The End of Act Two: Low Point & Dark Night of the Soul

Let’s continue our journey through movie structure. In case you’ve missed our previous columns on this subject, you can find them right here on our blog.

We are in Act Two and past the midpoint. The bad guys have been closing in on our protagonist, and now it seems they have succeeded.

In classic screenplay structure, this is where it seems like our protagonist has been defeated and the quest has come to an end. This usually happens just before the end of Act 2. There are many terms for this: All is Lost, Dark Night of the Soul, Whiff of Death, the Black Moment, and so on.

In short: your protagonist is at the farthest possible point from his or her goal.

Maybe their teacher (in screenplay parlance, the mentor character) who has shown them the ropes and guided them in this strange world, dies. Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi! Maybe the love of their life walks out on them. Or the buddies have a big fight and they are finally done with each other. Maybe their career goes up in smoke. Maybe they are bound and gagged and awaiting their execution. It’s the end. There’s no way they can fix this and, moreover, they’re now all alone because everyone has deserted them. They are truly beaten.

This is also the point where they learn the lesson that we, the writer, have set up at the beginning of the script: the theme.

What does the protagonist need to become a more well-rounded person and live a more successful life? This is where the penny drops for them. Maybe it is as little as to ask for help or for forgiveness or as big as finally embracing their inner superhero. But this is the key that gets them out of this all-is-lost moment, when all we’ve worked for has seemingly gone up in flames.

In SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, both Elinor and Marianne believe they’ve lost the men they love, and Marianne’s dark night of the soul takes her to death’s door. But this also helps the sisters realize what (and, most importantly, who) is truly important in life.

ALMOST FAMOUS finds protagonist William almost getting killed in a plane crash, being betrayed by someone he thought was a friend, and then having his career shattered before it truly began. But when his sister finds the totally dejected William, he finally realizes where and who he wants to be in life.

In GET OUT, protagonist Chris awakens strapped to a chair, about to be hypnotized and sent forever to the “sunken place.” He learns that in order to succeed, he has to block out the bullshit. They can’t hurt him if he can’t hear them.

Did we cover every decade and genre here or what?

As you know, we are always here to answer your questions (and the answers are free). Just get in touch with us at [email protected].

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