Apr. 6th, 2017

breakinglight11: (CT photoshoot 1)
More drafting for my planned deep-dive exegesis on one of my all-time favorite films, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. This is rough, disorganized, and unedited, and I will polish it up once I have a fuller draft, but here's some of the work I did on one of my favorite parts of the analysis-- the surprisingly sophisticated workings of Roger Rabbit as a character. Previous scribbing on how the noir genre factors in can be found here.



Now I want to talk about Roger Rabbit, who is in my opinion the most remarkable character in the film. Roger is my favorite, and honestly has been since I saw the movie as a tiny child. But now, as a critic with a slightly more mature perspective, I’m fascinated by him because there is much more complexity to his character than his surface affect suggests, and by how much dramatic weight his narrative actually carries.

Despite being the title character, Roger is not straightforwardly a protagonist in the strict sense. Much as I love and am fascinated by the workings of the character, I will admit that his arc, such as it is, is… minimal. The fact that he is fundamentally the same throughout the entirety of the story, with minimal personal growth from the experience, automatically subordinates his narrative to Eddie’s, who is in fact the true protagonist of all. But his story function is not simply to act as a foil and motivator to Eddie Valiant. Though secondary, Roger has the very important protagonistic quality of wanting something and taking actions to get it. And in fact, his Want and his Actions toward that Want drive the entire film— A Want, by the way, that is shockingly mature and sophisticated. You see, EVERY EVENT IN THIS FILM stems from and is driven by Roger’s constant assertion that his marriage is real. And this is important, not to mention necessary, because none of the people around him seem to believe it.

Our very first awareness of Roger is his act in the Baby Herman short that opens the film. It is done in classic cartoon style, characterized by invented exaggerated reality and broad ridiculous humor. It is quite funny— Roger Ebert said he seldom laughed harder at anything that he did the first time he saw this cartoon —but it’s also narratively important. By seeing Roger “at work,” we see him as most people in this world see him— as the silly cartoon character, not just ridiculous, but the fall guy, the butt of the joke. The guy who is, despite his best intentions and efforts, continually whacked around by the circumstances of life, not somebody who has any real perspective or outlook to take seriously.

With Roger so established in our eyes, we see where R.K. Maroon is coming from in talking about Roger as if he’s blind to the truth of his own life. Maroon seems smarter and more on the ball than Roger, so when he gives his assessment that Roger’s wife is obviously a tramp and the rabbit just can’t see it, we’re inclined to accept it. We are induced to dismiss Roger just as the characters do.

But beyond that, it allows a means for the inciting event to occur. The director calls cut at the end of the cartoon because instead of seeing stars after a wallop, Roger produces tweeting birds— cleverly classified under “blowing his lines” the same way saying the wrong word would be for a human actor. It’s evidence of a problem Roger’s been having lately, that his ability to focus on his work is suffering due to distress over a rumor that his wife Jessica is being unfaithful to him. The story kicks off when Maroon calls in Valiant, who is engaged to take pictures of Jessica in the act of cheating to prove to Roger that she’s a tramp and not worth wasting any more time over.

Take a look at that. The issue Maroon feels needs solving is Roger’s disbelief, his refusal to accept that his wife’s having an affair. Maroon’s action is in direct reaction to Roger’s assertion. What is that assertion, that reason that he refuses to believe it? “My marriage is real.”

So the entire story kicks off because of that. But even after that, all of Roger’s actions (or at least all his character-driven ones) stem from this steadfast belief. When he is shown the pictures that Valiant took, he gives some small indication that he can no longer deny that an affair took place, but he violently insists that whatever’s happened, he and Jessica are going to get past it. What enables him to insist on this? His belief that his marriage is real.

The next scene offers up a beautiful, sad little moment where he’s alone, crying over the photos of the two of them in his wallet— on vacation, cuddling up in a booth at a restaurant, and on their wedding day. This is lovely and important character moment. There’s no anger there, only sadness— a hint to the audience that his mindset upon leaving was not vengeful enough to have run out and commit a murder right after. And there’s something beautifully mundane about those photos. While perhaps a bit on the glamorous side— they are Hollywood performers, after all —they are such shockingly normal moments in the life of a couple. These show what’s important to Roger, and how he views his relationship.

And there’s an interesting juxtaposition of the photography in this scene versus the previous one. As we just saw, photographs are evidence, and these are evidence of the reality of their marriage. But we see Roger’s struggle to reconcile the way these supposed records of truth conflict with one another.

The next time is onscreen Roger, it's when he turns up in Eddie's office to ask for his help in clearing his name. And what justification does he offer for his claim that he couldn't possibly have killed Marvin Acme? He has nothing to take revenge for because he doesn't believe Jessica actually cheated. He tells Valiant that he reflected on the whole issue and came to the inescapable conclusion that, those pictures aside, the Jessica he knows could not have done wrong by him— that she’s “an innocent victim of circumstance.” Why doesn't he believe she cheated? Because he knows their marriage is real.

Now notice that Valiant still thinks Roger's nuts to believe in Jessica. Even after he accepts the case, he remains convinced she's a tramp, and that Roger is too ridiculous a person to see the truth. I would argue that perception persists most of the way through the movie. He definitely still believes she stepped out when he confronts R.K. Maroon, as he describes the events as "a story of greed, sex, and murder." What else could "sex" be referring to, other than he still thinks Jessica put out for Marvin Acme? But this, that even Roger’s ally and advocate can’t possibly believe in them, it makes it all the more powerful and that Roger is holding fast: his marriage, God damn it, is real.

More to come later.

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