This essay will address the application of McKee's Archplot framework to the Die Hard screenplay. The Archplot is considered the most commercial of all movie plot structures and has been defined as "a story built around an active protagonist who struggles against primarily external forces of antagonism to pursue his or her desire, through continuous time, within a consistent and causally connected fictional reality, to a closed ending of absolute, irreversible change." (McKee R 1996:45).
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These struggles must represent the protagonist's particular desire to achieve his objectives against the antagonistic force. There is a linear time frame which characterises the temporal features of the story. This linear time frame is produced as a result of discrete and causally related events. The final feature of the Archplot is the nature of the story's ending. The ending leaves no room for doubt as to the fate of the characters. The ending, in short, is characterised by a finality which cannot be altered.
This essay will argue that, in nearly all respects, the Die Hard screenplay conforms closely to the main features of the Archplot. This screenplay pursues the fundamental features noted by McKee, and a textual analysis of the screenplay will be employed to analyse each of these features of the Archplot, respectively.
There is a preliminary question as to whether the main protagonist is active or passive. The protagonist in Die Hard is John McClane, a New York City police officer. The script introduces him as "mid-thirties, good-looking, athletic and tired from his trip" (Die Hard: 3). He has a Beretta pistol visible through his open jacket and, in an early attempt to establish the protagonist as an active character, the script contrasts him with a fellow airline passenger when "McClane turns, looks at the Babbit clone next to him. Caught, he tenses, holds his armrests in exaggerated fear" (Die Hard: 3). The Babbit reference is to a famous American literary work which bemoans the passivity and the helplessness of the working man. The physical description of the protagonist, the gun, and the explicit literary reference seek to immediately establish McClane as the anti-Babbit, or the opposite of passive and helpless.
McKee establishes various guidelines, or commandments if you will, for creating an active protagonist within the Archplot framework. First, the action must always be within the control of the protagonist. This does not require that the protagonist drive the action forward, indeed the protagonist may be placed in a reactionary role, but that the protagonist is always connected in some way to the plot as it unfolds. Second, the plot must pose challenges and obstacles for the protagonist; in this way, an active protagonist is one whom is presented with barriers to the achievement of certain goals and objectives. Finally, the active protagonist is characterised by an event or a situation which throws his life out of balance or in some other way renders him vulnerable to an antagonistic force. The John McClane character conforms extraordinarily close to McKee's notion of an active protagonist.
Die Hard begins and ends with the protagonist. John McClane comes to Los Angeles, becomes embroiled in an adversarial conflict, reigns supreme in the conflict, disposes of the adversary, and then continues to enjoy the original purpose of his visit. As an initial matter, McClane is perfectly tailored for the conflict which he encounters, describing himself as "a New York cop who used to be a New York kid, and I got six
months backlog of New York scumbags I'm still trying to put behind bars.
I don't just get up
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