The Big Chill

by KE Monahan Huntley

The Big Chill, directed by Lawrence Kasdan, written by Lawrence Kasdan and Barbara Benedek, is a recurring subject for Dramatica questions, particularly in the areas of multiple main characters and audience reception.

To paraphrase a recent Chris Huntley missive:

The Big Chill's ideal interpretation falls outside of the current description of a Dramatica grand argument story. That said, it is perfectly consistent with the GAS, but one would use the Dramatica software somewhat differently to analyze. The "principle" characters actually fall into the objective story throughline; eight semi-archetypal characters if you include Alex (influence character). [KMH note: The character of Chloe, Alex's girlfriend, also represents an aspect of Alex's worldview.] The main character is a collective of the seven living friends and the audience, and Alex is the steadfast (ic resolve) character (and not because he's dead). Objectively, each character represents the same approach to problem solving as he or she did at the beginning of the film. Their viewpoint, however, has shifted to coincide with that of Alex's -- we understand this because of what is said about his worldview. (RE: Main Characters, Dramatica e-mail, Oct. 15 1999).

The action (story driver) of Alex committing suicide reunites the college friends. The funeral recession music underscores Alex's problem: "You can't always get what you want (desire) . . . but if you try some time, you might find, you get what you need." Like his unfinished house, Alex's unfulfilled life "sometimes it's hard to believe the Good Lord has a plan" (ic concern-conceptualizing) has tremendous impact on the main character: "I don't know why this happened" (mc concern-understanding). The objective story goal is the characters coming to terms with an idealized past. Gathered in mourning, sharing memories (relationship story concern), the superficial set is compelled to make sense (mc thematic issue) of individual life choices to reach a new understanding of who they are now (os benchmark-present).

As far as reception -- how the audience interprets a finished story and how a story's impact is changed because of the personality of the audience -- Chris Huntley maintains:

I believe that in constructing the film this way, the author(s) propagandize the audience to see things differently as well. As a piece of propaganda, it necessarily works better (is more effective) on its target audience which, I suspect, was supposed to be the baby boomers. It would be interesting to see what effect it might have (or reaction it might cause) on the Gen X or Gen Y generations. (RE: Main Characters, Dramatica e-mail, Oct. 15 1999).

As one character comments: "I'd hate to think it was all just fashion."

An Entertainment Weekly feature article on The Big Chill credits the film for soundtrack albums, dialogue intensive dramas, and even Bill Clinton (November 6, 1998). Re-released in 1998 -- fifteen years later -- The Big Chill has proven to be a trendsetter, not just a passing trend.

About the Author

KE Monahan Huntley is an editor and publisher based in Southern California. As one of the original contributors to Dramatica, she helped edit and analyze many of the examples. In addition, her numerous articles provided an insightful "conversational" approach to the theory. Today she can be found at Write Between the Lines or follow her on Twitter @kemhuntley.

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