In starting Portals of Darkness last week, I realized that there were two major influences for Points of Light I neglected to include thus far. So the next two weeks will focus on shining a light on two very dark pieces of cinema that allowed to bring my two central characters to life. And as such, we will start with a film that gave me the traits needed to bring Joseph Hashimoto, the Lightrider, into being- Sam Rami’s Darkman.
Written by Rami after his failed attempts to direct Batman and The Shadow, Darkman is the story of Peyton Westlake, a scientist working to develop a synthetic skin to aid burn victims; the skin is successful, but loses stability after 99 minutes in the light. At the same time, Westlake’s attorney girlfriend Julie Hastings uncovers a document tying developer Louis Stack to bribery of the city council. Stack sends his enforcers, led by Robert Durant, to intimidate Westlake for the document; in the process, they severely damage Westlake’s hands and face, before blowing up the lab with him inside. Westlake survives, but is burned over 70% of his body; to allow him to ignore the constant pain, doctors sever his nerve endings, eliminating his sense of touch. Westlake escapes and works to perfect his skin, rebuild his relationship with Julie, and get revenge on the enforcers, by using his skin to impersonate them and set them against each other. However, the loss of touch has caused Westlake’s brain to amplify his emotions to compensate; therefore he becomes increasingly unstable as Stack and Durant work to destroy him and Julie.
What I Learned: Costume Aesthetic, Dark Humor, Sense of Loss, Alienation, , Character Depth
As a fan of dark heroes, Darkman truly appealed to me and I was not disappointed by what I was shown. First and foremost, the film helped me in developing the look of the Knights, specifically their costumes. I was always entranced by the look of the Shadow- fedora, mask, long black coat, but it was also too clean for my tastes. Darkman emulated that look but it made feel dark and gritty and REAL. While I mixed that look with some medieveal themes, it was a major point in the look of the Knights- something unusual but with a degree of practicality (especially the mask). Darkman also exemplifies another quality I admired- a great sense of dark humor. While I’ve always loved this kind of hero, I especially enjoy a character that can crack a joke without losing his menace, and Darkman does that perfectly, especially in this scene here. It’s both menacing and humorous, something I took to effect with characters like Nightstalker and Sandshifter.
But above all, Darkman showed me to how create my main character. In writing Joe, I needed to be able to truly the pain he was under by losing his life and family, as well as how he was changing under the stress of his new life. Darkman was the best example I could find for such characteristics. Actor Liam Neeson perfectly moved through the changes of a good man trying to help the world, to a man losing everything and picking up the pieces, to finally accepting that everything he once had is gone and he must move on. Everything he goes through is meant to add weight to his character, from the damage done to him in his lab,
to his subsequent breakdowns while trying to remain true to himself
and the eventual decision to remain in the shadows.
Everything Darkman underwent was shown explicitly and made you feel everything he went through. It amplified every time we have felt alone and lost from our true selves in life, and it was why we felt for him. It showed what I needed to do have Joe go on his journey, experience joy and suffering, and eventually become a different, if not better man without losing the memory of who he was. And without that, I had no book.
What Writers Can Learn
While Darkman is certainly an exaggerated example, it stands as an excellent demonstration of a character caught between two sides, and experiencing emotional pain and stress as they navigate their way. Such characters are universal in fiction and writers can use Darkman to plot their own character’s course (choosing their own level of intensity of course). The dark humor is a selective touch, but well done for those who choose to use it. But all in all, the best thing Darkman offers is a solid, relatable character progression, and no matter what field you write in, that progression has to be brought out of the dark for your work to see the light.