All Women's Talk

Death of the Protagonist

By MaryAn

As if I don’t have enough on my plate – unfinished writing projects, a demanding job, even more demanding family life, music to learn, and migraines that reproduce, mutate, and slowly infest every inch of my head the way those cane frogs are plaguing Australia. Nasty little buggers. Anyway, on top of all of that, I get these questions that not even the migraines can quash. What makes a romantic comedy timeless? Is there a purpose behind battle speeches? An now, the latest questions that demand exploring -- the death of the protagonist(s). Why do we kill them and when should they die?

Killing off the protagonist at story’s end is not only about getting shock value, creating emotion, or closing an un-closeable story. While the death of the protagonist may accomplish those things, there also has to be a story purpose for the character’s demise. But what I read are a lot of wannabe's stories where the protagonist’s death feels like an after thought tacked on because the author wanted to add a few tears, a suspenseful ending, or a solution to an impossible situation. Or, he had third act writer's block.

I’ve begun dissecting and categorizing a few films where the protagonist(s) die at the end but I could certainly use additional suggestions and slashers do not count. Slashers are an exception to my “death with a purpose” theory because in slashers, death can be utterly pointless since the point of the whole film IS death. Usually, somebody survives (room for a sequel), but even if the protagonist does die, it is often to end the film with a bang -- a bizarre, unusual, or totally unexpected way to knock the protagonist off.

At least, that's what I'm thinking NOW. These thoughts are subject to change following my little study. I have ten films on my “death of a protagonist" study list and they will take some time for me to dissect and theorize but the floor is also open for suggestions.

Starting --- now.

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