Pearl Harbor

Movie: Directed by Michael Bay.

Inciting Event: Rafe joins the RAF as a volunteer pilot during the Battle of Britain. After a leisurely set-up, showing his childhood with best friend Danny back in Tennessee, their antics in Air Force training, and Rafe’s romance with Navy nurse Evelyn–the Inciting Event’s turning point marks the first time any of the main characters are truly touched by the war in Europe. It also kicks off the main conflict of the romantic plot, in which Rafe leaves Evelyn in Danny’s care while he’s away.

Evelyn and Danny are both stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, marking a turn in the plot for them as well, bringing them closer to the war. Meanwhile, we see for the first time the Japanese preparing for the attack.

First Plot Point: Word reaches Danny and Evelyn that Rafe was shot down in the English Channel and is dead. This doesn’t do anything to launch the attack-on-Pearl-Harbor conflict (which is really just background anyway), but it is the clear distinguishing mark in Danny and Evelyn’s relationship. With Rafe gone, the two of them begin to bond.

First Pinch Point: Rafe returns unharmed, only to discover Danny and Evelyn are now a couple. The pinch emphasizes what’s at stake for all three of them, but especially for Rafe and Danny. Rafe tells Danny, “I just don’t see how things can ever be the same now.”

There isn’t a clear pinch on the attack subplot, but this entire section of the story is filled with lots of little pinches, as the Navy grows more and more paranoid about the missing Japanese fleet and its intentions.

Midpoint: Pearl Harbor is attacked. One of this movie’s biggest problems is that it’s not actually a story about Pearl Harbor–as proven by its structural points. Pearl Harbor is just background for the human story of the love triangle. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; the author’s job is to humanize big events. However, the structure in this movie wobbles all over the place because it clearly wants to be about Pearl Harbor, and, yet, it clearly isn’t.

Still, the attack is the centerpiece of the whole story and very obviously the Midpoint. It does provide for a shift in the main conflict, as Rafe and Danny put aside their differences in order to fight off the Zeros. However, it doesn’t provide a Moment of Truth (Rafe’s Moment of Truth about Evelyn’s relationship with Danny comes much later, when she tells him she’s pregnant), or a clear move from reaction in the first half to action in the second.

Second Pinch Point: There isn’t a particularly clear pinch point here, since, technically, the story has done nothing but emphasize the antagonistic force’s threat from the Midpoint on. However, we do get a turning point with a reactionary interlude in the hospital, emphasizing the horror of what’s just happened. Then Rafe and Danny get into the planes and fight back against the Zeros–moving, just as they should, from reaction to action.

Third Plot Point: The Third Act shifts into an entirely new episode within the plot, as Rafe and Danny are promoted for their actions during the attack and recruited for the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. There isn’t a huge plot-driving low moment here–honestly, it’d be hard to get any lower than the attack scene. But there is a low moment for the romance plot when Evelyn explains why she has chosen to marry Danny instead of Rafe. There’s also suitable emphasis on death, as both Rafe and Danny realize the dangerous nature of their mission.

Climax: Doolittle is forced to launch the raid early. Rafe, Danny, and the other pilots bomb Tokyo, then try to reach China on light tanks of gas. They crash land on the coast, only to find themselves surrounded by Japanese troops.

Climactic Moment: Danny takes a bullet meant for Rafe, allowing them to kill the remaining Japanese. Danny dies–ending the Rafe-Danny-Evelyn “main” plot and thus the story’s overall dramatic question.

Resolution: Rafe returns home with Danny’s body. He and Evelyn marry and raise Danny’s son.


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