Storytelling, like any artform, is constantly growing and changing. One of the strongest mediums we have today for telling stories is in movies and TV shows. I’ve noticed a very interesting trend lately with our favorite movies and TV that I wanted to explore today. It’s the Inverted Trope.
When people think of action heroes, they think of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and Sylvester Stallone. These are all lone wolves, who have to let go of all restraints to save the day. Often times they are all alone, and might even have to sacrifice themselves for others.
When people think of fantasy/superheroes, they think of Superman, Ripley, or Indiana Jones. These are charismatic heroes that easily defeat the villain, get the girl, and are an inspiration to us all. James Bond can also fall into this category.
However, many of these heroes or characters came from the ’80s, a time when filmmaking really became a fully fleshed out artform. We see the creation of the Blockbuster, thanks to Steven Spielberg, we see the heights of make believe with Star Wars, and some of the best horror movies all are from the ’80s. These are all classic versions of different genres that we look back to today.
Many of these stories follow, on some level, the Hero’s Journey, which I have written about previously.
However, when you look at the most popular stories of today, many of them are stark-opposites. As collectively agreed that the films of the ’80s shaped our culture, a new wave of post-modernism rose. Without getting too technical, post-modernism basically is the idea of flipping the paradigm, or status quo, and rejecting the traditional way of doing things.
The Badass and Child Duo
Where before, our action hero was all alone, and had to save the day, we now see a rise in the “Badass and Child Duo.” In The Last of Us, the sequel of which comes out today, 40-something year old Joel has to help 14 year old Ellie cross the zombie infested wasteland. In Logan, 197 year old ex-superhero has to help 12 year old Laura get to Canada. In The Mandalorian, our titular hero decides he must protect the 50 year old infant, commonly known as “Baby Yoda.” In all of these instances, our main hero could easily accomplish whatever task is in front of them, but the foil of helping a child not only slows down their task, but forces them to grow emotionally as well.
The Dark Hero
When we look at heroes, we see selfless bastions of Truth, Justice, and the American Way. We see people that are willing to put their life on the line to protect others, because it’s the right thing to do. However, in The Boys, these superheroes, based on characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and more, are lawless, ego-maniacal creeps who use their power to do whatever they want without worrying about consequences. Marvel character Deadpool is techincally a hero, but is far from the crisp, clean heroes like Captain America that share his universe. In Umbrella Academy, our mutant heroes have so much childhood baggage, that even if they do try to save the day, something about their fractured psyche gets in the way, and they can’t even get along long enough to finish the job.
The Hero. The Chosen One. The Savior. So many stories are all about how one hero is destined to save the world, because only they can. In The Lego Movie, “The Special” is just a random guy with no unique powers, features, or characteristics. In the end he only becomes a hero because other people said he would be, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Scott Pilgrim is a dude in his early-to-mid-twenties who likes a girl, but is stuck in his own immaturity. The story isn’t about his rise to greatness, his true power, or his purpose, but about how he wants to date a girl, and he needs to be a bit more mature. Again, not fall in love, or a true coming-of-age, just a simple idea of taking dating a bit more seriously. Again in The Boys, Hughie is the main character of the story, who is instrumental in much of the plot, but he’s just a guy who’s girlfriend died, and got caught up in this whole superhero conspiracy.
The Downer Ending
In a story of conflict, when you follow the hero you believe that at the end of the day, they will win. The question is how, and what are they willing to sacrifice to do so? Often times the only reason this was subverted, is if it was a horror/thriller story, in which case the failed ending lends itself to the horror. However, lately more stories don’t end with the hero winning. In Annihilation, scientists are sent into “The Shimmer” to try and see what is going, and hopefully put a stop to it. However, at the end, Shimmer-clones are the only ones that are able to survive and escape. In Breaking Bad, the reason Walter White gets into the Meth business is to pay for his medical bills due to cancer without bankrupting his family. At the end of the show, while he does pay off his bills, and makes some money, he dies anyway and is not able to enjoy the fruits of his labor. In Merlin, while Merlin himself survives, everyone he loves is dead, and he must wander the world alone. I’m not including the cliff-hanger Downer Endings, like The Last Jedi or Infinity War, because those are more akin to the false-victory you find halfway through a story. These are stories that end, sadly.
There are so many twists in modern storytelling, that I know I’ve missed some, these are just the ones that I have noticed.