Ladder 49

Inciting Event: In the midst of an inferno, firefighter Jack is trapped when a floor collapses out from under him. The film then segues into the main flashback sequence, which starts off with its Inciting Event of Jack joining Ladder 49 as a rookie. This latter scene is the true Inciting Event, but notice how tight the timing is by grouping the framing device’s Inciting Event in the same vicinity.

First Plot Point: After successfully fighting his first fire, Jack meets Linda. Jack’s personal life is the main plot, and his meeting the woman who will become his wife pushes him into the Second Act. All things considered, this is a pretty weak plot point—which, in fact, highlights the major problem in this movie: it doesn’t have much of a plot. Lots of things happen, but because the protagonist has no overarching goal, there is no strong plotline to pull the story together. His goal is simply to “keep on being a good fireman.” That’s not an active pursuit of a goal; that’s a passive continuance of the status quo. Good for life maybe, but not for stories.

First Pinch Point: Jack’s best friend is killed when a ceiling collapses out from under him. This neatly emphasizes the threat Jack faces—and specifically his own danger in the “present-day” plot line, where the floor collapsed out from under him as well. It also leads nicely into the Midpoint.

Midpoint: Jack decides to take his friend’s place in the Search and Rescue crew—which is much more dangerous than staying with the engine, as he had previously. This Midpoint has him making a decision that decisively shifts his direction—but again, there is no overarching goal in sight. He wants to save people, but that’s something he accomplishes day in and day out, rather than being part of a bigger goal he can work toward throughout the story. The result is a very flat, episodic plot.

Second Pinch Point: Jack witnesses a fellow firefighter getting his face scalded. His predicament in the present-day throughline is neatly emphasized when he then tries to explain the dangers and merits of firefighting to his young son.

Third Plot Point: This is easily the weakest part of the story. We see Jack at a low point as he questions his commitment firefighting as a result of being shaken up by his friend’s scalding. But his subsequent rescue of a girl, reaffirmation of his commitment, and reception of a medal from the city do not turn the plot.

Climax: The movie reverts back to the present-day throughline. Jack manages to break through a brick wall to get to a control room, where the fire chief is trying to assemble the rescue crew. However, once Jack gets there, he realizes the fire is too overwhelming.

Climactic Moment: At Jack’s request, the fire chief pulls out the men, leaving Jack to his death.

Resolution: Jack is given a hero’s funeral.

Notes: Other than its lack of plot or subtext, the other major problem with this film is that the framing device—Jack trapped in the fire—doesn’t in any way answer the questions of the main part of the film (mostly because there aren’t many). Jack’s death lacks resonance because it fails to have purpose either within the sequence itself or the overall story of his life.

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.