Masters of Storytelling: Joss Whedon

Joss_Whedon_by_Gage_Skidmore_4Joss. Whedon.

Really, who in the worlds of geeks and movie-goers has not heard his name?

The man has an impressive, and diverse, resume. He has smash hits, magnificent flops, and everything in between to his name. His works span several genres, including urban fantasy, science fiction, superheroes, and horror. It’s hard to say what he is best known for, but he is most recently known for his contributions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including Avengers and, about to hit American theaters, Avengers: Age of Ultron. (Which I am so excited for! Anyone who wants to remain fully intact, do not get between me and the theater!)

What he does right in his storytelling is fairly obvious, but so is what he does wrong.

First and foremost, Whedon and his colleagues are fairly good at crafting complex, diverse characters who are not only three-dimensional, but four-dimensional. They change over time, and usually in ways we can believe. My personal favorites are probably Faith Lehane, the fallen hero turned reformed villain, and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, the fop who becomes a leader.

joss_whedon_on_charactersWhedon is also renowned for the dialogue in his works. Somehow, he and his colleagues are just able to make everyone sound genuine and alive, yet with pointed, efficient, and often symbolic things to say. No one is wasting their breath, and we are very well entertained.

On a similar note, he speaks to themes of humanity in ways which are entertaining and relevant to us. For one thing, he is famous for his strong female characters, which I will let him elaborate on in his own words, and for which I admire him. For another, his collections of protagonists are often like family to one another, and the stories between them are constantly heart-rending and heart-warming. For yet another, the issues he confronts, such as female empowerment, elitist powers ruling the world, and the value of human life and freedom, are things which resonate with us, the audience.

Now, he can go a bit off the deep end at times, such as with Dollhouse and Alien: Resurrection, not to mention the comic-based sequels to Buffy and Angel. There are just so many things there which do not make sense, at all, particularly in reference to his characters, whom he stops doing justice to. I think this relates to what he himself has said about Dollhouse:

“I had the idea of identity. I had the idea of moral culpability. But I lost one or two essential things. And that ultimately killed the show because we were dancing around them,” and “when that fell out, when the show turned into a thriller every week, it took something out of it that was kind of basic to what we were trying to do.”

367545327929a9a0a18a61594e438fe8So, Whedon is typically very skilled, but he’s not infallible, and he learns from his mistakes. In Dollhouse, he admits that he lost focus on the theme, the message, and he doesn’t seem to have repeated that mistake as of yet.

Remember, when crafting a story, always keep the point of it in the forefront of your mind.

On a similar note, Whedon’s commentary on Serenity show how a creator can take one thing from their story, and we, the audience, are free to take another. He comments how he was speaking to the theme of “sin” being an outmoded concept, but I took something else entirely from it, namely that sin exists, and any attempt to rid humanity of it by force is doomed to failure. All you’ll have in the end is a wasteland piled high with bodies. You can strive to do better, to be better, and to help others do the same, but you cannot force it.

As a friend of mine once put it, “One man trying to enforce his morality on another, leads to damnation for all.”

However, though Whedon and I disagree on the true point of his own work, such a discussion of ideals and humanity is precisely what Whedon wants. He himself has a point to what he does. Contrasting his better works with his worse, it strikes me all the more: he does good work when he keeps that point in mind.

Contrary to what many people think, entertainment is not just about being entertained, but also having a discussion with the whole of the human race.

And that is something Joss Whedon does rather well.


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