So I saw Hardcore Henry over the weekend.
First, the movie is incredible, well, if you like action movies. This is, at its core, an action flick with all that entails, so if you’re not on-board for high-octane action, you won’t like it. That being said, there’s some surprising depth of story and world-building done here and that’s what I’m going to talk about today.
If you don’t know already, Hardcore Henry‘s big film-making technique is that it is shot entirely from the first-person perspective of the titular Henry. You might already be seeing where we are going to tie this back into writing and it’s that perspective. It’s a point-of-view quite a few authors (myself included) use and there are lessons to be gleaned by seeing that perspective used in another medium, especially in terms of storytelling.
While the first-person PoV makes it easy for a writer to delve deeply into the thoughts and emotions of the character it follows, it can make many aspects of the story more difficult to follow. World-building and the characterization of other characters can be left by the wayside, casualties of the supreme focus on one character and the limitations of that character’s knowledge and perception. Those are the big hurdles we have to overcome.
Hardcore Henry provides some possible answers and insights there. You see, this movie takes something of an opposite approach. Henry is a cyborg whose voice unit is never installed, so he is a mute, only communicating with gestures and facial expressions we (the audience) cannot see. Between this and the fact our lead is also an amnesiac for most of the film, the focus is more on the world and the other characters, and yet the filmmakers do manage to squeeze some personality into our blank slate of a hero.
It manages to do this through the simple technique of action over words. You know, that showing instead of telling thing? We’re informed about the characters by their interactions with Henry and Henry himself has to characterize himself purely through action and reaction. In a visual media, it presents one of the purest forms of show-not-tell in existence. There is no text or internal monologue to help us, just Henry’s actions and a VERY few visual flashbacks (also with no speech from Henry).
And yet, at the same time, we aren’t completely bereft of some traditional storytelling here. HH takes a more measured approach to its world-building. This is, after all, an action movie with cyborgs, biological robots, and psychic powers. You can’t just have that sitting around without some kind of explanation. There are expository points that explain bits and pieces of this, while leaving some of it to the audience’s imagination. While this isn’t what we would call a story bible, it does fill the plot out nicely. What we get in the end is a movie that both doesn’t hold back from a necessary info-dump or two, yet still manages to characterize itself through visual/action-based storytelling.
One final point about the story-telling techniques involved here: there is a certain balance to world-building between informing the audience and leaving them in the dark. There are some sci-fi elements left unexplained, mainly the main antagonist’s psychic abilities, and that is just fine. Why Akan has psychic powers isn’t important to the plot (we are already open to a world with sci-fi elements with the explanation of Henry’s cybernetic rebirth), so the movie never has to be burdened with that subplot. It’s an important reminder that, if explaining something does not add to the plot of the story, you likely don’t need to take time to delve into it.
There! One make-up Writing Is A Bad Habit down! More to come on Wednesday!