The Volitional Protagonist

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Johnny Lingo Still

A “volitional protagonist” was a term that I recall being tossed around in my schooling. At the end of this post I’ve included definitions of the terms for the sake of reference. In layman’s terms, it is the main character of a story that acts for himself.  It is the very substance of engaging entertainment.

 

Johnny Lingo StillWith the upcoming 8th Annual LDS Film Festival about to launch with the 24-hour-marathon tomorrow, I’m looking forward to seeing the latest in film and media produced by or for our people. Last evening I saw Wrestling with God on Vimeo, a film that screened at last year’s festival. I viewed it because of a critical review by Gideon Burton that was brought to my attention. My only fault with the film, was the lack of a volitional protagonist. This point could be argued; my wife tended to agree with the female moderator. My perception, however, was that each argument presented was passive, instead of active.  Each character’s motives were results of experiences in which he had been acted upon, instead of acting for himself.

A “volitional protagonist” was a term that I recall being tossed around in my schooling. At the end of this post I’ve included definitions of the terms for the sake of reference. In layman’s terms, it is the main character of a story that acts for himself.  It is the very substance of engaging entertainment. 

From the vaults of church produced films, there are excellent examples. What made Johnny Lingo, from the original Johnny Lingo so endearing? It was his volition to see what others could not see until after the fact and to act on such vision in the face of opposition (eight cows!).  What makes Eliza a compelling character in the church film Legacy ? It was her ability to overcome and continue on in the face of dire circumstance. We only see God’s intervention at moments when she had come to the end of her own abilities.  In The Mountain of the Lord, what makes Wilford Woodruff, Brigham Young, Jonathan Livingston, and even the no-name reporter engaging characters? It is their volition–their ability to act for themselves–which compels us to care about their circumstances and story. 

One of the most prominent doctrines of our religion is agency – the ability to choose for one’s self. It will be a glorious day when our filmmakers will choose for themselves to tell stories of volitional characters who choose for themselves to act upon the religious doctrines of our faith. This will be the substance of our movement — our ability to depict characters that choose to act on principles of truth. 

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Volitional: (adjective) – with deliberate intention; “a volitional act” 

“volitional.” WordNet® 3.0. Princeton University. 15 Jan. 2009. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/volitional>.

 

Volition: (noun)

1. The act or an instance of making a conscious choice or decision.
2. A conscious choice or decision.
3. The power or faculty of choosing; the will.

“volitional.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 15 Jan. 2009. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/volitional>.

 

Protagonist: (noun)

1. the leading character, hero, or heroine of a drama or other literary work.
2. a proponent for or advocate of a political cause, social program, etc.
3. the leader or principal person in a movement, cause, etc.

“protagonist.” Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 15 Jan. 2009. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/protagonist>.

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Brent is married to a very supportive woman, is father of a large family, and went into business for himself in 2006.

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