There was an article in the Washington Post asking screenwriters: If 2020 was a movie, how would it end?
Imagine for a minute that 2020 was a movie you’re watching. If you were analyzing this as a film, what would it be trying to tell you? Who are the major characters? What theme is it trying to communicate? What is the message of 2020?
The article didn’t really answer this. Most showrunners said 2020 didn’t follow the principles of screenwriting. Plotlines were introduced and never explored again. Characters failing to learn or grow from events. Of course, they’re wrong. If 2020 were a film or TV series, it’s themes would be extremely obvious to anyone outside it. It’s just that those living the story are in denial about the obvious truth. In fact, even that article in the Washington Post follows the themes of this pattern.
One of the things screenwriters talking about 2020 struggled with was how many characters there are. In a story with this many characters often a central theme or force is actually the real main character. That thematic character is embodied by different people, but no matter the scene, it’s actually those characters interacting. Who are the thematic main characters of 2020?
In 2020, it’s crisis and denial.
Crisis and denial are the two main characters of 2020. Every scene is a conflict between these characters.
In every scene, crisis rises and is met with denial.
COVID? Crisis met with denial. WHO said there was no human to human transmission, people said it was “just the flu,” that we couldn’t do travel plans. Then lockdowns were “two weeks to stop the spread.”
Lockdowns? Crisis met with denial. People thought this would be temporary, but it became a multi-month way of life. People were in denial about the economic, psychological, and legal impact of shutting down the entire world.
Police brutality? Crisis met with denial. Racism? Crisis met with denial. Protests and riots? Crisis met with denial. No trust in the media? Crisis met with denial. RGB dies? Crisis met with denial. Trump gets COVID? Crisis met with denial. Every major event of 2020 follows this pattern. I’ll bet you can even see some places in your personal life this year where you experienced crisis initially met with denial.
By the way, once you see the pattern, you can predict what will happen next. The election? Whoever wins, you can bet there will be crisis met with denial. In fact, any election outcome points to this pattern.
This pattern fits no matter what side you take on any 2020 issue.
“It’s just the flu.” Denial.
“We have to lockdown till the vaccine.” Denial, also.
Both these perspectives deny the impact of COVID in different ways. You can even be right on an issue, but in denial about the reaction to that issue. For example, even if you believe COVID is deadly, you can be in denial about the feasibility of lockdown or it’s impact on people’s lives and the economy. If you believe it’s not deadly, you can be in denial about it’s systemic impact on governments and society. Both these perspectives have some denial even if they are correct.
Knowing that these are the characters, what is the theme?
In most films, you want your characters to have an arc. If they start in one place, they must end up in the opposite. In January we started in maximum denial. Then crisis arrived as the antagonist. It began as fires in Australia and the trending hashtag #WW3. Now, it is a looming election. The purpose of the antagonist is to force the hero to grow or change. How has crisis forced you to grow this year?
To know where an arc is leading, look at it’s opposite. What is the opposite of denial? What would the maximum arc from that starting point be?
The maximum arc of denial is AWAKENING.
If your main character is in denial, the greatest way he could grow is to WAKE UP. Have there been some things we’ve been forced by crisis to “wake up” about in 2020? Crisis continues until the hero has their “massive midpoint moment” where they receive the change they need to return to the world.
The good news is that from a screenwriting perspective is if 2020 were a movie – and I’m not saying that this is a holographic reality, or that we live in a simulation and you’re a spiritual being having a physical experience designed to help you learn and grow – but if that were true, there would be no more need for crisis once you’d gotten the change you needed from this experience. Once our heroes WAKE UP, they no longer need crisis to force them to grow, and can integrate or defeat their antagonist.
If our heroes don’t wake up, there is the possibility for a darker ending, one in which the antagonist wins and there is maximum crisis and maximum denial. This could only be shown by the end of the world, met with denial. Do you feel like the world is ending? Not yet. But it does feel closer, doesn’t it? This is a good sign. Again, good screenwriting principles suggest that you want your heroes to experience a moment where it seems like all is almost lost and it’s “darkest before the dawn” before they finally breakthrough, change, and win. In an action film, this might be shown with the countdown on a bomb being finally stopped one second before going off. 2020 might be more subtle. But it might not.
By the way, those odd storylines that don’t seem to go anywhere? Those are clues. Those are places where crisis wasn’t met with denial. The murder hornets? No one was in denial about those. “Another crisis!” was the universal response to that story. No denial, so no need for that crisis to play out further.
(The UFO disclosure stuff published this year might be a gun being planted for the third act, but it was also a place where people lessened their denial. No huge crisis needed if you’re willing to wake up a little. But hey, go into denial, maybe you’ll get a crisis there too. Or take the gentler path.)
If 2020 were a movie, it’s two primary characters would be crisis and denial, with the message for you to WAKE UP.
I wonder how many storylines this year you can see that fit this pattern? Maybe even some in your own life? If you were to know, where do you need to wake up now?
P.S. Part of my mission is to help people wake up through media. If you’d like to wake up, subscribe here.