Everyone Has Reversals

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

December 30, 2008

The Surprise Payoff


Will the Circle of Being Be Unbroken?

A while back I saw 3:10 to Yuma. I tell you, if I'd participated in the making of this film, I would be very upset that it was nominated for a mere two Oscars (original score and sound mixing). You kidding me? This is easily one of the best films of 2007.

And here's the part that knocked my socks off: the protagonist, Dan (Christian Bale), offers up a third-act payoff to his back story that changes how the entire climax plays out... and yet it's a payoff we never saw coming. Never knew we needed until it was right there in front of us.

Got your 3-D Spoiler Glasses on?

Several times as Dan is trying to get Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) onto that 3:10 train to prison, we hear about Dan's wartime injury. There's clearly a sense of shame for Dan regarding the loss of his leg, but the cause for the shame seems self-evident: he was injured in the war and now feels like less of a man. Less able to care for his family now that he's home. We don't question Dan's back story or his shame at all -- it's simply what makes him so determined now to succeed.

It's not until Ben has Dan in a stranglehold that Dan volunteers the truth: in fact, his wartime injury is the result of fellow soldiers shooting at him as he tried to desert.

Talk about shame! Now it all becomes clear: Dan's determination is completely about redeeming himself, particularly in front of his son. It's not something he's choosing to do; it's something he must do.

Ben, upon hearing the story, allows himself to be shepherded to the train. Of course, it's a classic Western, so not everyone makes it to their happy ending... but Dan's story comes full circle as he's able to prove himself worthy in the eyes of his son.

A payoff we didn't even know we needed until it was right there upon us. Wow.

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Blogger Averyslave said...

Glad to see you're back, and I agree completely with your take on 3:10. Great movie.

9:01 p.m.  
Blogger laish said...

We watched this film last night, based on the first few lines of your post. It was fantastic - why can't more movies be this good/smart? I hadn't read ahead to the spoiler so nothing was spoiled. Next up, In Bruges! (haven't read ahead in that entry yet either). Thanks for posting again!

4:27 p.m.  
Blogger Third World Girl said...

I don't get why people are so ambivalent about this movie. I thought it was great! Really compelling characters.

9:05 p.m.  

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