which could bring about the end of the world.
Okay! it’s time for the seventh part of our series about K.M. Weiland’s theme template. And I think we have an amazing story in our hands.
Let’s make a quick recap of the things we have so far!
We have a protagonist, who is a selfless and skillful person. A war orphan who becomes a killing machine, a person who has learned to gain new abilities fast to survive. Because of exemplary achievements during the war, he’s awarded higher education and chooses a medical career as he feels guilty for killing so many people. Yet, something strange happens, he gains fame for being “coldhearted” as he approaches cases with a clear mindset, “if a person is beyond saving it’s better not to attempt a procedure“ is his motto, which expresses the lie he believes, that in hope there’s only pain and death.
Our doctor protagonist gets accused of letting a patient die in the operating room. Worst, this patient is actually one of the enemy soldiers that brutally murder his family in the past. Yet, he doesn’t go to a regular prison, he goes into a prison town where he and other prisoners have to participate in a series of almost unsolvable puzzles, in order to earn food for their families. Failing a puzzle means death, but a participant has the opportunity to choose a family member to die for them, this will keep them in the game.
The winner of this prison challenge can opt to become the new warden of the prison town and can even choose to free all of the participants. But, our antagonist, the warden of the town, is a former prisoner and a stone-cold killer who feels the need to punish criminals and who’s comfortable with his power position.
The people in charge of choosing which prisoners go to prison town don’t have the information about our protagonist being a former soldier. They only know that he’s a coldhearted doctor who left a patient to die.
Now, we also stablished the way in which the unsolvable puzzles run.
A network of courses of actions (or ways to achieve a specific result), but they’re placed in a way that’s confusing and dazing and can only be surpassed using high military skills and/or gaining a new ability really fast, while being coldhearted.
And we said that “being coldhearted” means that one has to pass on the initial impulsive feeling of doing something and wait, analyze and reflect, in doing so you find patterns that weren’t initially available.
Okay! So, in our last session, our protagonist proves his worth by analyzing the problem in front of him. A puzzle in which prisoners have to escape a maze using strange collars with decreasing numbers on them. As the familiar waiting on the other side of the maze rants against him, thinking our protagonist has left them to die, he figures out the puzzle and runs towards the exit, saving not only his life and his familiar one, but everyone else still alive inside the maze.
This time, we’ll discover how the antagonistic forces respond to this incredible act of skills and guts, as our protagonist immerses himself fully into our plot.
Now, as we said in our previous session, the antagonist’s objective for this first challenge was to kickstart the reality TV show. For that to happen, they needed a great number of deaths inside the maze. But our protagonist prevented this to happen by solving the riddle inside.
While taking the decision to solve the puzzle and win the first challenge, what our protagonist actually did was to make the decision to go ahead in facing the dilemma presented to him, effectively starting the plot and the series of events which will lead to an inevitable resolution. His first win also represents the end of act one, as our character prepares to immerse himself fully into the conflict.
So, where to go from here?
According to K.M. Weiland’s theme template, we’re now entering the second act of our story. This time, we have to design the next step in our journey; “an aspect of the truth acting as an antidote to the specific lie, a moment of truth“.
As we came into our story, especially thinking about our setting, we have been surrounded by a powerful idea, that having hopes of surviving the prison town’s reality TV show leads prisoners to suffer and die while facing the sadistic challenges presented to them. In a previous session we also included the idea that the warden is completely against letting anyone win, because doing so would mean him loosing the power position he holds.
Let’s explore this idea, let’s say that prisoners, especially senior ones, already know that is impossible to win. Yet, they fail or don’t care to convince new members that is better to just survive, rather than to attempt to win. These senior prisoners have also become extremely efficient at surviving, they don’t care about winning, and they may even use newcomers to gain precious insight as to how to stay alive.
As such, we have two kinds of prisoners:
Now, our protagonist’s heroic feat has to have shaken more than one of these senior prisoners cages, right? Why is this so important? because one of them can become a powerful ally, a mentor even. Why is this so important? Remember our truth:
Our protagonist still doesn’t have any hope for him, but his amazing victory has sent ripples of hope across the prison town. Families have started talking again, conversations now include a key element; there’s a possibility of winning this thing.
And what is that in a nutshell? Hope!
And what about our protagonist, what happened to him after winning?
As our current step indicates, this is the moment in which he makes the decision to fully immerse into the conflict, and as a result, he also fully immerses in his inner conflict between lie and truth:
So, let’s say that, after his victory, prison guards take our protagonist backstage. Not for a congratulation party, but to beat him up for ruining the first episode of the TV show. And you know what else, after the beating he gets to meet the prison warden, who’s eager to face the man who made a mockery of his plans. As the two characters meet, a shocking revelation transpires. The warden is no other than the senior military officer that ordered the killing of our protagonist’s family. Let’s make it worst, he was the one who first pulled the trigger. And even worst than that, he enjoyed it.
As the warden interrogates our protagonist, trying to understand how a simple physician was able to decipher and win the first challenge, our protagonist makes the utmost effort to keep his emotions hidden, inside he’s bursting with anger and murderous intent, but outside he remains calm. He doesn’t stop gathering information, doesn’t stop searching, grinding for an opportunity. Because of this, the warden makes his first mistake, he underestimates our protagonist’s capabilities, effectively letting him go after checking that the whole thing was just a stroke of luck.
The guards bring our protagonist, all beaten up, back to his house in prison town for all to see. Prisoners and families, both newcomers and senior ones, have had the day to taste the sweet nectar of hope. But, watching their new hero in this shape, how many of them will be strong enough to keep it?
Guess we’ll have to wait for the next time to know! One thing is certain, our protagonist has not given up, in fact, he now has a powerful reason to face the challenge ahead, the possibility of vengeance.
And with that idea, we end this chapter of our journey through K.M. Weiland’s theme template. Next time, we’ll be facing the first part of the second act, the trials phase, where our protagonist will gain a growing awareness of the truth. Until that time comes, good luck in writing!