I recently watched Barton Fink by the Coen Brothers. I loved the look of it, I loved how lots of it was chopped together, but mostly I didn’t like it. It made me too uncomfortable, and it shared that quality with literary fiction of alienating me from its unsympathetic cast of characters. That just leaves me feeling cold.
Still, it was worth it for this one incredible scene. It’s a bit spoilery, so don’t read on if you have any desire to watch the film.
A mosquito has been plaguing Barton in his hotel room for weeks, stinging his face while he sleeps, but keeping at a distance whenever he tries to squish it. (Don’t we all know this particular form of torture?) The mosquito is his nemesis. This is step one of the drama.
Barton goes to bed with a woman he desires. He wakes up beside her. She is turned away from him, and the mosquito has landed on her shoulder. This is step two – a beautifully constructed dilemma. Does he take the opportunity to kill it, and risk offending her, or does he let his nemesis go?
He slaps it dead. Dilemma solved. But the woman doesn’t wake up – in fact she doesn’t respond at all to the slap. He rolls her over and discovers that the sheets in front of her are soaked with blood, and she is dead.
Without the mosquito dilemma, and the cute moment you think is being set up, the actual reveal wouldn’t have a tenth of the same punch. (Not to mention the way the smaller action mirrors what is really going on.)
Cat and I talk quite often about 1-2-3 plotting, as opposed to the more common 1-2 plotting. 1-2 plotting would involve setting up a character as one thing, then having them transform into another (most often the thing that comes as a natural conclusion to their backstory). 1-2-3 plotting would involve then transforming them in a completely new and lasting direction.
This scene for me embodies the rather obscure idea of 1-2-3 plotting, and proves that it is, without doubt, something to aspire to.