Note: We'll look at this with An Officer and a Gentleman as reference.
- Hero (Zack Mayo)
- Nemesis (Drill Instructor Foley)
- Reflection (Sid - Zack's buddy)
- Romance (Paula - Zack's love interest)
A character's Outer Motivation regards what they physically want to achieve. In Zack's case, this is to become an Officer. In my case last night, it was to attend my class and learn about Character Motivation and Conflict.
A character's Inner Motivation regards why they want to achieve their Outer Motivation. In Zack's case this is because he wants to belong, and he wants to be better than his father. In my case it is to hopefully write the next best screenplay and make millions.
- Outer Motivation (Physical Achievement) = Plot
- Inner Motivation (Why?) = Theme
(I'll be looking at theme later).
Note (and this is important): Characters can share the same Outer Motivation, but they will have different reasons for wanting it. Their Inner Motivation will be derived from a different place. For example: Both Zack and Sid want to become Officers. However, Zack wants to belong, but Sid is Other-driven. Sid is doing it for his parents and his dead brother. Both Inner Motivations are different and yet they relate to the movie's theme.
The general rule of Conflict is:
- Outer Conflict = Nemesis
- Inner Conflict = Self
The Inner and Outer Motivations directly relate to the Inner and Outer Conflicts, and until the Inner Conflict is resolved, the Inner Motivation cannot be achieved. Similarly, until the Outer Conflict is resolved, the Outer Motivation cannot be achieved.
Dito Montiel (writer and director of A Guide to Recognising Your Saints) says that there is always a character (at least one) who is lying about their Outer Motivation. In the case of Zack, he tells everyone he wants to Fly Jets. This dishonesty can often work on an inner level, where the character is in fact lying to themself, whilst their actions show/prove otherwise.
Paula does this also, telling Zack that she meets with Officers because she wants to improve and enjoy herself. Yet she wants to fall in love, and she does do with Zack, despite, later, reaffirming that she just wants to spend time with him.
Robert McKee says that if a scene is about what it's about, then you're in big trouble. If the dialogue and the action are doing the same thing then the dialogue is essentially on the nose (which is a bad thing). The dialogue and the action should be working against each other, generating the conflict. In the later scene, Paula is cooking Zack breakfast, she's vased some flowers and she's looking at him all doughy-eyed, and yet still professing that she just wants to have fun.
Dialogue that is on the nose doesn't sit right with the audience. Saying exactly what is intended by a character makes for a boring scene. Any character who admits what they want must have earned that privilege. When Zack admits to Foley that he has nowhere else to go, this has been earned. It doesn't feel so easy on the audience when Paula sobs to her mother that she loves Zack - Boo hoo!
- Inner and Outer Motivation : An Officer and A Gentleman
The important thing about generating this information is that, particularly with Outer Motivations, you shouldn't overcomplicate. These should be nice, basic, grounded, crystal-clear ideas that the audience can grasp and run with.
In An Officer and A Gentleman the first half of the script focuses on the Outer Motivation, and then, bang on the midpoint, it switches to the Inner Motivation (this is the same for Thelma and Louise). Not until the scene where Foley breaks Zack, and tells him to stop the "Bullshit" about flying jets. Foley wants Zack's character, and more importantly for Zack to realise this... his Inner Motivation.
Becoming a Gent
In Romantic Comedies in particular, the story is about a hero overcoming their issues so as to become worthy of their object of affection. In An Officer and A Gentleman, Paula is already emotionally developed, and it is Zack's character who needs to develop to match her and be worthy of her. Zack's Inner Conflict is deep, whereas Paula's isn't - hers is in fact a positive conflict.
The ending, in which Zack whisks Paula off her feet and carries her out of the paper factory and away from her horrible future, is etched on Hollywood history; an iconic image that epitomises why the film is one of the top Chick-flicks. But, should we accept what it first appears - that Zack is saving Paula?
Whilst this might physically and visually be the case, the truth might be considered in reverse. The opposite is happening. Paula, and her continued efforts for Zack's affections, has saved Zack. Paula is saving Zack from becoming his father - just as in Thelma and Louise, where the last frame freezes on a positive note, with the car still on the incline - the last shot, the frozen frame, is on Paula removing Zack's hat and placing it upon her own head - symbolism? I think so.
But, lets take a couple of steps back. A well-worked narrative often relates where the Hero is at the end of the film back to where they began, giving the audience a bookend. When the Officers graduate they all go off to their families, leaving Zack alone on the field, with no one to share his success with, and then, as he's riding off, he stops by Foley drilling the new recruits, replaying the same old sayings. We have Zack as he is now, an Officer, looking back at where's he's come from, seeing who he was - the Hero's Return.