The Artist - Discussion on Audience Proxy and Frustrating Heroes

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The Artist - Discussion on Audience Proxy and Frustrating Heroes

The Artist is a comedy melodrama that follows Valentin (Jean Dujardin), an actor in the 1920s who's successful career and luxurious life goes wrong when he can't adapt to the new era of film... it's very good.

This is probably the most traditionally structured  film since The Rocketeer. Each twist and turn is incredibly easy to predict. Hanzanvicius makes no effort to hide this and at times the film is sentient about it's predictability, for example the hilarious but mean "Bang!" bit. And there is no problem with this as long as you have a likeable hero but Valentin is not one. He’s arrogant, makes obviously bad decisions, takes his frustrations out on his wife and is stupidly proud. Valentin's strife is his own mindset and this is usually no fun. It often alienates audiences like in the divisive Synecdoche New York. By making the protagonist be the monster the audience can't possibly empathise or sympathise, because they want the protagonist to do something which he won't as his frustrations are the drive of the plot. The only way they could make The Artist enjoyable is by having Valentin not be the avatar for the audience so we can then feel frustrated towards him instead of being disconnected from the film. Hanzanvicus does this with The Dog, it is the audience. The Dog does everything that the audience would, it barks at Valentin when he's self destructive and pity-wimpers towards him. The audience has a voice in the film and even though it's insignificant it allows us to feel immersed.

Now that the audience excepts it’s dog avatar, the film can make us feel anything, The Dog is the only thing that Valentin shows unconditional love towards and vice versa so we like Valentin also we can see his depression from a comical view as we're not going through it. This also makes the happy ending very different from most films because we don't get the girl but our best friend does, akin to Return of the Jedi's ending. The difference is that Luke Skywalker is not a Jack Russell and needs stuff to do, by making The Dog a dog it needs no subplot allowing the film to keep it's wonderfully simple formulaicness.