Edit: I can’t stop thinking about this; I wasn’t satisfied with my first list. So I’m revising a bit. Sorry, Johnny Lawrence and Cobra Kai dude.
Everyone loves Han and Leia, Rick and Ilsa. But what about those other characters who come and go through the lives of our heroes? One or two characters, sometimes prominent, sometimes not, but whose relationships to the heroes or to each other make the entire story better, deeper, even if they’re only able to hint at the extent of their relationships and lives existing just around the corner from the main script. Sometimes their story sneaks up on you, and you find yourself caring about their fate as much as that of the protagonists. You want them to be happy ever after too.
After all, you don’t have to be the hero to shape the world around you with the flow of your own narrative. And we’re all a minor character in someone else’s life.
What ‘supporting’ relationships do you think had the biggest impact on how you felt about a movie?
I had a hard time coming up with more than two examples. I don’t know why. I’m sure there are plenty more out there.
Here are a few examples I’ve come up with.
- Alexander Lemtov and Mita Xenakis, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.
Dan Stevens steals the show for many reasons in Eurovision. His winks, his total embrace of the cheesy espièglerie of his character. For god’s sake, he probably provided the first GIF, even before Will Ferrell in Viking God armor, and it’s not easy to beat Volcano Man as a GIF-inspiration. But the biggest reason he steals the show comes in the rare quiet moments for his character, his conversations with Mita.
Mita: “You deserve to be happy, too.”
Alexander: “Mother Russia does not agree.”
If you don’t tear up a bit after that, watch it again and pay attention.
The poignancy of the repression, hinted at skillfully, avoids cliche because of the unspoken but obvious depth of his history and friendship with Mita.
They don’t have more than ten minutes of screen time together, if that, but in very few lines you see their relationship painted beautifully. Veterans of the Eurovision circuit, amused and entertained and intrigued and ultimately moved by the protagonists. And more importantly, they know and love each other as two people with no romantic entanglements, just two people who care for each other.
It’s a hidden story, but it stays with you. And it’s a key reason I’ve watched the movie 2 times already (“5 times,” corrects Marina) … I mean, why I’ve watched it six times now.
2. Rick and Louis, Casablanca
We all know the line, “Louis, I think this the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Yes, you could argue that you shouldn’t really use Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine in an article like this, because he’s the Big Damn Hero of the movie. But if we’re talking about subsidiary relationships that change the whole flavor of a movie, it’s hard to think of one with more impact than this.
“Major Strasser has been shot … round up the usual suspects.”
The sudden shift there is the heart of Casablanca‘s entire story/propaganda message.
For most of the movie, Rick and Louis are circling each other, each nodding at the other’s cynical decisions and choices with wry approval. But in a way, that makes their story the true focus of the movie; Ilsa was already written, along with Victor, as a paragon of resistance and idealism. Really, despite the romance, you could argue that Ilsa wasn’t a main character.
The true journey in the movie was that made by Rick and Louis, separately and then together, ultimately sparking into full-blown resistance to the evil of Nazism. The last shot, the two of them walking into the fog, I mean, you can’t really imagine a better exit, can you?
3. Johnny Lawrence and the Cobra Kai instructor, old Muscle-face or whatever his name is, The Karate Kid I don’t even really remember the name of the leader of the Cobra Kai in the original Karate Kid. Martin, something? Or was that actor? It doesn’t even matter. The only thing that matters, that I remember, is the look that Johnny Lawrence, the bully, gives his mentor after the mentor tells him to “sweep the leg.” That single look is what redeems Johnny, and it’s why I still need to see the new Cobra Kai series … in fact, it’s probably the look that made that entire series possible. The sudden betrayal, the sudden shock, not even between hero and villain, that’s what makes it memorable. It’s enough to make the victory of the happy ending even better, because you see the ripple effects through other story lines.
3. Anna and Kristoff, Frozen
I know, I know, they doesn’t seem to qualify. It’s Anna and Kristoff.
But Frozen isn’t about them. It isn’t their love that saves the day; it’s the love between Anna and Elsa.
Anna and Kristoff are just two people, really, whose relationship provides a grounding for the movie (certainly undercutting the falling-in-love-at-first-sight-to-save-the-day trope; as Kristoff scoffed, “You mean to tell me you got engaged to someone you just met that day??”) without being the most important relationship to the final outcome. And that’s kind of nice.
And yes, I think we can safely say they too got that happy ever after result. May we all be so lucky as to have a love that’s not fragile even if it isn’t the center of attention.