Thriller (genre)

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A common occurrence in thrillers is characters being taken as hostages who are to be ransomed. (Hostages, 1896 painting by Jean-Paul Laurens, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Lyon) Laurens - Hostages.jpg
A common occurrence in thrillers is characters being taken as hostages who are to be ransomed. (Hostages, 1896 painting by Jean-Paul Laurens, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon)

Thriller is a genre of fiction, having numerous, often overlapping subgenres. Thrillers are characterized and defined by the moods they elicit, giving viewers heightened feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation and anxiety. [1] Successful examples of thrillers are the films of Alfred Hitchcock. [2]

Contents

Thrillers generally keep the audience on the "edge of their seats" as the plot builds towards a climax. The cover-up of important information is a common element. [3] Literary devices such as red herrings, plot twists, and cliffhangers are used extensively. A thriller is usually a villain-driven plot, whereby they present obstacles that the protagonist must overcome.

Characteristics

Writer Vladimir Nabokov, in his lectures at Cornell University, said:

"In an Anglo-Saxon thriller, the villain is generally punished, and the strong silent man generally wins the weak babbling girl, but there is no governmental law in Western countries to ban a story that does not comply with a fond tradition, so that we always hope that the wicked but romantic fellow will escape scot-free and the good but dull chap will be finally snubbed by the moody heroine." [4]

Thrillers may be defined by the primary mood that they elicit: suspenseful excitement. In short, if it "thrills", it is a thriller. As the introduction to a major anthology says:

...Thrillers provide such a rich literary feast. There are all kinds. The legal thriller, spy thriller, action-adventure thriller, medical thriller, police thriller, romantic thriller, historical thriller, political thriller, religious thriller, high-tech thriller, military thriller. The list goes on and on, with new variations constantly being invented. In fact, this openness to expansion is one of the genre's most enduring characteristics. But what gives the variety of thrillers a common ground is the intensity of emotions they create, particularly those of apprehension and exhilaration, of excitement and breathlessness, all designed to generate that all-important thrill. By definition, if a thriller doesn't thrill, it's not doing its job.

James Patterson, June 2006, "Introduction," Thriller [5]

Suspense

Suspense is a crucial characteristic of the thriller genre. It gives the viewer a feeling of pleasurable fascination and excitement mixed with apprehension, anticipation and tension. These develop from unpredictable, mysterious and rousing events during the narrative, which makes the viewer or reader think about the outcome of certain actions. Suspense builds in order to make those final moments, no matter how short, the most memorable. The suspense in a story keeps the person hooked to reading or watching more until the climax is reached.

In terms of narrative expectations, it may be contrasted with curiosity and surprise. The objective is to deliver a story with sustained tension, surprise, and a constant sense of impending doom. As described by film director Alfred Hitchcock, an audience experiences suspense when they expect something bad to happen and have (or believe they have) a superior perspective on events in the drama's hierarchy of knowledge, yet they are powerless to intervene to prevent it from happening.

Suspense in thrillers is often intertwined with hope and anxiety, which are treated as two emotions aroused in anticipation of the conclusion - the hope that things will turn out all right for the appropriate characters in the story, and the fear that they may not. The second type of suspense is the "...anticipation wherein we either know or else are fairly certain about what is going to happen but are still aroused in anticipation of its actual occurrence." [6]

According to Greek philosopher Aristotle in his book Poetics , suspense is an important building block of literature, and this is an important convention in the thriller genre. [7]

Thriller music has been shown to create a distrust and ominous uncertainty between the viewer of a film and the character on screen at the time when the music is playing. [8]

Themes and characters

Common methods and themes in crime and action thrillers are mainly ransoms, captivities, heists, revenge, kidnappings. Common in mystery thrillers are investigations and the whodunit technique. Common elements in dramatic and psychological thrillers include plot twists, psychology, obsession and mind games. Common elements of science-fiction thrillers are killing robots, machines or aliens, mad scientists and experiments. Common in horror thrillers are serial killers, stalking, deathtraps and horror-of-personality. Elements such as fringe theories, false accusations and paranoia are common in paranoid thrillers. Threats to entire countries, spies, espionage, conspiracies, assassins and electronic surveillance are common in spy thrillers. [9]

Characters may include criminals, stalkers, assassins, innocent victims (often on the run), menaced women, psychotic individuals, spree killers, sociopaths, agents, terrorists, cops and escaped cons, private eyes, people involved in twisted relationships, world-weary men and women, psycho-fiends, and more. The themes frequently include terrorism, political conspiracy, pursuit, or romantic triangles leading to murder. Plots of thrillers involve characters which come into conflict with each other or with outside forces. [10]

The protagonist of these films is set against a problem. No matter what subgenre a thriller film falls into, it will emphasize the danger that the protagonist faces. The protagonists are frequently ordinary citizens unaccustomed to danger, although commonly in crime and action thrillers, they may also be "hard men" accustomed to danger such as police officers and detectives. While protagonists of thrillers have traditionally been men, women lead characters are increasingly common. [11] In psychological thrillers, the protagonists are reliant on their mental resources, whether it be by battling wits with the antagonist or by battling for equilibrium in the character's own mind. The suspense often comes from two or more characters preying upon one another's minds, either by playing deceptive games with the other or by merely trying to demolish the other's mental state. [11]

Story and setting

An atmosphere of menace and sudden violence, such as crime and murder, characterize thrillers. The tension usually arises when the character(s) is placed in a dangerous situation, or a trap from which escaping seems impossible. Life is threatened, usually because the principal character is unsuspectingly or unknowingly involved in a dangerous or potentially deadly situation. [12]

Hitchcock's films often placed an innocent victim (an average, responsible person) into a strange, life-threatening or terrorizing situation, in a case of mistaken identity or wrongful accusation. [13]

Thrillers take place mostly in ordinary suburbs and cities, although sometimes they may take place wholly or partly in exotic settings such as foreign cities, deserts, polar regions, or the high seas. These usually tough, resourceful, but essentially ordinary heroes are pitted against villains determined to destroy them, their country, or the stability of the free world. Often in a thriller movie, the protagonist is faced with what seem to be insurmountable problems in his mission, carried out against a ticking clock, the stakes are high and although resourceful, they face personal dilemmas along the way forcing them to make sacrifices for others.

History in literature

Ancient epic poems such as the Epic of Gilgamesh , Homer's Odyssey and the Mahābhārata may have used similar narrative techniques to modern thrillers.[ citation needed ] The Three Apples , a tale in the One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights), is a murder mystery [14] with multiple plot twists [15] and detective fiction elements. [16] In this tale, a fisherman discovers a heavy locked chest along the Tigris river and he sells it to the Abbasid Caliph, Harun al-Rashid, who then has the chest broken open only to find inside it the dead body of a young woman who was cut into pieces. Harun orders his vizier, Ja'far ibn Yahya, to solve the crime and find the murderer within three days. This whodunit mystery has also been considered a detective story, though it lacks a sleuth. [14] [17]

The Count of Monte Cristo (1844) is a swashbuckling revenge thriller about a man named Edmond Dantès who is betrayed by his friends and sent to languish in the notorious Château d'If. His only companion is an old man who teaches him everything from philosophy to mathematics to swordplay. Just before the old man dies, he reveals to Dantès the secret location of a great treasure. Shortly after, Dantès engineers a daring escape and uses the treasure to reinvent himself as the Count of Monte Cristo. Thirsting for vengeance, he sets out to punish those who destroyed his life.

The first recognizable modern thriller was Erskine Childer’s The Riddle of the Sands (1903), in which two young Englishmen stumble upon a secret German armada preparing to invade their homeland. [18]

The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) is an early thriller by John Buchan, in which an innocent man becomes the prime suspect in a murder case and finds himself on the run from both the police and enemy spies.

The Manchurian Candidate (1959) by Richard Condon is a classic of Cold War tensions. A squad of American soldiers is kidnapped and brainwashed by Communists. False memories are implanted, along with a subconscious trigger that turns them into assassins at a moment's notice. They are soon reintegrated into American society as sleeper agents. One of them, Major Bennett Marco, senses that not all is right, setting him on a collision course with his former comrade Sergeant Raymond Shaw, who has been activated as an assassin.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) by John le Carré is set in the world of Cold War espionage and helped to usher in an era of more realistic thriller fiction,[ citation needed ] based around professional spies and the battle of wits between rival spymasters.

The Bourne Identity (1980) is one of the first thrillers[ citation needed ] to be written in the modern style that we know today.[ citation needed ] A man with gunshot wounds is found floating unconscious in the Mediterranean Sea. Brought ashore and nursed back to health, he wakes up with amnesia. Fiercely determined to uncover the secrets of his past, he embarks on a quest that sends him spiraling into a web of violence and deceit. He is astounded to learn that knowledge of hand-to-hand combat, firearms, and trade craft seem to come naturally to him.

Television

There have been at least two television series called simply Thriller, one made in the U.S. in the 1960s and one made in the UK in the 1970s. Although in no way linked, both series consisted of one-off dramas, each utilising the familiar motifs of the genre.

The Twilight Zone consists of suspenseful unrelated dramas depicting characters dealing with paranormal, futuristic, supernatural, or otherwise disturbing or unusual events. Characters who find themselves dealing with these strange, sometimes inexplicable happenings are said to have crossed over into "The Twilight Zone". [19] Each story typically features a moral and a surprise ending. [20]

24 is a fast-paced television series with a premise inspired by the War on Terror. Each season takes place over the course of twenty-four hours, with each episode happening in "real time". Featuring a split-screen technique and a ticking onscreen clock, 24 follows the exploits of federal agent Jack Bauer as he races to foil terrorist threats.[ citation needed ]

Lost , which deals with the survivors of a plane crash, sees the castaways on the island forced to deal with a monstrous being that appears as a cloud of black smoke, a conspiracy of "Others" who have kidnapped or killed their fellow castaways at various points, a shadowy past of the island itself that they are trying to understand, polar bears, and the fight against these and other elements as they struggle simply to stay alive and get off of the island.[ citation needed ]

Prison Break follows Michael Scofield, an engineer who has himself incarcerated in a maximum-security prison in order to break out his brother, who is on death row for a crime he did not commit. In the first season Michael must deal with the hazards of prison life, the other inmates and prison staff, and executing his elaborate escape plan, while outside the prison Michael's allies investigate the conspiracy that led to Lincoln being framed. In the second season, Michael, his brother and several other inmates escape the prison and must evade the nationwide manhunt for their re-capture, as well as those who want them dead. [21]

The Fugitive was a television series in which Dr. Richard Kimble was on the run from authorities while trying to find the man whom he claimed murdered his wife.

See also

Related Research Articles

Detective fiction is a subgenre of crime fiction and mystery fiction in which an investigator or a detective—either professional, amateur or retired—investigates a crime, often murder. The detective genre began around the same time as speculative fiction and other genre fiction in the mid-nineteenth century and has remained extremely popular, particularly in novels. Some of the most famous heroes of detective fiction include C. Auguste Dupin, Sherlock Holmes, and Hercule Poirot. Juvenile stories featuring The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and The Boxcar Children have also remained in print for several decades.

Action film Film genre

Action film is a film genre in which the protagonist or protagonists are thrust into a series of events that typically include violence, extended fighting, physical feats and frantic chases. Action films tend to feature a resourceful hero struggling against incredible odds, which include life-threatening situations, a villain or a pursuit which usually concludes in victory for the hero. Advancements in CGI have made it cheaper and easier to create action sequences and other visual effects that required the efforts of professional stunt crews in the past. However, reactions to action films containing significant amounts of CGI have been mixed, as films that use computer animations to create unrealistic, highly unbelievable events are often met with criticism. While action has long been a recurring component in films, the "action film" genre began to develop in the 1970s along with the increase of stunts and special effects. Common action scenes in films are generally, but not limited to, explosions, car chases, fistfights and shootouts.

Crime fiction Genre of fiction focusing on crime

Crime fiction, detective story, murder mystery, mystery novel, and police novel: These terms all describe narratives that centre on criminal acts and especially on the investigation, either by an amateur or a professional detective, of a serious crime, generally a murder. It is usually distinguished from mainstream fiction and other genres such as historical fiction or science fiction, but the boundaries are indistinct. Crime fiction has multiple sub-genres, including detective fiction, courtroom drama, hard-boiled fiction, and legal thrillers. Most crime drama focuses on crime investigation and does not feature the court room. Suspense and mystery are key elements that are nearly ubiquitous to the genre.

Action fiction is the literary genre that includes spy novels, adventure stories, tales of terror and intrigue and mysteries. This kind of story utilizes suspense, the tension that is built up when the reader wishes to know how the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist is going to be resolved or what the solution to the puzzle of a thriller is.

Psychological horror is a subgenre of horror and psychological fiction with a particular focus on mental, emotional, and psychological states to frighten, disturb, or unsettle its audience. The subgenre frequently overlaps with the related subgenre of psychological thriller, and it often uses mystery elements and characters with unstable, unreliable, or disturbed psychological states to enhance the suspense, drama, action, and paranoia of the setting and plot and to provide an overall unpleasant, unsettling, or distressing atmosphere.

Crime is a typically 19th-, 20th- and 21st-century genre, dominated by British and American writers. This article explores its historical development as a genre.

Crime film cinematic genre inspired by and analogous to the crime fiction literary genre

Crime films, in the broadest sense, is a film genre inspired by and analogous to the crime fiction literary genre. Films of this genre generally involve various aspects of crime and its detection. Stylistically, the genre may overlap and combine with many other genres, such as drama or gangster film, but also include comedy, and, in turn, is divided into many sub-genres, such as mystery, suspense or noir.

Eric Ambler Author of thrillers, in particular spy novels, who introduced a new realism to the genre

Eric Clifford Ambler OBE was an influential English author of thrillers, in particular spy novels, who introduced a new realism to the genre. He also worked as a screenwriter. Ambler used the pseudonym Eliot Reed for books co-written with Charles Rodda.

Romance film Film genre

Romance films or romance movies are romantic love stories recorded in visual media for broadcast in theaters and on TV that focus on passion, emotion, and the affectionate romantic involvement of the main characters and the journey that their love takes them through dating, courtship or marriage. Romance films make the romantic love story or the search for strong and pure love and romance the main plot focus. Occasionally, romance lovers face obstacles such as finances, physical illness, various forms of discrimination, psychological restraints or family that threaten to break their union of love. As in all quite strong, deep, and close romantic relationships, tensions of day-to-day life, temptations, and differences in compatibility enter into the plots of romantic films.

Mystery film Sub-genre of crime film

A mystery film is a genre of film that revolves around the solution of a problem or a crime. It focuses on the efforts of the detective, private investigator or amateur sleuth to solve the mysterious circumstances of an issue by means of clues, investigation, and clever deduction.

Adventure films are a genre of film whose plots feature elements of travel. They typically involve protagonists who must leave their home or place of comfort and go to far away lands to fulfill a goal. Settings play an important role in Adventure films, sometimes as big as the characters themselves.

A plot twist is a literary technique that introduces a radical change in the direction or expected outcome of the plot in a work of fiction. When it happens near the end of a story, it is known as a twist or surprise ending. It may change the audience's perception of the preceding events, or introduce a new conflict that places it in a different context. A plot twist may be foreshadowed, to prepare the audience to accept it. There are a variety of methods used to execute a plot twist, such as withholding information from the audience or misleading it with ambiguous or false information.

The conspiracy thriller is a subgenre of thriller fiction. The protagonists of conspiracy thrillers are often journalists or amateur investigators who find themselves pulling on a small thread which unravels a vast conspiracy that ultimately goes "all the way to the top." The complexities of historical fact are recast as a morality play in which bad people cause bad events, and good people identify and defeat them. Conspiracies are often played out as "man-in-peril" stories, or yield quest narratives similar to those found in whodunits and detective stories.

Suspense State of mental uncertainty

Suspense is a state of mental uncertainty, anxiety, of being undecided, or of being doubtful. In a dramatic work, suspense is the anticipation of the outcome of a plot or of the solution to an uncertainty, puzzle, or mystery, particularly as it affects a character for whom one has sympathy. However, suspense is not exclusive to fiction.

A political thriller is a thriller that is set against the backdrop of a political power struggle. They usually involve various extra-legal plots, designed to give political power to someone, while his opponents try to stop him. They can involve national or international political scenarios. Political corruption, terrorism, and warfare are common themes. Political thrillers can be based on true facts such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the Watergate Scandal. There is a strong overlap with the conspiracy thriller.

Drama (film and television) Film and television genre

In film and television, drama is a category of narrative fiction intended to be more serious than humorous in tone. Drama of this kind is usually qualified with additional terms that specify its particular super-genre, macro-genre or micro-genre such as "police crime drama", "political drama", "legal drama", "historical drama", "domestic drama", "teen drama" or "comedy-drama". These terms tend to indicate a particular setting or subject-matter, or else they qualify the otherwise serious tone of a drama with elements that encourage a broader range of moods.

Thriller film Film genre

Thriller film, also known as suspense film or suspense thriller, is a broad film genre that evokes excitement and suspense in the audience. The suspense element found in most films' plots is particularly exploited by the filmmaker in this genre. Tension is created by delaying what the audience sees as inevitable, and is built through situations that are menacing or where escape seems impossible.

Romantic thriller genre that involves romance and thriller

A Romantic thriller or a romance thriller is a narrative that involves romance and thriller. Etymology of the word thrill comes from English root meaning “to pierce”. A thrill is a sharp sensation.

References

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