Three Act Structure 1.2: Self-Annihilation

There are two elements to the end of the beginning for a story, according to Campbell. In addition to the crossing of the first threshold, he describes an element of self-annihilation. (91) A biblical example would be Jonah getting swallowed by the whale. It seems to me in film that self-annihilation often fits the description of the act one climax, when the protagonist is no longer what he was at the beginning of the film.

It’s most obvious in superhero movies, as those allow the protagonist to switch from one identity to another. The self-annihilation moment could be the instant that Peter Parker is also Spider-Man or that Bruce Wayne is also Batman, or at least ready to be a superhero. But it’s just a moment when the protagonist is no longer what he was at the beginning of the story, for good or bad. It’s when Charlie Sheen’s character in Wall Street has become a stock market trader, and Paul Newman’s pathetic lawyer in The Verdict is ready to do the right thing, rather than just what will make him money.

It doesn’t happen in every film, but it seems to occur in a majority. The major exceptions include characters who don’t change in the beginning of the movie, something common in adventure films and sequels, as the self-annihilation moment probably happened in an earlier film. So Casino Royale has a moment of Self-Annihilation for James Bond, but this does not have to happen in subsequent Bond films.

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About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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