A wonderfully unique experience and fantastic narrative

Locke is more than a clever “indie” film with tremendous acting. This tight hour-and-a-half car ride with a single character stands as a shining example of solid narrative structure with very limited resources. The focus on intention—on the support and propagation of the premise—allows an economy of storytelling. Scenes and sequences fall away effortlessly when you stay within the context of the Storymind.

Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) starts the story with a single decision. Caught between the birth of his illegitimate child in another city and the career-defining project starting before dawn, Locke chooses the former. As we find out later, his father abandoned him at a young age—and Locke isn’t about to repeat the old man’s mistake.

This contentious relationship between father and son is perhaps the most interesting and compelling aspect of Locke. Typically, the Main Character and Influence Character of a story carry out the defining relationship of a narrative; it is the relationship between them that serves as the heart of a story.

With Influence Character and colleague Donal on the opposite side of a call, the story of Locke takes advantage of the fact that the Relationship Story Throughline is a perspective of conflict within a relationship, not any specific relationship. Donal can supply the alternate point-of-view that challenges Locke to grow as an individual, while Locke himself can work out the particulars between father and son.

This approach permits the heart of the story to rest between an uncompromising man and the ghost of his father. In this respect, Locke calls to mind Shakespeare’s Hamlet. One could even imagine this film playing out on stage as a one-man show.

And that has everything to do with the narrative structure of both this film, and Shakespeare’s defining play.

Narrowing in on the Narrative Personality

Genre is personality, and the specific arrangement of the sources of conflict within a narrative set the nature and feel of that personality. Locke is not a Marvel superhero film because Hardy doesn’t wear a bodysuit, it’s not a superhero film because the overall source of conflict is internal, not external.

Locke’s uncompromising attitude sits at the heart of all conflict within the narrative. It drives him to leave town, undermining the construction project in the process. It creates anxiety and panic in his friend Donal. It incites frustration and hopelessness in Gareth, his boss. It incurs hurt in Bethan, the woman having his child. And it ignites anger in Katrina, his wife.

It even manages to drive his current sons towards sadness and loss.

Locke’s drive to do the right thing (physically represented by his literal drive to do the right thing) focuses the source of conflict for everyone in the story in the area of problematic fixed attitudes. That’s why it feels like Hamlet, why it works so well as a one-man show, and why it so casually made $5 million worldwide at the box-office. Cinematic audiences don’t generally react well to narratives focused in this area.

Contrast this with another one-man show, the Ryan Reynolds thriller, Buried. While far less masterful in its narrative construction and storytelling, Buried made four times what Locke did in theaters. The reason? The emphasis of conflict in Buried weighed more heavily towards the external—towards being trapped in a coffin—rather than being trapped in a coffin of one’s mind.

While Locke’s drive as Protagonist to be thought of as a good man might not play as strongly in theaters as Reynold’s drive to escape being buried alive, it’s every bit as reasonable to examine, and far more eloquent and moving in its execution.

Especially since he ends up repeating his father’s mistake.

The Growth of the Main Character

Locke’s psychological need to fix things is his undoing. Driven to respond to the call of parenting in a way his father never could, Locke focuses all his attention on possibilities. He’s going to make it work. He’s going to be there for this child. And he’s going to make sure the foundation of his construction project runs smoothly from the very start—

—the construction of “his” building, and the construction of this new life.

His colleague Donal, the only one who can help insure the former, stands in Locke’s way philosophically. Locke believes you can always think your way out of any situation—Donal can’t climb his way out of a paper bag. The subordinate lacks a plan, a strategy to make it all work out, and challenges Locke to give up by way of refusing to respond.

At least, at first.

Act by Act, Locke doubles down on his steadfast resolve, eventually driving Donal to stop fighting—and instead, start making allowances for Locke’s precarious situation. This change of resolve sets like concrete with Donal’s bittersweet reminder that they all used to find Locke an acceptable and good man.

Something Locke’s wife refuses to entertain. To her, there’s a world of difference between once and never—and her uncompromising stance on this point locks in his failure.

Locke is a story of Personal Triumph. While he fails to maintain that universal opinion of himself as a good man, the idea that he is present to hear the sound of his child’s cry is more than enough to resolve his feelings of inadequacy from the past. Bethan asks if he’s coming, Locke smiles, and makes the decision to complete his task.

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