False protagonist

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The words at the other side of the poster say "It is required that you see Psycho from the very beginning." There is a space for theatre staff to advertise the start of the next showing.
Hitchcock thought that if people entered the theater late and never saw Janet Leigh, they would feel cheated.[1]

In fiction, a false protagonist is a literary technique, often used to make the plot more jarring or more memorable by fooling the audience's preconceptions, that constructs a character who the audience assumes is the protagonist but is later revealed not to be.

A false protagonist is presented at the start of the fictional work as the main character, but then is eradicated, often by killing them (usually for shock value or as a plot twist) or changed in terms of their role in the story (i.e. making them a lesser character, a character who leaves the story, or revealing them to actually be the antagonist).[2]

Overview

In film, a character can be made to seem like the main protagonist based on a number of techniques (beyond just simply focusing the plot on their role). Star power is a very effective method; audience members generally assume that the biggest "name" in a movie will have a significant part to play. An abundance of close-ups can also be used as a subliminal method. Generally, the star of a film will get longer-lasting and more frequent close-ups than any other character, but this is rarely immediately apparent to viewers during the film. Alternatively, the false protagonist can serve as a narrator to the movie, encouraging the audience to assume that the character survives to tell their tale later.[3]

Many of the same techniques used in film can also apply to television, but the episodic nature adds an additional possibility. By ending one or more episodes with the false protagonist still in place, the show can reinforce the viewers' belief in the character's protagonist status. Also, because TV shows often have changes of cast between seasons, some series can have unintentional false protagonists: characters who begin the series as the main character but then are replaced early in the show's run by another character entirely. When the series is viewed as a whole, this can lead to the appearance of a false protagonist.

In video games, a false protagonist may initially be a playable character, only to be killed or revealed to be the antagonist. One key way in which video games employ the method that differs from uses in non-interactive fiction is by granting the player direct control over the false protagonist. Since most video games allow a player to control only the main characters (and their success or failure is based on playing skill, not pre-determined story), the sudden demise of the character that is being controlled serves to surprise the player.

Examples

Literature

The Book of Samuel starts with Samuel as a young boy. He was the main focus in the first few chapters until he eventually becomes a minor character.
  • The Book of Samuel begins with Samuel's birth and God's call to him as a boy. At this point, the readers are led to believe that Samuel is the central figure in the book. Though by the sixteenth chapter, the book starts to primarily focus on David.[4]
  • In Aldous Huxley's Brave New World readers are initially led to believe the protagonist is Bernard Marx until the introduction of John the Savage, at which point the story starts to almost entirely focus on John.
  • George R. R. Martin's novel, A Game of Thrones, the first entry in the A Song of Ice and Fire epic fantasy series, features chapters told from the point of view of numerous characters, though the most prominent is Ned Stark, who is generally assumed to be the novel's main protagonist until the final chapters where he is unexpectedly executed.[5][6]

Film

  • In The Ten Commandments, Moses is the main protagonist for the first hour of the film until it switches to the 1920s to focus on the sinful lives of John and Dan McTavish.
  • Alfred Hitchcock's film Psycho opens with Marion Crane as the main character. However, she is killed partway through the film, making the murder far more unexpected and shocking. Hitchcock felt that the opening scenes with Marion as the false protagonist were so important to the film that when it was released in theaters, he compelled theater owners to enforce a "no late admission" policy.[7]
Barrymore was usually featured in the film's promotional posters as she was the more notable actress from the film at that time.[8]
Jamie Lee Curtis is featured as a on this film's poster, even though her character is killed in the opening scene.

See also

References

  1. ^ Leigh, pp. 105–6
  2. ^ Christopher W. Tindale (2007). Fallacies and Argument Appraisal. Cambridge University Press. pp. 28–33. ISBN 978-0-521-84208-2. 
  3. ^ Jonason, Peter K.; Webster, Gregory D.; Schmitt, David P.; Li, Norman P.; Crysel, Laura. "The antihero in popular culture: Life history theory and the dark triad personality traits.". Review of General Psychology. 16 (2): 192–199. doi:10.1037/a0027914. 
  4. ^ Gordon 1986, p. 18.
  5. ^ Hibberd, James (June 12, 2011). "Game of Thrones recap: The Killing". Entertainment Weekly. p. 1. Retrieved August 17, 2014. 
  6. ^ Poniewozik, James (June 13, 2011). "Game of Thrones Watch: The Unkindest Cut". Time. Retrieved August 13, 2014. 
  7. ^ Leigh, Janet. Psycho : Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller. Harmony Press, 1995. ISBN 0-517-70112-X.
  8. ^ http://screenjabber.com/psycho-50th-importance

External links

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