Movies immerse us in a world that seems as real as our own. However, the one sure way to shatter this immersive experience is to give your characters illogical motivates for doing anything. The moment the audience can’t understand the motivation of a character, they’ll lose interest and sympathy with that character.
Think of great movies like “The Shawshank Redemption” or “Titanic.” In great movies, the motivation of the characters is clear. In “The Shawshank Redemption,” the hero is innocent and thrown in prison. Even worse, the prison warden learns that he’s innocent but conspires to keep him in prison anyway. The motivation of the hero to escape is clear and understandable to everyone. As a result, we care about the hero’s plight and root for his success.
In “Titanic,” the hero feels trapped in marrying an arrogant man she doesn’t like. Because she felt trapped, she wants to escape by committing suicide. Although most people may never have seriously considered suicide, they can relate to feeling trapped. That makes the hero in “Titanic” sympathetic so we clearly understand her motives for every action she takes.
Now consider a mediocre movie like “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” The hero of the movie is a couple who have lost a son during the last monster attack and they want to protect their remaining daughter. This makes the couple sympathetic and likable.
Now the wife deliberately released monsters to attack the world and kill thousands of people.
Why would the wife do this, especially after her own son died during a monster attack? This motivation makes no sense whatsoever and as a result, we lose any sympathy for this character. Since her motivation is totally illogical, we don’t care about her and her goals any more, especially when she’s trying to find her daughter to save her from a monster attack.
Since the wife released the monsters so they could attack the world, seeing her frightened that her daughter might die in a monster attack is confusing. If she didn’t want her daughter to risk dying in a monster attack, why release the monsters? If she’s heartbroken that a monster killed her son, why would she release the monsters so other people can lose loved ones in the exact same type of monster attack that tore her family apart?
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” provides enough visual effects to satisfy monster lovers, but the human story is so illogical and nonsensical that it helps sink the rest of the movie. Its absurd plot is about people wanting to release monsters to destroy the world because they think the monsters will help save the world.
With illogical or nonsensical motivation, any character will break the emotional bond audiences need to feel for the main characters in any story. “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” shows what happens when the motivation of your characters is either missing or illogical. Watch the other characters in this movie and you’ll find many of them lack any motivation at all. They exist solely to make silly comments while the monsters rampage around the world, attacking everything.
So make sure the motivation fo your characters is clear, understandable, and logical. That will go a long way towards helping audiences bond with your characters so they’ll want them to succeed in the end.