Big Miracle

Inciting Event: The story filmed by Adam, a small-time reporter in Alaska, about three whales trapped under the ice airs on national news. Obviously, this isn’t the first time Adam has encountered the conflict (the whales), so what makes this the Inciting Event? First of all, I would actually identify his ex-girlfriend Rachel, the Greenpeace worker, as the main character if I had to choose one, since really there isn’t an obvious main character here. It’s a story, told from a broad perspective, of many people coming together to help the whales. But if we view Rachel as the main shaker and mover in the story, we can see that this is the first moment she encounters the conflict, since she was unaware of the whales’ plight prior to this.

It’s also worth nothing, that on a subplot level, this is also Adam’s Inciting Event, since it’s his first brush with the “conflict” of gaining the attention of big mainland producers.

First Plot Point: Honestly, there isn’t a great First Plot Point in this movie, and that’s always going to be a wasted opportunity. The First Plot Point should adamantly stand out from the surrounding story; otherwise, the overall pacing risks getting bogged down.

We could say getting the ice-breaking barge moving, via the National Guard, is the First Plot Point. But in light of the fact that this has no immediate impact on the plight of the whales or on any of the characters (and also in light of the fact, that the barge ends up having no impact on the plot, since it ends up not working), we can tell it’s not a plot point.

Instead, the only obvious shift in sight is Rachel’s (and all the reporters’) arrival in Alaska. This is a clear transition from Normal World to adventure world, even though it’s extremely low-key and doesn’t dramatically shift the whale-centric activity.

First Pinch Point: The wall of ice in the ocean begins dropping too deep for the whales to swim under, even should they escape their oxygen hole. This is a very nice upping of the stakes. It presents new clues and challenges regarding the nature of the conflict and emphasizes exactly what is at stake for the whales.

Midpoint: The Minnesotan brother-in-laws arrive with their invention: an ice-melter. This marks the characters’ shift from simply reacting to the whales’ plight by trying ineffectively to keep their hole open to action in taking dramatic steps to save them. However, this Plot Point also isn’t particularly strong, since the Minnesotans’ arrival is initially brushed off by Rachel. It isn’t until quite a bit later, when the whales’ hole is icing over, that she finally takes advantage of the ice-melters. In short: good Midpoint; bad timing.

Second Pinch Point: The ice barge gets stuck in a pot hole and can go no farther. The ice barge never affects the plot whatsoever except in this scene where its loss emphasizes the stakes and forces the characters to get serious about finding a more viable way of getting the whales out.

Third Plot Point: The baby whale Bam Bam dies. The true turning point here is actually the involvement of the Russian ice-breaker, which turns around to come save the whales. But the plot wouldn’t have worked with that as a Third Plot Point, since it’s an obviously positive development and offers no emotional low point. Instead, the inclusion of Bam Bam’s death offers the needed emotional rhythm. The best stories are ones in which the plot-moving Third Plot Point is organically tragic in some way; but this solution is still a nice way to make the story work under its unique restrictions.

Climax: Just as the volunteers finish cutting air holes for the whales, all the way to the ice wall, the Russian ice-breaker arrives on the other side of the wall. This is the final confrontation between the characters and the obstacle. If they fail here, the whales will surely die.

Climactic Moment: The whales swim through the hole created by the ice-breaker and into the open ocean.

Resolution: Everyone goes back home, and Rachel and Adam get back together.

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