We’re so close to the end, you guys! Today we work on the sequence that can make or break your film. It’s tough because sometimes the most emotionally resonant moments in your story the beats with memorable impact, happen in Act Two. But the Climax is what your audience initially is going to remember and will be a huge part of what they takeaway from the film. As movies are viewed more and more, this can sometimes change. People are more forgiving of a film they watch at home on the couch, whether the first time or in repeat viewings. You want to make a splash with your script though, so take time to make sure that everything in your script (emotional arcs, themes, runners, etc.) should all culminate into this sequence to show the audience how the protagonist has changed.
I mentioned in the last sequence that the Third Act Decision can be the most difficult sequence because so many times writers try to complete the arc there. Whatever the emotional need was that you set up back in the very beginning of the script, will now come full circle as your protagonist ultimately achieves their third act goal and proves how they’ve changed.
Depending on your story, you may want to include a Resolution beat or an entire sequence. An entire sequence will look often look a lot like your Pre-Existing Life sequence. Your protagonist goes about their normal day but when a setback comes they’ll behave differently. This shows that even if the world the protagonist is IN hasn’t changed, the protagonist has. A great example of this is “Working Girl”. We saw her “day in the life” at the beginning of the script. The last ten minutes of the script depict Tess (Melanie Griffith) in her new reality. She gets ready for work with a cute lunch made by her boyfriend (Harrison Ford), but she’s nervous about the work. When she gets there, she even has a moment where she thinks that she has wound up on another assistant desk without realizing it. This is quickly turned around when her assistant introduces herself. Tess is nicer to her assistant than her previous boss was towards her and then excitedly calls her friend about her awesome office. She’s still the sweet Tess she always was, but now she’s much more confident and living in her new reality.
For today’s sequence though, I’ve picked a story that felt timely but does not have a Resolution sequence. “Children of Men” is a story about xenophobia to the point of chaos and how it came out a dictatorship. It’s a brilliant script that was ahead of it’s time. Part of that is because it’s meant to be ahead of it’s time, as it came as a warning. What I really mean when I say this though is that it basically predicts a President Trump/Prime Minister Boris Johnson world, well before they were in these top positions of power, vs. films like “Joker” or other more recent films that call out the injustices done by these wannabe-dictatorships in real time. When “Children of Men” came out over ten years ago, no one could imagine a Trump presidency, partially because the Republicans were soon to be out of office when W. left and didn’t believe anyone more conservative could arise.
The film is about a man, Theo (Clive Owen), living in London in the year 2027. Immigrants are rounded up throughout the country and put in cages There are propaganda films that claim the world outside the UK is even worse. The world is in mourning after the world’s youngest person has died at the age of 18. For almost two decades, women in the world have been barren. There is a liberal faction in London, the Fishes, trying to take down the government through an uprising. The Fishes have found a woman who is about to give birth and want to use her child to ignite the uprising. Theo wants nothing to do with the Fishes but, having lost his own son (Dylan) years earlier, he wants to help the young woman, Kee.
Just before the climactic moment, Luke, the leader of the Fishes, tells Theo that there is no way to resolve things peacefully. He is promptly blown up by the military he’s shooting at. Kee has given birth and the baby is crying as she and Theo walk out of the run down building. As they do, everyone stops and marvels at the sight. Moments after Luke’s statement, there is peace. Just as Theo’s ex-wife, Julian, had always wanted it to be. This is the moment that tells Theo to push on and get Kee to safety. It would be very easy to think this is the Climax, and honestly, you could make a very good case for it. I’m going to say this is what pushes him on though, as he’s not completed his emotional arc. He’s an emotionally cold person, even though he’s built this connection with Kee, but here’s how the Climax breaks down:
– Everyone continues to silently stare at the crying child as Theo walks through. Suddenly, a bomb hits a building in the background. Just like that, the soldiers turn around and return to fighting, as if they never even saw they baby, while Theo and Kee continue on their way.
– Marichka takes Theo and Kee to the boat. They want her to come with them but she pushes them away.
– They’re slowly make their way out into the water. They reach the buoy where they are to meet the “Tomorrow” boat. Kee worries that they’re too late, but Theo believes that they’ll come back.
– It’s peaceful where they are, though planes fly overhead reminding them of the war that rages back in Bexhill. Kee freaks out that she’s bleeding. Theo quickly calms her as he reveals he is the one who is actually bleeding.
– The baby cries. Theo talks Kee through how to calm her down. It works.
– Kee tells Theo she’s going to name the baby Dylan, after Theo’s son. He slowly passes away, content.
– Kee spots the boat they’e been waiting for. It’s the Tomorrow boat. Kee smiles, telling an already dead Theo that the boat has arrived, calming her child lie Theo taught her.
The moment where everyone stares at the baby has a huge impact on the audience. It’s so silent, save for soon-to-be-named Dylan’s cries. It gives Theo the strength to carry on, to do what Julian would have wanted. It is not the completion of Theo’s arc though. The movie started with him walking away from a bombing and it’s what he’s doing now. He doesn’t care about the cause, he only cares about Kee and the relationship he built with her over the film.
The climactic moment is when we see Theo tell Kee how to calm her child. He’s being the father to her that he couldn’t be to his son who passed away. We’ve also seen him struggle in this role with her, because he was in pain from the loss of his own child years ago. In this moment, Theo is a father again. Kee and her child, Dylan, are extensions of him now. He carried all that pain for years because he couldn’t save his son and now he’s letting it go because he did save Kee and her daughter. Even if he’s not going to live to see them both grow. I’m honestly just tearing up thinking about it because it’s so beautiful.
This movie comments on a lot of today’s society without preaching at the audience. Whether it’s religion, over-medicating kids, technology addiction, war, terrorism, propaganda, dictatorships in first world countries, national apathy… the only thing it overtly discuses is immigration/xenophobia. At the core of the story though is a man still mourning the loss of his son. So think about all of those different themes and arguments you’ve made in your own script. But then also think about the impact they have on your protagonist’s journey. Just because the world does or doesn’t change around them, does not mean that your protagonist has changed too. That’s what the goal of your climax is to show.