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Your Life is a Plotline

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the paths we take through life. I like to think of it in terms of movies: what would make for an interesting plotline? You’d be surprised how much life can mimic the story arc of a good movie.

A good movie creates a contract with the audience: the conclusion will be satisfying. Think of the plotline as a map to this conclusion: a series of events along a path from Point A to Point B. The conclusion is foreshadowed by the events that precede it. The audience doesn’t know what’s going to happen, but when they look back at the movie, they need to see how one event followed from another. Thus, the plot of a good movie has inevitability: the conclusion seems inevitable.

Complex stories have one plotline in the foreground, and several more plotlines in the background to provide context. Without context, everything is meaningless: this is why the best stories usually have subplots. But what story could be more complex than life itself? It stands to reason that life would have an infinite number of background plotlines, stretching backwards so far that we can’t even perceive them.

Think about the monitor you’re looking at right now. Doesn’t it have a plotline? That monitor has a story to tell, from the person who invented it, to the components it comprises, to its arrival in front of you. Everything in life has a plotline, but we’re generally only concerned with a few foreground plotlines. Life functions are not foreground plotlines in the West, since we’re not concerned with them unless they get in the way. The foreground plotlines of individual people are their emotional arcs: love and ambition.

If life is like a good movie, its foreground plot needs to have inevitability. There is a definite starting point to both of my plotlines; as soon as I was old enough to feel ambitious or in love, Point A was set. Of course I had no idea where Point B would be — I still don’t. Some people never do. But just like a good movie, I have a contract with life. I know when I’m satisfied, and I know, deep down, when I’ve reached the right conclusion.

My parents were together for twelve years before they broke up. Twelve years before my mother realized that she wasn’t in love. At some point, she looked back along the route of events that led her to where she was, and realized that she wasn’t heading to Point B anymore. Maybe it took her a long time, but she eventually saw it. It was inevitable, given a long enough time frame. Like the original ending of Fight Club, the events didn’t match the conclusion. Point B would be a surprise, yes, but it would never be a non sequitur. The movie adaptation changed the ending, and even the original author agrees that the new ending is more satisfying.

Love is the people you care about, and ambition is the things you want to accomplish. It took me a long time to make some real guesses about the conclusions of these arcs. Where is my Point B? I think I know, but I might have an epiphany someday, like my mother did. There’s nothing to do but continue along a path until I find the conclusion that seems inevitable.

I try not to worry about my life’s direction too much; at least, not in the abstracted sense. I’m still trying to find the right plotline, and it’s better to die trying than to never try at all. I have a contract with life, and I won’t give up until I fulfill it.

Written by Likes to Ramble


  1. Brenda · July 21, 2010

    I think an good example of a movie with several plotlines would be Crash.

    (A detailed acount of this movie is described in Dr. Linda Seger’s Book: “And The Best Screenplay Goes To…”)

    Aside from that, I often enjoy movies based upon a true story in addition to many french films. I am an American and find it utterly refreshing to watch foriegn movies.

    Regarding your comment: “…A good movie creates a contract with the audience: the conclusion will be satisfying.”

    I am not altogether in agreement that the conclusion resulting in a sense of satisfaction is the end all of what truly constitutes a great movie.

    I am reminded of several of John Cassavetes’ movies in which some folks actually walk out of the theatre in frustration because?????? (the content is too hard-hitting and pushes buttons maybe?)

    For me, while I enjoy a nice warm & fuzzy happy, satisfying ending…time and time again it is with movies such as Woody Allen’s: “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989) that stand above and beyond the norm in that it doesn’t much leave me with a satisfaction of any sort.

    In fact, like true art at its best – it challenges my belief system. which might be one of the greatest attributes/aspirations that film can offer.

    Bran, I think that you are very insightful and intelligent and I wish you much success in your carreer as a film maker.

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  3. Misfile | Likes to Ramble · November 25, 2009

    […] I was immediately put off by the ridiculous premise and the fact that the story involves a real-world religion in its plot. However, as I read more into it, I started to understand it better and it bugged me a lot less. I think the comic gets off to a bad start, but it recovers fairly quickly and, for the most part, sails smoothly from then on. Most of the mileage of the story goes into Ash and Emily coping with their new lives. Ash focuses on the different expectations put upon him, and how his past is different due to a slightly different upbringing. Emily focuses on how she was an overachiever — getting accepted into Harvard prior to the misfile — and struggles to decide where she wants to go with her life. (She tries to find her Point B.) […]

  4. Kallie · November 24, 2009


  5. Drew · November 24, 2009

    Wow…that was beautiful.

  6. Mike · November 24, 2009

    Wow. I would guess about one in 100,000 English speakers can use “comprises” correctly. Weet.

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