The Christmas season is upon us and with that comes Christmas films. Two of the movies my family makes an effort to make sure they watch every year are It’s A Wonderful Life and various versions of A Christmas Carol.
These two stories speak to the human experience, as evidenced by the many spoofs, knock-offs, remakes, and tributes to them in pop culture. They also hold onto the perfect representations of characterization and build-up that I’ve ever seen from both ends of the spectrum.
Dynamic V Aspirational
Aside from the hero’s journey, every good story is going to have a character who fights against some kind of evil or negative influence. This can go one of two ways. Either the main character is a dynamic character, changing from bad to good, or aspirational, being good to resisting evil.
You can see from the poster down below how this works. Virtues and Virtuous Characters are in the center of the target and are the hardest to get to since the only way to get there is through the black “Vice” ring. Characters that move from the “Vice Ring” to the “Virtuous Center” are called “Dynamic Characters” whereas characters already in the “Virtuous Center” are called “Aspirational Characters”.
Scrooges of the World
First, let’s address the character of Ebeneezer Scrooge. At the beginning of the movie (pick your favorite version), Scrooge is unfeeling, unkind, and greedy. He somehow amassed a huge fortune in real estate and forces people to live in poorly built houses. The only person who seems to find anything good in Scrooge is his employee Bob Cratchit.
Through the events of the film, Scrooge turns from that into a charitable, kind, thoughtful person, in turn receiving the love of the people around him.
This is the example of the perfect dynamic character. One who starts from a sinful existence to a more holy way of living. Poor social attributes are dropped in order to turn into a more exalted way of living.
George Bailey is an Aspirational character. He is undeniably a good person who comes across a string of bad instances that threaten to take away his good and true character. His struggle is one of the holy being assaulted by the sinful, or the virtuous attacked by the vices. These characters are meant to be a strong pillar against a dark threat. In the case of George Baily, the greedy scrooge-like Mr. Potter is the bad influence who’s desire for power and control directly contrasts George’s selfless and charitable nature. The Aspirational hero will be tempted by the dark influences to give up their virtuous values and freedom to hand over control to the evil force.
In the case of the film It’s A Wonderful Life, we see Mr. Potter place a lot of obstacles in the way of George like closing the local bank, offer George his personal desires to travel in exchange for his selfless business, and eventually stealing the building and loan’s cash which threatens George with a prison sentence. The part that makes George Baily worthy of aspiring to is the fact he didn’t give in to the vices that were bombarding him.
These are the patterns that every character in fiction or real life will go through on their journey. While certain instances can place them in a different spot in the target, they will always travel and end up on either end of the spectrum.
Fiction, in a large way, tells people what they need to know in an easy to understand yet non-confrontational way. Some of the greatest lessons in human history that have changed the tides of events came from fiction from the wide occurrence like Uncle Tom’s Cabin to the deeply personal. The characters in fiction are trying to tell us something about the way to live the best way we can. Take some time this holiday season to really sit and evaluate where you are on the target, then find ways that you can do to keep yourself in the center.
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