This article is part of our 36 Dramatic Situations series.
For 36 days straight, we’ll be exploring the famous 36 Dramatic Situations by examining a film that exemplifies each one. From family killing family to prisoners in need of asylum, we brush off the 19th-century list in order to remember that it’s still incredibly relevant today.
Whether you’re seeking a degree in Literature, love movies, or just love seeing things explode, our feature should have something for everyone. If it doesn’t, please don’t put a plastic bag over our heads.
Part 25 of the 36-part series takes a look at “Revolt” with the too-hip-for-its-own-good Lucky Number Slevin.
Mistaken identity. Rival crime families. Absurd hijinks. These are the circumstances that find our intrepid young hero, Slevin (Josh Hartnett) in a desperate situation. Of course, he hatches a clever plot, executes it with casual swagger, and might be hiding one or two things up his sleeves.
Oh, “Revolt.” There’s nothing like a good, old fashioned case where one or a thousand rise up against tyranny. It is a revenge of the most elaborate kind – because it requires a conspiracy. There are really two elements at work here: the Tyrant and the Conspirator. Fortunately, the conspiracy can be one man with a convoluted plan, a group planning on stabbing their leader on the 15th of March or an icon who revolts and causes social change because he or she is just that charismatic.
Slevin is an interesting case that pits the norms of a film noir up against the bright daylight of classic revolt. Slevin is, for all we know, an innocent bystander, but he soon reveals himself to be the master of a plot to overthrow the very men who took his father and mother away from him. Thus, instead of a mob attacking an emperor, there are actually more Tyrants than Conspirators in this film’s case.
Even though the title is a pun, the Conspirator spends an inordinate amount of time in his underpants, and his name is something you’d end up naming a dog, the thrill of this film is taking a story where someone fights back and delivering it as a puzzle box. What separates Revolt from Revenge is the difference between the animal instinct to create simple justice (oftentimes with a shotgun) and the diabolical mental planning that goes into a conspiracy to take someone powerful down.
In simple terms: John McClane is mad that his wife is being held hostage so he takes revenge by throwing Hans Gruber out a window. Slevin is mad that his parents are killed, so he hatches an elaborate scheme to gain access to the men who ordered the hit, killing a few important players along the way. Guns Blazing versus the Eye Winking, Gotcha Moment.
Slevin is a man enslaved by his past. In order to cast off those chains, he has to dispatch the men who forced him into that emotional and psychological prison. There’s no way for him to ever get his family back, but as long as those men walk free, he cannot.
What’s clever about the film is that it (like Fight Club) tells a wholly different story from the one that’s actually going on. It would be like finding out that Cary Grant’s character in North by Northwest was wronged by Vandamm earlier in life and played dumb throughout the entire film until he had an open shot. Everything on screen is a result of the conspiracy – not the actual planning of the conspiracy itself. In the case of Fight Club, the main character doesn’t even understand his influence or know a conspiracy exists (despite being the planner). In Lucky Number Slevin, Slevin is in control of everything even though he seems like a passive character caught in a tornado of circumstance. That speaks to the character’s strength, intelligence, and ability to commit to his plan.
It all pays off in the end when he’s the one winking at the tyrants, watching as their empires crumble and they take their last breath through a plastic bag.
Bonus Examples: Spartacus, Fight Club, Julius Caesar
Check out our entire series of 36 Dramatic Situations, 36 Movies.
Related Topics: 36 Dramatic Situations