Story Shots: Everyman heroes with Nicolas Cage

Hi All,

Sorry for the hiatus, but I am now back with more Story Shots, this time featuring Everyman Hero Nicolas Cage. Before we dive in: yes, I am a Nic Cage fan; no, I haven’t seen all of his movies. I know his career is extremely broad-reaching so many of his movies do not fit this theme, to which I am focusing here predominantly on Con Air, Face/Off, Gone in 60 Seconds, and, to a lesser degree The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.

How it works

Watching Gone in 60 Seconds for the first time (yes I did love it), I’ve noticed a pattern in certain Nic Cage movies: essentially, that there’s an underlying theme of family (insert Fast and the Furious joke here). Con Air for example, revolves around a convict that wants only to return to his wife and the daughter he has never met. Gone in 60 Seconds features a former-car-thief-turned-go-kart-employee that returns for a one-night crime spree to rescue his brother. And while yes, Cage technically plays the villain in Face/Off (who himself adores his brother), he also spends a large part of the movie playing the role of the hero, a cop who wants to finish the case so he can avenge the death of his son and return to a peaceful life with his wife and daughter.

Why it’s effective

What strikes me about these movies is how ordinary the protagonists are. Do they have some sort of training or special skill, such as being an ex-U.S. Army Ranger, a cop, or a gifted car thief? Sure. But their life circumstances are also in many ways quite ordinary–for some even disadvantaged. They may live in the suburbs with middle class families or they may get in trouble with the law. They may have family that’s gotten into trouble or maybe come from a poor background. Contrast this with someone like James Bond, Ethan Hunt, or Jason Bourne, men with extraordinary training and in some cases little to no family bonds at all, and you start to see the difference.

To me, what it comes down to is relatability. Ryan J. Pelton of the Prolific Creator podcast regularly refers to a study that says that readers/viewers like stories about everyday things. Though we may want to visit a fantasy setting with ogres and dragons, we want there to be a splash of romance or a brotherly connection thrown in to keep the story grounded. It gives a richness to the story and in some ways can often turn the setting into a proxy or amplifier for the theme. I don’t think I’d go quite that far with Nic Cage movies, but it certainly does give me more reason to root for their heroes. After all, who doesn’t want to see the good guy convict overcome the murderous escapees he’s been trapped with? Who doesn’t want to see the devoted brother who tried to move on come back to set his brother free? Their very ordinariness, the familiar troubles and backgrounds they share with the viewers, makes them all the more relatable, strengthening our resolve to cheer them on.

Something that’s also worth pointing out is that while these heroes may be ordinary, the villains they face are not. Take super criminal/terrorist Castor Troy, new crime lord on the block Raymond Calitri, or the several supermax prisoners aboard Con Air. Story Grid points out that in action and thriller genres, villains should be far stronger than and make things personal for the hero. Combine these overwhelming odds with an Everyman type hero and you’ve got…well…life, sort of. Because in real life, we’ve all got our own dragons to face, family members in need, people we love that are sick, finances and car repairs and getting to that meeting on time. And while it’s nice to know that the James Bonds and Ethan Hunts of the world are saving our collective bacon, sometimes it’s nice to know that even the little guy can make it home in time for supper, too.

Everyman heroes serve a different role than super heroes like Supermans, Batmans, Bonds, and Hunts. While super heroes help us feel safe and comforted seeing competent heroes save the day, Everyman heroes inspire us with the knowledge that even the ordinary, poor, sick, disenfranchised, or otherwise can overcome the odds. They show us that we can rise up, face our challenges, and beat the odds even if they seem impossible or overwhelming. If you’re looking for a way to make your story more relatable, consider ways to give your hero every day connections, troubles, or backgrounds. Use the relatable emotional core of these factors to drive reader engagement and give them someone familiar to root for.

So, how about you? Any favorite Cage movies or Everyman heroes? Anyone who breaks this mold? Let me know in the comments (you may need to leave mobile only mode) and if you want more craft mini-lessons like these, make sure to sign up for my newsletter in the relevant widget. Thanks for reading!

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