Characters and How They Connect Us to Cinema

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What makes some memorable, and some immortal?

More so than fantastic settings, more so than intricate plots, more so than special effects, great films hinge on one facet: character. Character is the basic difference between Star Wars and Battle Beyond the Stars, Lawrence of Arabia and Ishtar, and Jaws and 2-Headed Shark Attack. Character is what makes a story compelling, because otherwise a story is just a chain of events, and no one relates to events so much as they relate to others’ experience of events: Raging Bull isn’t about boxing, it’s about boxer Jake LaMotta; The Silence of the Lambs isn’t about the hunt for a serial killer, it’s about the connection between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling; and Full Metal Jacket isn’t about the Vietnam War, it’s about the men who went to fight it.

Character is our connection to movies, and the movies that impact us the most are the ones in which some certain aspect of a character resonates with our own. Character is an extension of ourselves – either how we see ourselves, how we wish to be seen, or how we’re afraid of being seen – and the films in which we see ourselves most clearly in the characters are the ones that remain important to us over time. Maybe you’re no Charles Foster Kane, but you’ve let ambition blind you. Maybe you’re no Hugo Glass, but you’ve known the burn of vengeance. And maybe you’re no Iron Giant but you know what prejudice feels like.

Most importantly, characters connect us not just to movies, but to each other. If your favorite movies are my favorite movies, that means there’s something similar about us on a character level and we can be pals, the same way if you don’t like Cool Hand Luke, we can never, ever be friends because our characters will obviously clash.

In the latest thoughtful and dare I say poetic essay from Vugar Efendi, a slew of the most memorable characters from 1878 until today have been cinematically sewn together to spotlight the sparks that make them not just memorable, but immortal. And bonus points to Efendi for the excellent use of Philip Glass’ “Closing,” which really drives home the grace it takes to craft a great character.

The Movies:

-The Horse in Motion (1878)
A Trip to Moon (1902)
The Great Train Robbery (1903)
-Nosferatu (1922)
Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928)
Metropolis (1927)
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Citizen Kane (1941)
Seven Samurai (1954)
12 Angry Men (1957)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Rocky (1976)
Taxi Driver (1976)
8 1/2 (1963)
Patton (1970)
-Capote (2005)
Magnolia (1999)
Raging Bull (1980)
The Revenant (2015)
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Saturday Night Fever (1978)
The Master (2012)
Schindler’s List (1993)
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Forrest Gump (1994)
American Beauty (1999)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
-Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Titanic (1997)
Mary Poppins (1964)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Black Swan (2010)
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
-This Is England (2006)
-Psycho (1960)
The Godfather (1972)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Fargo (1996)
The Graduate (1967)
Thelma & Louise (1991)
The Great Dictator (1940)
-Oldboy (2003)
Le notti di Cabiria (1957)
The Truman Show (1998)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
The Iron Giant (1999)
Amélie (2001)
Toy Story 3 (2010)
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
Lost in Translation (2003)
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Casablanca (1942)
Superman (1978)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
There Will Be Blood (2007)

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist