Objects as Characters

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Last night the raptor and I got taken to see Iron Man 3 early, courtesy of a friend at Skype (who sponsored the film and put on early viewings for their staff). Don’t worry, I’m not going to give any spoilers. But when we were talking it over afterwards, someone said that their favourite character was Dummy the Robot.

This led to the discussion of what Dummy’s character actually was. Because, let’s face it, it’s just a machine. And not even a machine like Wall-E or R2D2, who are supposed to have personalities. Dummy is just a well-programmed robot which Tony Stark talks to because there’s no one else in the basement. The entirety of Dummy’s personality comes from Tony, so does that make it a legitimate character?

Well, yes, because humans are amazingly good at projecting personalities. Anthropomorphic personification – a phrase made famous by Terry Pratchett. If the audience sees it as a character, then obviously it is one. What I really found interesting about it was the writing skill required to make two personalities come alive out of one-sided dialogue and actions. It’s the same technique as characters talking about a person who the reader/audience never actually meets but begins to feel like they know. I’ve been trying to think of some good literary examples but my mind is currently full of work issues (Big Data security in the Cloud, lots of fun) so I haven’t come up with any. Can you guys suggest some?

I do think it’s an advanced form of characterization – bringing someone to life when they aren’t even there to do or say things. Do the same writing techniques apply, or is something more required? Are there any good tips people can share?

(P.S. It’s a great film which I highly recommend going to watch. The trailer doesn’t do it justice. And wait until after the credits – there’s the usual extra scene.)

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3 responses »

    • That’s an interesting one. Personally, I never felt that the ball was actually a character, just a visual proof of his fading grip on reality. But where does the divide fall? What makes it a prop rather than a character, when the hero clearly believed it to be one? Versus Dummy, who feels like a character, when even the hero would probably admit it’s not.

  1. Or perhaps it’s his only link to humanity and he’s desperately trying to hold on to it.

    But since you say “fading grip on reality”, maybe you should reassess Iron Man’s mental well being. Talking to a machine? Only time I do that is when my computer is playing up and then it’s more like swearing at than talking to…

    As for other examples, I can’t really think of any. Perhaps in some films where someone has a car or other vehicle that they cherish that then eventually gets destroyed. I think the best examples are probably ships – both maritime and astronautical.

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