In her pursuit to create 'good men,' screenwriter Belinda Downey explores four recurring male archetypes in the news who began with normal lives but steered in an amoral direction and ended up dead or in jail.
Belinda Downey moved from sunny Australia to cynical New York and studied screenwriting under the mentorship of Jerome Perzigian. Belinda’s writing circumnavigates drama and comedy. Currently she works in a women-owned Advertising agency in Manhattan, copywriting and art directing. Twitter: @beldowney1
April 12, 2017, brought me a gorgeous baby boy. Before Angus’ birth, I was filled with fear and trepidation. All my life I’ve had close female relatives, so I expected to have a girl. Girls make sense to me. A baby boy does not. Female relationships are sacred. We have a shared relatability simply from walking around in female skin. Women talk, men don’t.
As a screenwriter who is a mum, I’m searching for clues to be good at what I do, both creating characters and growing my baby’s mind. I look at Angus, unable to fathom how this cute, innocent munchkin grows into an adult. My husband and I have a responsibility. We are Angus’ god. If we are good gods he'll grow into a loving, kind and wise adult. If we are bad gods his innocence may be replaced by anger and we'll have a villain on our hands.
My fears are real and deep. What if I inadvertently create a sociopath ala Tom Ripley? A psychopath like Norman Bates? Or even scarier, the guy Norman was based on. A serial killer like Patrick Bateman? A pathological liar like Frank Underwood? Or what if I raise a new varietal of psychopath? One they don’t have a term for yet.
How does a woman change a man? Through love, hate, or some other kind of trauma? In my pursuit to create a ‘good man,’ both onscreen and off, I explored four recurring archetypes in the news for inspiration. Four male archetypes who began with normal lives but steered in an amoral direction and ended up dead or in jail. These are aids for my writing and cautionary tales for raising my son.
Four archetypes I pulled from the news with actual news headlines:
- The ISIS recruit: Judge frees one four men held Barcelona terror;Young ISIS recruit: I was blinded by love.
- The White Supremacist: Sikh temple shooting suspect Wade Michael Page was white supremacist; Meet the alt-right students who marched in the Charlottesville's white pride rally.
- The Pathological Liar: What my father, the pathological liar, taught me about Trump;
- The Wife Killer: Cruise "killer": I attacked my wife after she kept laughing at me; A former police sergeant killed his wife.
The archetypes are based on real people, to fictionalize and add dimension, I look at them as if they all had mothers that impacted how they turned out. I ask a series of questions.
- Does xx have a healthy relationship with his mother?
- Could xx mother have changed his destiny if xx confided in her?
- Is xx mother submissive, domineering, generous, unforgiving, cruel, or loving?
- Because of xx relationship with his mother, what attitudes has xx formed about women?
- Did xx mother teach him right from wrong?
- Did xx mother abuse her power?
- Is there love between xx and his mother?
- Was she too dominate?
- Did xx mother want him?
- Does xx have a strong bond with his mother?
Here’s how I apply these questions to the archetypes. For the archetypes, I created a character profile.
- The ISIS recruit: missing an early female connection and the ability to talk about his feelings, he takes on his baggage alone. His mother-son relationship is the first female relationship he has. He doesn’t feel close to his mother. He becomes angry with the world. Keeps people at a distance. Because he feels alone and isn’t given the life tools, he is susceptible to ISIS propaganda, and you know how is goes from there.
- The White Supremacist: how does an innocent baby join a hate group? Was his mother racist? Did she fill him with hate for the ‘other’ early in life? Or did her son go through some trauma that she couldn’t protect him from? Who has to take responsibility for all this carnage? What trauma did he go through, ie: divorce, abuse?
- The Pathological Liar: did he learn this from his father? Did he pretend to be perfect to his mother’s face but not to his dad? How many lies are too many and when does it end? Does he talk to his mother and does she believe anything he says?
- The Wife Killer: this man has a mother. Would he hit her? Why is their relationship so terrible that he thinks it’s okay to hit his wife? Did he see his father hitting his mother and thinking that was his norm?
To me, it’s clear that men are in peril. It’s men not women who litter the news headlines every day with tales of violence, murder and hate. What is the molotov cocktail that makes a man go postal or kill his wife? Is it because men don’t talk? They are taught to carry their burdens alone. Or is it pride that stops them from unloading. Do I have the ability to make Angus different?
The only way I know to create a happy, balanced human who grows into an emotionally healthy man is to get him to talk like a woman, a feat I know won’t be easy. I will continue to study my little man, as I study my characters.