What puts me in the head of a movie character?

I watched Prisoners last Sunday. I wrote down a few thoughts afterwards, here.

There were definitely moments where I was in Det. Loki’s head. Terrence Howard’s character as well. I even related to his wife, played by Viola Davis, more than Keller Dover, played by Hugh Jackman.

What about Dover? We know his daughter has disappeared. His wife is collapsing under the weight of this. The police force is either incompetent or insufficient. Do we ever understand his unconscious motivations? Does he? Has he actually thought out what he’s doing?

He definitely doesn’t run his decisions through a lot of critical analysis steps. He’s not asking himself, “Well, what if this happens? What if that happens?” He believes a man is guilty based on information he has received and he takes action.

Sometimes you can’t see what really drives a movie character. Just like in life. you don’t always know why somebody does something. You can assign motivation. As can they. Sometimes this assigned motivation is correct. Sometimes it’s not. So we plod forward, assigning motivations that make sense to us and accepting (ignoring?) the subjectivity of doing so.

The father wants to find his daughter. So he takes steps to make that happen. The only steps that seem effective to him. The only action he is capable of carrying out.

And in the process of doing that we see what he is truly capable of– a brutality, violency, dishonesty.

To save the live of his daughter, he is comfortable destroying a life.

He has obviously not thought out what he is doing. An unconscious urge drives him to do so. Is that legitimate concern for his daughter’s safety? Is it the shame of losing her? Is it  perhaps even the anger of losing her to someone, when he’s supposed to be protecting her. The anger that is unleashed on Alex Jones is stated to be with the goal of finding his daughter. Keller’s feeling of losing his family to a stranger, perhaps one with the IQ of a 10-year-old could also account for some part of it. I mean, nobody likes to lose.

Keller Dover’s confidence in information that seems questionable to me. His extreme behavior make it very difficult for me to get into his head. Like an “citizen journalist” with a conspiracy theory, he has such little information to go on. Still he develops an elaborate narrative and takes extreme action. When those little pieces of information are taken away though, his narrative, the justification for his extreme behavior, begins crumbles. He is left with two options: turn back or double down.

He doubles down.

This seems like a really stupid decision because we get to see information his character doesn’t. Through Det. Loki, we pursue the case and discover other leads. And we trust Det. Loki to a certain extent. Though perhaps by the end of the movie we’re questioning that trust.

So why can’t I get into Keller’s head? Why can’t I see this world from his point of view?

I think it’s the moments the director chooses to show. There are no moments of vulnerability, or experience, that justify the brutality of his behavior.

Now I ask myself:

Can I share in his emotional experience? Can I see the world through his eyes?

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