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 hunt us down on your human game preserve.
Part 17 of the 36-part series takes a look at “Supplication” with The Most Dangerous Game.
A boat crashes, and the survivors find themselves on a mysterious island where an eccentric millionaire invites them to go hunting with him.
The situation of “Supplication” is versatile, requiring only a Persecutor, a Suppliant and a Power in Authority. Essentially, the Persecutor brings harm to the Suppliant who then appeals to the Power in Authority for salvation. The most obvious example of this in modern film is the crime story of an innocent man on trial begging for a reason to triumph while appealing to the judge, governor and anyone else who will listen to grant salvation.
However, according to 36 Dramatic Situations writer Georges Polti, the situation can also present itself as Hospitality Besought By the Shipwrecked. The stormy ocean is the Persecutor, the survivors are the Suppliant, and the Power in Authority can be anything from a higher power to the guy flying overhead who sees SOS written in bonfires.
It would be fun to delve into a prisoner’s story, and there are many out there. It would also be interesting to discuss something like Cast Away, but it’s even more fascinating to look at an example of this Dramatic Situation where the Power in Authority clearly abuses that authority.
Irving Pichel and Ernest Schoedsack’s The Most Dangerous Game is a by-the-numbers version of Supplication in its opening scenes. The dashing Joel McCrea and the beautiful Fay Wray are abandoned by watery fate to a lush island (that looks like a giant ape might be roaming around on it). They are taken in, to their surprise, by a man living an equally lush life. The months of starvation and survivalism disappear from their eyes as they see his drawing room and the wealth of civilization he surrounds himself with.
It’s that civilization that acts as an ironic counterpoint to the monster that Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks) truly is. In revealing that he plans on hunting the couple down for sport and that it was, in fact, he who caused their ship to sink, Zaroff becomes both the saving Power in Authority and the cruel, murderous Persecutor.
It’s a classic of character storytelling and suspense that should make anyone rethink the idea of asking for help. Hospitality is not always welcomed or meant to be a refuge of salvation. Next time you’re in trouble, and you see the outstretched hand ready to pull you out of it, keep in mind that that hand may want to chase you around the jungle with a bow and arrow and hunting dogs.
Twisting the nature of a Dramatic Situation is actually a solid starting point to creating a good thriller or horror film. Most Dangerous Game achieves it by delivering a sense of unease even after the first sighs of relief are offered. Our heroes endured that disastrous shipwreck, and they’re safe. What other misfortune could befall them? This sentiment plays into the natural human inclination to see bad situations as singular. We expect that, when the storm is over, another storm won’t be coming over the horizon.
Then it comes, and your heart starts pounding all over again. The salvation you sought and gained becomes your doom.
Bonus Examples: Planet of the Apes (partial), Red Corner, Cry Freedom
Check out our entire series of 36 Dramatic Situations, 36 Movies.
Related Topics: 36 Dramatic Situations