Group Analysis Of Brief Encounter

Finding the thematic structure of a story.

Had a great time at the monthly Dramatica Users Group meeting last night. We took a look at David Lean's Brief Encounter and while a faulty air-conditioning unit left the room a stifling 105 degrees, the eight of us (including theory co-creator and facilitator Chris Huntley) managed to find a storyform that worked on all levels.

Brief Encounter Dramatica Analysis

Story Judgment and the Main Character's Problem-Solving Style were points of contention. The former was split 50/50 with half feeling that Laura was miserable and still full of angst at the end (Story Judgment: Bad) and the other half--my half--feeling that while Laura was despondent over the end of the affair, she was relieved to know that her husband was there waiting for her (Story Judgment: Good).

The Problem-Solving Style of Laura was also split down the middle. Some thought she showed signs of being Linear, while others saw Holistic.

Going with what we knew about the story we were able to whittle down the possible story forms from 32767 to 4--leaving only two choices left to make: Story Judgment and Problem-Solving. Instead of fighting it out in the heat, we took a look at the Influence Character's Unique Ability. This is the kind of thing that gives the Influence Character power, or influence, over the Main Character to change.

Alec, who was Laura's Influence Character in this story, had two choices left for Unique Ability--Attraction or Work. At first we thought Attraction, but after looking at what that did to the storyform we went with Work. Alec's work--what he can do, his ability to get it done early, and to be there at the right place at the right time, is the exact kind of thing that gives him influence over poor Laura.

Setting that story concept to Work forced us into a final storyform, giving Laura a Problem-Solving style of Holistic and the Story a Judgment of Good (yay!). The latter makes more sense as the film had more of a bittersweet feeling to it rather than an all-out tragedy. Previous choices had forced the Story Outcome to Failure and combining that with a Bad Judgment would have classified Brief Encounter a tragedy--along with stories like Hamlet or Se7en. That simply doesn't feel right.

Combining a Story Outcome of Failure with a Judgment of Good gives us a Personal Triumph story, which sounds more like this film. Rain Man or The Devil Wears Prada are just two examples of films that end in a personal triumph: while the logistical conflict may have failed, the personal journey of the Main Character ends in a positive place. Laura left a "bad dream" to return to her husband; perhaps a tragedy in modern times, but certainly a bit of personal triumph by 1945 standards.

If interested, you can watch the videocast of our analysis of Brief Encounter.