In the last blog – ‘Is Bond a thriller?‘ I set out a basic framework for assessing whether a film was a thriller or not. However, at the end of the blog I asked the question – ‘Which type of thriller?’ In this blog I look at two types of thriller to see if the James Bond films fit either. The two types are the Psychological Thriller and the Investigative Thriller.
In the last blog there were seven primary elements which defined the thriller genre. In this blog these seven elements are added to or elaborated on to clearly define the distinctions between the different types of thrillers.
The following secondary elements define the two thriller types of this blog:-
- The main story is concerned about the personal lives of one or two characters, rarely more.
The focus is on the relationship between two central characters, often in a romantic relationship but sometimes family members or work colleagues.
- The main characters are ordinary people i.e. in the general course of their lives they do not encounter the threat of death and danger as encountered in this narrative.
Often the threat of death to one of the central characters is only evident in act two of the narrative, though the presence of death will have been foreshadowed earlier by the death of a relative, or friend. Without the foreshadowing the audience is not certain they are in a thriller.
- Personal Betrayal is crucial to the plot.
Many plots and characters involve betrayal but the key betrayal of one of the central characters of the other is critical to the psychological thriller. This places it very close to the tragic romance in many ways, but the other elements present ensure this remains a thriller, and does not belong in this other genre.
- Action centres on a threat to the central protagonist.
The sub-genre is set in a small, often domestic world, and stays tightly focused on the central character under threat, and crucially their state of mind.
- The plot is constructed from protagonist’s point of view.
A major part of any thriller in this type of thriller the central protagonist’s point of view is often the only one the audience is given any access to. The antagonist’s actions are only revealed through the protagonists eyes, and experience. This limited POV is often hinged around the mental state of the central character – are they just imagining the threat to them?
- There are a small number of victims, who die on an individual basis.
Unlike many thrillers the number of people who die is small, seldom more than one. It is the perceived threat to the central character which is the tension generator of the narrative.
- The protagonist is a professional investigator. They may not be paid, but they undertake it on a regular, and successful basis.
A crucial difference from the psychological thriller. Often police officers or private detectives, but journalists and researchers are to be found in the lead roles.
- The narrative point of view is widened to encompass the antagonist’s point of view, on occasions.
Throughout the plot odd moments(scenes) reveal the danger for the central protagonist/s i about to encounter, thus widening the scope of knowledge for the audience from the psychological thriller.
- The protagonist is forced to make moral choices, and pushed beyond their normal involvement in investigations, to solve this mystery.
Key to the motivation and character of the central protagonist/s is the question of a moral choice. Therefore, the central theme of investigative thrillers is the morality of the individual.
- The antagonist is as intelligent, and complex, as the protagonist.
A general principle for thrillers to hold the narrative tension, but in investigative thrillers the focus on the small number of characters,and often a simple contest/conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist is framed as a moral choice. therefore, in order to keep the audiences attention both these characters need to be complex, and contradictory in some instances, in order to maintain interest.
- Victims are small in number, but integral to the plot in terms of the stages of the conflict between the protagonist, and antagonist.
The number of deaths is small compared with some thrillers, but often more than the one found in many psychological thrillers. The deaths are often personal i.e. someone related to the investigator, or someone they had sworn to protect.
- The ultimate nature of the antagonist is not revealed until the climax of the narrative.
The holding back of this key information, in the early parts of the narrative, leads to the requirement for a substantial secondary antagonist to sustain unpredictability within the plot. In addition, the plot needs to contain several ‘red herrings’ plot developments which the investigator pursues only to end up with nothing..
Examples: Maltese Falcon, Chinatown, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, The Constant Gardener(http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387131/?ref_=sr_1 ) , Se7en, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Man som hatar kvinnor) (
Obviously, some of the main primary elements of the thriller genre have not been changed in creating these two sub genres, but it is these subtle often misunderstood differences which stand between a narrative which claims to be a thriller and one which is.
The question is – ‘Is Bond one of these two types of thrillers?