Everyone Has Reversals

Story Lessons, Big and Small (Warning: Spoilers!)

August 07, 2005

Hardest Working Opening Award

Great openings do a lot of work, and X-men (the original) has a great opening.

It's raining. The title over tells us it's Poland, 1944. We see a young boy torn away from his parents by soldiers; they're clearly on their way to a concentration camp. The boy struggles against the men who have him, trying in vain to be close to his parents again. Iron gates close behind him, separating him from his parents. Still, he reaches out in desperation. At this moment, the kid's "mutation" kicks in-- without touching anything, he's able to bend the iron of the gate into a pile of mangled hunks. But to no avail-- his parents are gone. He's left, shattered, surrounding by confused soldiers.

This opening:
  • is a high-stakes yet emotional scene, and we don't even know any characters yet. Partly this is due to how well it's written, but never underestimate the value of setting a scene in a time/place/event the audience already understands-- that way, you can be very small and subtle about the scene, and, because of what the audience brings to the table, it will resonate powerfully. More powerfully than if you had to do a lot of explaining.
  • is an elegant scene. A title card, some men speaking Polish-- it's the action that's showing us what is happening, and the kid's emotional journey. The scene is simple enough that we're able to take it all in.
  • introduces us to the idea of mutants discovering their abilities in adolescence and in times of stress.
  • gives us the origin story for the key villain of the film-- a brave and interesting choice.
  • necessarily introduces the villain of the film, Magneto, because perhaps the most important thing this opening accomplishes is that it establishes what the film is going to be about. The theme is the heart of this film, as well as the comics... it's about tolerance/intolerance. We've now seen Magneto's beginnings and, even when we don't agree with his actions, we will always understand why he's doing what he's doing-- he's the one who's seen first hand what humans in their intolerance are capable of.
All films (and yes, we as writers) should strive for openings that accomplish so much in so little time.

Be inspired. Go!


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