I have a new favorite bookmark:

I used to think I was cheating when I used movies and television shows to illustrate topics in my writing classes. Not any more. I’ve come to accept that I need all the help I can get for teaching and studying story structure in particular.

For analysis, nothing compares to a story presented visually. The stories are short (about two hours, in one sitting, instead of the many hours, spread over days, that it takes to read a book); plot points are often emphasized by music and crafty camera work; characters change visibly, before our eyes, not needing a thousand words. We may miss the leisurely enjoyment of language, but we feel the immediacy, being hit over the head with structure.

A movie I didn’t particularly like brought me my latest thrill in its use of a device to circle back, from the end to the beginning. The movie was THEORY OF EVERYTHING, with an amazing performance by Redmayne, but somehow the writers et al. missed the fact that Stephen Hawking is a physicist. I guess they thought that wasn’t an important enough part of his life and gave it only a “by the way” in the movie.

But here’s the good moment. It’s not a spoiler in the usual sense, but it does give away this wonderful device. The details may be off since I saw it some time ago, but the idea is in tact.


Toward the beginning of the movie, when Hawking is not yet bowled over by his disease, a woman in a classroom drops a pen. Hawking bends over, picks it up, and hands it to her. No big deal.

Toward the end of the movie (he’s now famous, though you’d never guess why from the movie), a woman in a large audience drops a pen as she asks a big question, like what’s it all about, Stevie?

The camera goes to Hawking, who (with appropriate background music) straightens up in his wheelchair, stands, walks down the steps of the stage to where the pen is, picks up the pen, and hands it to the woman. He walks up the steps and returns to his chair to answer the question.

A great little package; an outstanding device, in a movie or in a novel.


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