Sunday, 2 October 2011

Character and Balance: ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain?’

Who’ll Stop The Rain? (Directed by Karel Reisz)
Traditionally, the main character is played against secondary ones in order to demonstrate that only the main character can surmount the obstacles posed in the story. This promotes the notion of a singular hero set against the world. By altering this relationship, a scriptwriter can suggest that no one character is privileged, and that the main character has to deal with the same limitations confronting all of the other characters...

A Case Study of Balance: Who’ll Stop the Rain?

Who’ll Stop the Rain?, written by Judith Rascoe and Robert Stone (on whose novel the film is based), reverses the classic case of the main character dominating the narrative. John Converse (Michael Moriarty) is the main character, a man trying to decide whether he is an idealist or a cynic. The Vietnam War and the 1960s are making him increasingly cynical. He decides to sell heroin acquired in Vietnam and engages Ray Hicks (Nick Nolte), a former Marine buddy now in the merchant marines, to help.

Ray is a loyal friend to John and helps transport the heroin to the United States. Unfortunately, John has naively joined a smuggling operation that doesn’t tolerate amateurs. Ray protects the heroin and John’s wife (Tuesday Weld), and rescues John from an FBI agent (Anthony Zerbe) who employs two of the most venal co-agents (Richard Masur and Ray Sharkey) imaginable. They are ruthless, cruel, and hideously funny. All of these characters are more energetic and heroic than John is. Indeed, John seems inept and indifferent to his fate; he is a depressed main character. As we might expect in a main character, Ray, on the other hand, is energetic, charismatic, and inventive. But Ray is a secondary character. He is also heroic in terms of overcoming the obstacles that endanger John, his wife, and himself. Ray is selfless and, in the end, sacrifices himself in the name of friendship.

Who’ll Stop the Rain? positions the main character–secondary character balance directly opposite the position of the classic model. This strategy is implemented to undermine the sense that the main character is privileged. The consequent antiheroics of John may alienate those in the audience who want a hero with whom to identify, but John’s position provides a more reflective and realistic self-exploration of the Vietnam–U.S. relationship. Just as John Converse reflects on his feelings about himself, the war, and his future, so, too, do we. The primacy of the secondary characters in Who’ll Stop the Rain? leads to the desired conclusion.

– Ken Dancyger and Jeff Rush: Alternative Scriptwriting (2007)

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