- Who is the main character? – Agent J. (Will Smith).
- What is the main character trying to accomplish? – To stop Lobo Boris the animal (Jemaine Clement) from killing his friend Agent K. (Tommy Lee Jones) in the past and changing history.
- Who is trying to stop the main character? – Boris the animal.
- What happens if the main character fails? – Agent K. will be killed and history will be changed.
For me, the best way to see how a movie relates to Contour is watching it while filling in the blanks at the same time. The above Questions were easy to answer. The next sections take some more time.
While enjoying the movie, I fill in the Archetypes and the plot-points in the 3 Acts at the same time. It’s great to realize how this works in Contour:
The Act plot-points sections are describing the complete movie including all that is happening and all the characters that are involved. The Archetypes section on the other hand shows only how the main character (in this movie Agent J.) goes through these 3 Acts.
So to get a clear picture of what is going on at both levels, I am watching one act at the time (over and over again…) until I understand what is happening in terms of main character development (the Archetypes) and total story development (the Act Plot points). Let’s give it a try…
- How is the main character an ORPHAN in Act 1? –Agent J. (Will Smith) is an orphan and grew up without a father. He is also being shut out by his friend, Agent K. After having worked with him for 15 years, their relationship is dry and unemotional.
ACT I: ORPHAN:
Plot Point 1 – We meet either the Hero, the Victim/Stakes character, or the Antagonist: We meet the Antagonist one-armed Boris the animal (Jemaine Clement) in his prison on the moon where he has been captured for the last 40 years. Boris is set free by his girlfriend Lily (Nicole Scherzinger) and (after letting her die) swears to rewrite history, mentioning K.
Plot Point 2 – We see the hero’s flaw in relation to the Stakes Character: J. and K. are discussing emotion. K. wants to keep this out of his job, J. blames him that he is actually keeping it out of his life and asks him what he is going to say that night on Z.’s funeral (their old friend, the chef of the organisation). J. is worried that K. is too emotional closed and will give the speech without showing any feelings. K. tells him that it’s going to be OK and that he has written a great speech. During the funeral, however, K. only shares some impersonal information about Z. and his friend’s 40 years of working history, empty of any feeling. J. is surprised and disappointed. J. asks his friend what happened to him that he became so emotional closed. K.´s responds is that his secret for living a happy life is that he doesn’t asks questions when he doesn’t want to know the answer.
Plot Point 3 – We meet the Antagonist, or someone or something symbolic of the Antagonist: During an investigation in a fish restaurant where guests were suffering from intestinal problems caused by alien worms, agent J. tells agent K. that he never know his father and that every kid needs one. (This is the Private part of the Central Question that needs to made clear to the audience during Act I). – We meet Boris at an electronic shop called “Going out of Business” where he is asking for a device that can let him travel back in time. His goal: to kill a man before he can take his arm.
Contour uses Landmarks. These are periods of more plot-points in which events/information are being showed. During the above plot-points 1-3, a very important Landmark is the mentioning of the Thematic Argument. The Thematic argument/Theme runs through the whole story and will show up at different Plot points/Landmarks. It will be amplified during the Plot point 6 – 8 Landmark in Act I. In Act II, during the 6-7 Yes, No’s, the opposite values of the Theme is stated. In Act III, during the Big Yes/No, the hero will have embraced the positive thematic argument. And finally, in Act III, in the Big No and Final Yes, the Hero will completely embrace and embody the positive values of the thematic question. (also known as “The Hollywood Ending.”)
So what could be the Theme in Men in Black 3? I think it could have something to do with the fact agent K. is emotionally shut down about something that happened to him in the past (I didn’t analyze the complete movie yet. This blog is a project in progress and will change while discovering things myself). For now, I believe the Thematic Argument could be when agent K. tells agent J. in plot point 2: “Don’t ask questions when you don’t want to know the answer”. Let’s see how this holds up during the rest of the movie.
Plot Point 4 – The Deflector slows the hero down, pulling him off the path: This plot point is actually happening in plot point 5 in the movie. This happens. After all, not all movies follow exactly the Contour structure because they aren’t all constructed with it. The Deflector is O. (Emma Thompson). While J. is searching for his friend K., O. keeps on telling him that K. doesn’t exists.
Plot Point 5 – The Inciting Event happens, causing the hero to become emotionally involved: J. finds out that his friend agent K. who he met the day before, is already dead for the last 40 years.
J. visits K.’s house, but he doesn’t live there anymore. For a reason he doesn’t understand, J. feels the need for chocolate milk that he grasps out of a child’s hand. – At the office, an agent in the elevator talks to J. as if he knows him. J. has no idea who this person is. It turns out to be his partner, agent W. – J. searches for K. but nobody knows him. O. tells him that K. is already dead for over 40 years and has been killed by Boris the animal. O. starts to realise that something weird is going on after seeing his longing for chocolate milk, and the fact that he experiences headaches, lost of balance, agitation and depressions. This could mean that there is a break in the timeline. – They suspect that Boris has time traveled and changed history. At that moment, an alien race called the Boglodites (Boris’ race), enters the solar system, planning to invade Earth. J. suggests to activate the ArcNet Shield (Earth Defense System) that was installed by agent K. However, K. has been killed 40 years ago, meaning that this system was never put in place.
Plot Point 6 – The hero’s goal is clarified as it relates to the Stakes Character and/or Love Interest. The hero’s problem is made clear to the audience: The only way to save Earth is by preventing K. from being killed by Boris in the past. O. tells him that he needs to find Jeffrey Price (Michael Chernus). His father created a device that makes time traveling possible. (This is he Professional part of the Central Question that needs to made clear to the audience during Act I).
Plot Point 7 – An Ally aids the hero by propelling him out of the status quo: J. meets Jeffrey Price, owner of the “Going out of Business” shop, and convinces him that he needs to travel back in time to prevent Boris the animal from killing his very good friend agent K. (This is the Personal part of the Central Question that needs to made clear to the audience during Act I). At first, Jeffrey doesn’t want to help him but when he sees on the T.V.s in his shop how the Boglodites are invading Earth, he is happy to help. He shows J. the time travel device and helps him to literally Time Jump from the top of a skyscraper to the year 1969.
Plot Point 8 – The hero seems ready to move forward toward a goal and/or Stakes Character, but can’t bring himself to do it: J. has his moments of fear to jump of the building (who wouldn’t!). “I’m not jumping of this building!”
Plot Point 9 – Conflict with the Antagonist or a Deflector stops the hero or threatens the emotional stakes: J. jumps of the building while being attacked by a Boglodite invader who hits the Time traveling device out of his hand. Without this, J. will hit the ground dead. But just in time he grasps the device, travels through a couple of important historical event and ends up in 1969.
Plot Point 10 – The Severity of the treat is being showed: Boris arrives on a motorcycle in an amusement park on Coney Island, where he is searching for the ArcNet device. He asks Roman the Fabulist about the Arkadian who is about to give the ArcNet device to the humans to protect Earth. Roman refuses to tell this and so Boris kills him. If Boris is able to get his hands on this device, his race (the Boglodites) can invade Earth. That’s a pretty big threat!
The depth of feeling between the hero and the stakes character is made clear:
After J. arrives in a stolen car on Coney Island and seeing Boris jumping around, he meets the younger version of agent K. (Josh Brolin). J. is extremely happy to see him and jumps at him with the intention to huge him, however agent K. thinks that he is attacking him and teasers J. into unconsciousness.
(Question: how did J. get on his glasses so fast after being pulled over by the police and they used the neuralizer on themselves?)
Plot Point 11 – A Deflector (younger agent K:) threatens to take the Stakes Character (older agent K.) from the hero (agent J.). If the younger K. erases J.’s memory, Boris will succeed in killing the older K. – J. wakes up in the headquarters of Men in Black (1969). After a short interrogation in which agent J. tells one lie after the other, young agent K. decides to neuralize the other’s memory. Just before this happens, J. tells him why he is here: he is a Men in Black agent from the future. He is here to prevent the Boglodites from invading Earth and Boris from killing Young agent K. And they have only about 90 hours to prevent this from happening!
Plot Point 12 – The hero decides to save the Stakes Character: Agent K. believes this story immediately. They leave the office, starting their search for Boris.
This is the complete Act I. The setup is done and we know now what the story is about. To make this even more clear to the audience, three questions about what the Hero´s goal is in this story have to be clear to the audience:
THE CENTRAL QUESTION:
Professional: Will agent J. kill Boris the animal and install the ArcNet device to prevent the Boglodites from invading future Earth?
Personal: Will agent J. kill Boris and save his friend, K.?
Private: Will agent J. accept the fact that he never knew his father?
Once the Central Question is definitively answered yes or no, the film is over.
After having filled in Act I and the Central Question, I turn to the Formula to fill in the A-statement:
When an overconfident Man in Black agent:
A: finds out that his best friend is already dead for the last 40 years and Earth is on the point of being invaded by an alien race, just after an alien prisoner escaped from prison and has traveled back to the past,
- How is the main character a WANDERER in Act 2? – J. returns to 1969 to find to how to stop Old Boris from killing young agent K.
ACT II: WANDERER
Yes-No’s 1 — 3
Yes 1: J and young K in the car, starting their search for Boris (The hero gets help from Allies and Aides, often in the form of a Mentor Character). Again, there is the mention that they don’t communicate in the future as partners (K: “What kind of partners are sitting in the car all day every day for 14 years and don’t talk?” J: “Exactly!”). This seems to be the theme of this movie. Young K shows J a matchbook that he found on Roman the Fabulist’s dead body. They head to the address on it: Cosmic Bowling Lanes (Hero begins the learning process).
No 1: At Cosmic Bowling Lanes, J and young K meet two employees and demands to see their boss. The men refuse to help after which J shows up and uses a man’s head as bowling ball until he agrees to let them talk to his boss (The hero meets with low-level opposition). However, the boss turns out to be killed by Boris’ hand spikes. It’s clear that there is a romantic thing going on between K and O while they talk on the phone (the love story, comedic runner, or secondary story begins in earnest). New clue: Young K realises that both victims are from the same solar system. Another planet in that solar system is Glamouria where all supermodels on Earth come from. Young K and J head to the place where the supermodels hang out: “The Factory” (hero’s learning process continues).
Yes 2: At The Factory, they interrogate Andy Warhol (Bill Hader), who is actually an undercover MIB officer.
No 2: Andy tells young K that their information is wrong, the third planet in the solar system is not Glamouria, it’s Arkadia. The only Arkadian on Earth is a guy named Griffin (learning process). This is the guy Boris is after to steal the ArcNet from and kill.
Yes 3: Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg) is at this party as well. He is a 5th dimension alien and can see all possible futures at once, but never knows which one is about to happen. Griffin touches the subject of J’s Father who gave him a watch (C.Q.: private problem). Griffin also tells Young K and J that he has the ArcNet (hero gets help from Allies).
No 3: However, Griffin has hidden the ArcNet because he knows that Young Boris is about to burst through the door and tells them that if they can find him again, he will give it to them. He gives them a clue by saying: “what a game, amazing, it’s a real miracle” (learning process). Based on the events around him, Griffin predicts what’s going to happen and runs off. Seconds later, Young Boris bursts through the door. Young K and J chase after him and Griffin, but lose them both (low-level opposition). J is desperate now they lost both Griffin and Young Boris.
Yes 4: In a coffee shop while eating pie: Young K talks about his relation with O in a happy mood after which J asks him what happened with him that he became so closed later on. Young K says that he doesn’t know this because it didn’t happen yet (C.Q. Personal problem). J realises what Griffin meant when he said “what a game, amazing, it’s a real miracle” and know now where to find him: the football stadium where the Mets are about to win the World Series for the first time. J and young K head over to the arena, where Griffin is watching a future version of the Mets game. Griffin touches Young K and J so they can see the future for a second as well. Griffin gives the ArcNet that will save the world from the Boglodites to J. (C.Q. Professional problem).
No 4: However, Griffin was so distracted by the story he was telling that he missed a possible coming future: young Boris zooms in on a motorcycle and snatches Griffin, taking the ArcNet with them.
Yes 5: Young K and J race back to the car to grab their own MIB space cycles, and chase after him. They use the “Texas Two-Step” move K taught J in the future to snatch Griffin and crash Young Boris’ motorcycle. Young Boris manages to escape with what he thinks is the ArcNet. Griffin and the ArcNet device are save with J and young K!
No 5: However, meanwhile, Old Boris has arrived in the past, the morning of July 16th 1969, and he heads to the warehouse where he knows his younger self likes to hang out. He tries to warn Young Boris that he’s about to get his arm shot off, but Young Boris is pretty cocky and doesn’t want to listen. Young Boris opens the box that he believes contains the ArcNet, and realizes it’s empty. He is furious, and agrees to do what Old Boris says.
HINT: Something that really helps me to stay on track within Contour and the movie is translating the Landmark-comments given by Contour into the movie itself. For example, the Landmarks for the Yes/No’s 6 – 7 reversals would be: K.’s life is brought in serious danger by Boris. – FINAL YES solution is shown, but J. is not recognising the importance of it right now. – Opposite value of Theme is stated: (maybe, “Earth isn’t worth anything” by Boris?) – J knows now how to save the world and his friend, J. – Boris’ plan is explained by/to J or to others. – J arrives at Cape Canaveral.
Yes 6: Griffin gives the ArcNet to J and young K, and tells them that it has to be brought into space with the help of the rocket launch on Cape Canaveral. The device will expand in space and protect the Earth against the Boglodite invasion.
No 6: The threat to the Stakes Character increases to the point of life or death/Boris’ plan is explained by/to J. or to others: However, J tells young K that he can’t go to Florida to put the ArcNet on the rocket because he will be killed by Boris. Griffin tells J that young K has to do it as he did before, only he can save the Earth.
FINAL YES solution is shown, but J. is not recognising the importance of it right now: When J asks Griffin if he will be able to saves K’s life, he gives him a hint: “Yes, but where there is death, there will always be death.” J doesn’t understand what Griffin means.
Yes 7: All 3 of them return to the MIB office where they meet O. Young K asks J if they will have a good relation in the future on which J answers: “Don’t ask questions if you don’t want to know the answer” (Opposite value of Theme is stated?). – Young K, J and Griff strap on jet-packs to fly to Florida because they don’t have that much time left till the launch of the rocket. – There is a short romantic moment between young K and O (C.Q. Personal).
The hero knows all of the rules: J knows now what to do to save both Earth and K. Time to travel towards the Warrior section!
The hero enters the Villain’s world: J, young K and Griffin arrive at Cape Canaveral.
No 7: However, at the entrance of launch base they are immediately stopped by a group of soldiers.
MIB 3 is 1 hour and 40 minutes in length. At this point the movie is at 1 hour and 20 minutes, this means that there are only 20 minutes left for the complete Warrior and Martyr section! According to the Contour system (and actually most screenplay structure systems), the second act is made of 2 equal length parts, this is clearly not the case in this movie.
Having filled in the Wanderer section, it’s time to fill in the Wanderer statement in the Formula:
B: he learns that he needs to travel back to the past as well to stop the alien from killing his friend, giving him the chance to install the a device that will protect Earth agains the alien’s invasion,
- How is the main character a WARRIOR in Act 2? – Agent J teams up with the young Agent K and Griffin to fight the young and old Boris.
ACT II: WARRIOR
Yes-No’s 8 — 10
Yes 8: J wants to use the neuralizer on the soldiers, but Griffin tells him that the only reality in which the ArcNet is successfully installed, is the one they tell the truth. So J tells the soldiers that they are MIB from the future and need to put a device on the top of the rocket to avoid an alien invasion (the hero makes a direct attempt to resolve the Central Question).
No 8: The soldiers do not believe this story and arrest them. The commander arrives and is questioning them, telling them to NOT lie to him. However he doesn’t believe the story either.
Yes 9: Griffin touches the commander’s arm and shows him just a little glimpse of the future, this convinces the commander of the importance of their task and leads them to the rocket (the hero meets with some initial success, although this was not the work of the hero but of his ally/mentor figure Griffin). In the elevator, Young K compliments J that he is a good man and that he can see why he recruited him, on which J asks him again: “what happened to you?”, that he changed so much in the future. Young K answers: “I told you, It didn’t happen yet.” (C.Q. Personal/The thematic question is being discussed?).
No 9: They are being attacked by old Boris. J falls out the elevator while young K continues to the top. Old Boris throws J of the platform and thinking that he is dead, goes after young K (the Villain tightens the screws on the hero’s goal).
I was wondering for some while if it shouldn’t be J, being the hero in this story, who should go to the top of the rocket to place the ArcNet. But according to the story, it’s K who has to do this because this is what he did in real Earth’s history before Boris changed it. So it’s J’s job to make sure things are being done the way they are suppose to happen and keeping Boris out of K’s way.
Yes 10: At the top of the scaffolding, young K climbs towards the rocket’s head to attach the ArcNet (action to resolve the Central Question).
No 10: However, young Boris attacks young K, making him loose the ArcNet which falls on the platform floor, almost falling off (the Villain tightens the screws on the hero’s goal).
Yes 11: Young K shoots at young Boris which makes him jump of the platform. J is on his way to help young K. Young K is on his way to pick up the ArcNet of the floor (Intense, direct conflict takes place between the hero and the opposing force/Villain).
No 11: However, while from above Boris aims his spikes at young K, the whole platform is moving because of the coming rocket’s launch, making all of them (including the ArcNet) almost falling of. Young K’s foot is getting stuck and he can’t move. The rocket’s launch is getting closer now, counting down. Old Boris aims his spikes at young K from above.
Yes 12: Just before Old Boris shoots his spikes at young K, he gets hit down from behind by J.
No 12: However, old Boris isn’t impressed and trows J of the platform (the hero realizes he still lacks the skills needed to succeed). – J is able to grasp the platform before falling to his death (the hero enters his darkest internal space, often physically expressed by a tight, enclosed place). – Young K is still stuck and unable to free himself and Boris is aiming his spikes at him again, this time it seems that he will kill him.
Yes 13: J insults Boris to get his attention by calling him Boris the Animal (the hero emerges from his near death) – J’s insult works: Old Boris pulls him from his awkward hanging life threatening position and tells him: “It’s just Boris!” J tells him that he is going to loose.
No 13: However, Boris throws J way back on the platform and returns to point his deadly spikes at young K who is still struggling to free himself. J looks desperate at how his friend is going to be killed, unable to save him as he was planned to do (“What’s the worst that can happen?” happens. The Villain gains the ultimate upper hand.)
There isn’t a No. 14 Yes-No reversal in this movie, we go straight to Act III in which J the hero will make a sacrifice (kind of…).
Having filled in the Warrior section, it’s time to fill in the Warrior statement in the Formula:
C: Only to discover that he has to fight against the future and present alien apperance to save his friend and the ArcNet device, while at the same time getting of the rocket in time to avoid becoming vaporised by it’s starting engines,
- How is the main character a MARTYR in Act 3? – Agent J risks his life by throwing himself and Boris from the high rocket scaffolding (although because of the possibly of the Time travel device, this isn’t a real sacrifice).
ACT III: MARTYR
BIG YES: J provokes Old Boris by calling him an Animal and gestures him to fight him. Old Boris stops his plan of shooting spikes at young K and shoots them at J instead. J runs towards Old Boris while being hit and jumps of the platform while holding him. On their way down, J activates the time travel device which brings both of them back to the moment before this last attack. Again, J insults him and gets shot at by Old Boris. But this time knows what is going to happen and avoids being hit by the spikes and falling of the platform. He kicks Old Boris of who falls into the depth.
Young K still stuck is being attacked by young Boris who grasps the ArcNet. Young K grasps his gun and blasts young Boris arm off, young Boris falls of the platform, leaving the ArcNet behind.
Young K grasps the ArcNet and runs towards the rocket top that is going to be launched any moment now. He attaches the ArcNet to the top. Now it’s time to get off the rocket!
Young K slides down to the beach where the commander is waiting for him. – Old Boris is burned in the flames when the rocket takes off. – J slides down to the beach in another slider, watching young K and the commander talking and the rocket being launched. – C.Q. Professional Conflict is solved: The ArcNet installs itself around Earth, avoiding the future attack from the Boglodites.
NO: J watches from the bushes while Young K chats with the commander. Young Boris jumps out and shoots the commander in the head with his palm spike. Young K pulls his gun and Young Boris says, “Go ahead, arrest me.” Young K says, “Not this time,” and shoots Young Boris dead: C.Q. Personal Conflict solved: Young K kills and not arrests young Boris, avoiding that he will be killed by the future Boris.
BIG NO: An adorable little black boy runs over and says, “Daddy, Daddy! What happened to my daddy!” Obviously it’s Young J. Young K says, “There’s one thing you need to know, son. Your father is a hero.” C.Q. Private Conflict solved: J understands that the black commander is his father and the little boy himself when he sees the watch in the little boy’s hands. This makes him also understand what the secret is that K never wanted to tell him and that made him emotional closed for the rest of his life. J understands now that K had know him all his life and taken care of him.
FINAL YES: J. travels back to the future. – J and old K in the restaurant. J shows him the watch his father give him. K understands and is finally at peace that this secret between them is in the open.
And here is the last part of the Formula:
Having filled in the Martyr section, it’s time to fill in the Martyr statement in the Formula:
D: and he understand that the only way to save his partner and Earth is by throwing himself from the rocket platform while holding the alien, falling to his own death (although it helps to have a Time Travel Device to fix this!)
There you have it, my first complete movie break down in Contour! It’s interesting to see that the movie follows the Contour structure pretty close and only misses it on a couple of moments.