Character Growth

MV5BMTQ3OTM1NjM5MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTI5NDY0MQ@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_One of my all-time favorite shows is M.A.S.H. I still watch the reruns even though I’ve seen all the episodes many times. I love all the characters, but my favorite is Charles Emmerson Winchester the third.

I know, I know. Everyone familiar with the show is thinking “Seriously? In a TV series that had a complex character like Hawkeye who was the conscious, heart and soul of the show, my favorite character is a pompous jerk like Winchester?”

Hear me out. I started thinking about change after reading Samantha Ann King’s blog post about the Cinderella movie. Her main beef with the movie is that Cinderella and Charming are perfect to start with and they stay that way. The evil characters are evil throughout the movie; no grand epiphanies, no turning over of new leaves. Everyone stays the same and it’s, well, kind of boring. As readers, and as consumers of TV and movies, we’re looking for stories that engage us. And there’s nothing more engaging than a character who surprises us, who doesn’t remain static.

Back to M.A.S.H. Hawkeye was great, but did he really change that much during the course of the show? On the opposite end we have Frank Burns. He was an idiot from the time the show started until he left. There was absolutely no growth. Charles starts out as a conceited, pompous ass, totally convinced of his superiority because of his surgical skills and his wealth. He sees the other doctors as inferior because of the “meatball” surgery they do. But after struggling to keep up in surgery, he concedes that he still has a lot to learn. And he does. He not only learns to be the kind of surgeon that the M.A.S.H. unit needs, he learns to be a better human being. Okay, so Charles Emmerson Winchester the third will always be full of himself, but by the end of the series, his experiences with war and medicine have made him a better version of himself.

“Jerry Maguire”, starring Tom Cruise, is a character who experiences growth over the course of the movie. He goes from a sports agent intent on making a buck, to a person who eventually sees the value of integrity and love in his life. In “While You Were Sleeping”, Sandra Bullock’s character changes from the lonely woman who lets life happen to her, to someone who stands up and tells the truth and asks for what she wants. The whole cast of the Harry Potter movies grows up during the series. They grow into their powers and learn who they are.

There are probably hundreds of examples of movie and TV characters who grow and change. And that’s a good thing because characters who change in some way, be it for better or worse, are interesting to watch, and sometimes even fascinating. And aren’t stories and characters that fascinate us the reason we tune in?

Got any examples of characters from TV or movies who grow and change?


Character Growth — 4 Comments

  1. Yes, Margaret experienced character growth through the series. A part of her always remains that tough army girl, but she definitely mellows. I think she also learns a lot about her choice in men. When the series ends, she’s divorced, and is going to continue her career as a nurse in the army. I think she’s figured out that while she may want the companionship of a man in her life, she doesn’t need a man to make her life worthwhile. I always got the feeling that any man she chooses from now would have to be pretty special.

  2. M.A.S.H. was a great show full of funny, complex characters. And I agree, character growth is important. To me, it’s more important than a neat, happy ending. That is one of the things I love so much about both Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson on Elementary. We see the constant growth of their characters. It’s also one of the reasons I lost interest in Justified. I loved that Raylan was flawed, but toward the final seasons, it felt like he wasn’t growing or learning. In many ways it felt like he regressed as a character.

    • Characters who grow and change are interesting and real. If a character doesn’t change in some way, it’s like meeting that guy from high school at your 20th reunion, and he’s still living in his teenage glory days. Not cool, and not interesting.

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