False protagonists

A cinema theatre is a safe haven. When the lights go out the audience is asked to invest in a fabricated world, but their dedication to this fiction is repaid with a sense of certainty. The implied promise of a happy ending (in mainstream commercial cinema) is the best example of this certainty. Another unspoken rule is that the main character in the movie, the one the viewer identifies with most, will make it unscathed until at least the final scenes.


But a handful of movies break with this model by using a decoy or false protagonist. They seem to follow the usual mold, following a central character for some length of time, only to kill off or abandon that character long before the movie is over. Sometimes for shock value, sometimes for narrative surprise. To increase the impact well-known actors are sometimes cast in these throwaway roles, making their early exit all the more surprising.

This video essay by film student Bram Luyten takes a closer look at the false protagonist phenomenon. He uses the foursome of Psycho, Scream, The Hurt Locker and in particular The Place Beyond the Pines to fashion a short that can (almost) function as a stand-alone story.


This edit ingeniously plays up the many serendipitous parallels between this quartet of movies. It uses visual and narrative similarities to smoothly cut between four very disparate scenes. A close-up of an eye, the wearing of a protective helmet, remixed phone conversations… Small connections such as these help turn this video essay into a coherent whole.

This video essay includes clips from:


Psycho [feature film] Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Shamley Productions, USA, 1960. 109 mins.
Scream [feature film] Dir. Wes Craven. Woods Entertainment et. al., USA, 1996. 111 mins.
The Hurt Locker [feature film] Dir. Kathryn Bigelow. First Light Production et. al., USA, 2008. 131 mins.
The Place Beyond the Pines [feature film] Dir. Derek Cianfrance. Electric City Entertainment et.al., USA, 2012. 140 mins.