There’s an interesting book called “Three Christs of Ypsilanti,” which is about an actual event where a psychiatrist attempted to treat three mental patients who all claimed to be Jesus Christ. If you watch the trailer for this film, it appears to focus on how these three mental patients will react when confronted by other people who also claim to be Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, the actual film dilutes its effect because the story isn’t just about a psychiatrist dealing with these three men who claim to be Jesus Christ, but it also deals with the psychiatrist fighting against his supervisor and his wife who fears he’s spending too much time with a pretty assistant.
Yet if you watch the trailer, you would guess none of this. That’s why the film fails.
It’s easy to watch great movies and feel inspired, but watching mediocre movies can be just as instructional because you can learn what not to do. In “Three Christs,” the real story is about the psychological conflict between the three Jesus Christs, not about the psychiatrist himself or his personal life with his wife. those subplots simply dilute the story.
Subplots exist to supplement and strengthen the main story. In “Three Christs,” the main story is about curing the delusions of three men. So the subplots should also focus on curing delusions in different ways, such as curing the delusion of the psychiatrist that he can play god with other people’s lives.
Think of any great movie and you’ll find that subplots focus on echoing the main story. In “Legally Blonde,” the main story is about a woman who needs to stand up for herself in law school, find love, and become an independent woman.
So one subplot involves the hero’s hair dresser who wants a relationship with a UPS deliveryman and who also needs to stand up for herself against her ex-boyfriend.
In “WALL-E,” WALL-E wants to find love so one subplot involves WALL-E helping a human couple meet and fall in love.
Subplots should echo and focus on the main story, not distract from it. When you watch a mediocre movie, you’ll often find subplots that have nothing to do with the main story, and that’s what makes a movie fail like “Three Christs,” which promises you one story but then dilutes it with irrelevant subplots that take away from the main story the trailer promises.
The lesson is clear. Don’t dilute your message. Stay focused. Rather than distract yourself with a subplot, a far better solution is to go deeper into your main story. “Three Christs” could have spent its time going deeper in the relationships between all three Jesus Christs instead of getting off track and making up a story about the psychiatrist and his wife.
Remember, a story has a single message told from multiple perspectives. A story is not a dozen stories crammed into one.