Red Dawn (1984)

Movie: Directed by John Milius

Inciting Event: Jed, his brother Matt, and several other teenage boys reach the comparative safety of the mountains after fleeing a joint Russian and Cuban invasion. Although the invasion itself, in the opening scenes, is clearly what incites the main conflict and engages the characters in it, it is structurally placed at the Hook. The turning point halfway through the First Act is when the teens make camp in the mountains and have to decide what to do next.

Normally, diving this deep into the conflict right away isn’t the best choice, since it doesn’t allow enough of a foundation for setting up the characters. However, this is not a character-driven story, and the decision to open with the invasion, without any prior setup, was clearly a conscious choice to allow the invasion scene to be as shocking as possible.

First Plot Point: Several weeks later, Jed, Matt, and another of the boys sneak into town to discover what’s happened. They learn the Cubans and Russians are occupying America and have imprisoned or killed their parents. Jed and Matt find their father in a concentration camp. He tells them to remain in the mountains and to “avenge” him.

Although in many ways a “smaller” beat than the opening scene in which the enemy armies invade, this turning point introduces the main conflict: Jed’s decision to turn guerilla and fight back against the invaders.

First Pinch Point: The boys (now joined by a neighbor’s two battered granddaughters) are spotted by joyriding Russians. They engage in their first battle and kill the Russians, gaining new weapons.

Midpoint: In retaliation for the kids’ earlier actions, the Russians execute the boys’ parents and other innocent prisoners—while the kids look on from a ridge above. Although placed a little early, this is the clear turning point in the story, where the kids move from frightened reaction into militant action, claiming the name “Wolverines” and attacking the enemy. They each face a Moment of Truth in overcoming their grief and, as Jed urges, “turning it into something else.”

The subsequent arrival of the downed American pilot is, in some ways, the “bigger” event (and more closely timed as the Midpoint), but it does not turn the plot in the same way as this earlier scene.

Second Pinch Point: The Wolverines experience their first casualties, when one of their number and the friendly pilot are killed. They begin to doubt their purpose in acting as guerillas. They all just want to go home, but, of course, they cannot.

Meanwhile, the Russians send in a new “hunter” who captures and bugs Daryl, one of the Wolverines.

Third Plot Point: After discovering that Daryl allowed the Russians to find and nearly kill them, Jed decides to execute him. At the last moment, he cannot, but another Wolverine does it for him. This is Jed’s personal low moment.

From a plot perspective, the Third Plot Point then arrives when the survivors are trapped by airships, and two more of them are killed.

Climax: Jed and Matt send away the remaining two survivors, while they make a final night attack upon the train station.

Climactic Moment: Jed and Matt both die.

Resolution: The survivors escape to Free America. A voiceover epilogue indicates the war eventually ended and shows the monument erected to the Wolverines.

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