Stories with Option Locks

A Clockwork Orange: Alex has only a finite number of ways to overcome the effects of society’s pressure on him. First he tries to live without regard to societal rules, then turns to the Ludovico treatment to escape punishment from the State, then to his parents for shelter, inadvertently to Mr. Alexander, and finally to the Minister of the Interior, Fred.

A Doll’s House: Nora and Torvald’s marriage will strengthen if only “the wonderful thing happens”-it doesn’t.

The Age of Innocence: There are only so many avenues open to the characters to achieve the story goal: Mrs. Mingott and the families’ concern about discretion limits the ways they manage Ellen’s problematic existence; The van der Luydens serve a classy lesson to society by inviting Ellen to their dinner party; May and Newland’s wedding date is moved up; Mrs. Mingott reminds Newland that Ellen is a married woman; Running out of ways to prevent a scandal, Mrs. Mingott sends Ellen away to Europe. Social conventions limit Newland’s options regarding an open relationship with Ellen. Ellen’s options for living independently in New York are so limited that she moves to Washington, D.C., then, Europe.

All About Eve: Margo tries convince to Bill, Lloyd, and Karen that Eve isn’t as innocent as she appears. Failing to do that she must bide her time until Eve’s maliciousness is revealed to everyone. One by one, Eve’s manipulations alienate everyone who has befriended her. She’s finally caught in a web of her own deceptions by Addison DeWitt. Eve has no choice but to comply to his demands or be exposed as a liar and lose the acting career she desires above all.

All That Jazz: All the options for keeping Joe alive, and therefore the production of NY/LA afloat, are exhausted at the time of his death.

Amadeus: Salieri has run out of options to further Mozart’s ruin, so he contrives to impersonate the ghost of Mozart’s father to frighten Mozart to death. At the end of the story, he attempts suicide to outwit God.

Apt Pupil: As evidence of the true nature of his relationship with Dussander mounts, and his connection with the murdered winos becomes apparent, Todd is faced with the option of revealing (and reveling in) his evil nature or suffering through the indignities of a court case in an attempt to maintain his upstanding reputation:

Richler could suspect, but suspicion was the best he could do. Unless there was some sort of concrete evidence binding Todd to the old man. Exactly the sort of evidence Rubber Ed French could give…Yes, Rubber Ed was the link they didn’t have….And would even that end it? Oh, no. They would get his high school graduation picture next and start showing it to the stewbums [sic] down in the Mission district. What next? Court next….It would all be dragged through the newspapers… (King, 1982, pp. 284-285)

Barefoot in the Park: There are only so many ways to forestall divorce and restore marital bliss.

Being There: There are only a limited number of sources the doctor can fully investigate to find out Chance’s background before he comes to the realization that Chance truly is who he claims to be, a simple gardener.

Body Heat: There are a limited number of ways that Mattie can get away with the murder and the inheritance. One by one the opportunities to thwart Mattie are closed down as her plan tightens.

Boyz N The Hood: There is an indefinite amount of time to choose a finite number of options to get outta the hood.

Braveheart: William can only do so much without the support of the Scottish nobles, their armies, and their clansmen. His last option for securing Scottish freedom is Robert the Bruce.

Bringing Up Baby: Although a timelock is indicated in the opening scene (Alice reminds David that they will be getting married the next day), that apparent deadline comes and goes while David and Susan are chasing George to get the bone. Since the goal is obtaining the million dollars, David can essentially take as much time as he needs until he either gets the money, or through his actions completely blows the opportunity.

Bull Durham: There’s no set time limit indicated, and in fact none occurs. It’s only after Annie and Crash focus Nuke’s pitching, that he moves on to the majors. If it hadn’t, he’d probably stay in Durham as long as anybody else.

Candida: As rivals for Candida’s affections, Morell and Marchbanks feel the only option in settling the matter is for Candida to choose between the two men.

Casablanca: After Ugarte’s killed, Laszlo turns down Major Strasser’s offer of visas in exchange for naming other Underground leaders. Ferrari offers a single exit visa, but Ilsa refuses to leave without Victor. Their only remaining option is Ugarte’s Letters of Transit — which are in Rick’s control.

Chinatown: There are only a limited number of clues from which Jake can determine what is going on.

The Client: There are only so many ways Marcus can delay giving the information, and once they have been exhausted he has to spill the beans, or else.

The Crucible: There are only a certain number of constraints that can be put on Salem’s theocracy in the face of that society’s burgeoning independence before the power of the theocracy collapses. This is illustrated in Parris’ plea to Hathorne and Danforth to postpone the hangings to allay the outrage of the townspeople over innocent people’s executions:

Parris: I tell you what is said here, sir. Andover [a nearby town] have thrown out the court, they say, and will have no part of witchcraft. There be a faction here, feeding on that news, and I tell you true, sir, I fear there will be riot here.

Hathorne: Riot! Why at every execution I have seen naught but high satisfaction in the town.

Parris: Judge Hathorne–it were another sort that hanged till now. Rebecca Nurse is no Bridget that lived three year with Bishop before she married him. John Proctor is not Isaac Ward that drank his family to ruin. (To Danforth): I would to God it were not so, Excellency, but these people have great weight yet in the town. Let Rebecca stand upon the gibbet and send up some righteous prayer, and I fear she’ll wake a vengeance on you. (Miller 127)

El Mariachi: After Moco shoots off El Mariachi’s guitar playing hand, takes the life of Domino, then commits the ultimate insult of laughing at him, El Mariachi feels he has no choice but to kill him.

Four Weddings And A Funeral: Though each member of the group’s biological clock may be ticking away, it is the narrowing of their choices for potential significant others that brings the story to an end. Besides, the title itself sets up the limit. Once the four weddings and the funeral have happened, the story should naturally reach its conclusion.

The Fugitive: There are only so many one-armed murderers in Chicago, only so many places to hide, and once Richard Kimble is caught again, it is unlikely that he will be able to escape a second time.

The Glass Menagerie: Though becoming an “old maid” has an implied time limit, it is actually the number of possible ways that the family can be kept together that ultimately brings the story to a point of crisis. Once the various avenues are explored, the story conflict must be addressed.

The Godfather: There are only a limited number of Corleone’s who have the ability to maintain the family’s powerful stature (a limited number of candidates for the new “Godfather”). There are only a limited number of ways to keep the other families loyal and submissive to the Corleones.

The Graduate: Ben’s future is completely open. There is no particular time limit imposed on his decision to step into his future (although his parents do get a bit anxious at the length of time it seems to take him). In fact most of the story revolves around Ben’s weighing of options. The story comes to a climax when Ben decides not to take advantage of any of the options presented to him by the adult world.

The Great Gatsby: The objective characters have explored all possible avenues for fulfilling basic drives and desires.

Hamlet: Though the Ghost is impatient for revenge, there is plenty of time to murder Claudius. There are, however, only so many ways to bring about the downfall of Claudius without bringing down the rest of the royal family and friends.

Harold and Maude: Harold exhausts the potential marriage partners his mother supplies, holding out for Maude; Maude feels that she’s lived her life to the fullest, and that the options life has left for her are not worth living for, and so she finally chooses death.

Heavenly Creatures: Pauline runs out of options in her quest to stay with Juliet: she first gets depressed and tries to make herself ill; she thinks of committing suicide; she suggests going to live with the Hulme family, then with Juliet in South Africa; she and Juliet plan to be discovered in Hollywood; she finally chooses an extreme solution–her plan to “moider Mother.”

I Love Lucy: Lucy feels she has exhausted the personal ways she had planned to tell her husband about their impending bundle of joy, and allows him to discover the news while singing in front of an audience.

Klute: Klute runs out of prostitutes who can connect Tom with the violent stalker. Jane and Arlyn are murdered, and Bree is surely next. Out of options, Klute investigates family and friends of Tom, and discovers that his employer Cable sent the obscene letters.

Lawrence of Arabia: Lawrence exhausts himself spiritually and physically trying to overcome the obstacles in his path. What’s missing is: the willingness of the Arab tribes to put aside squabbles and govern themselves; the artillery needed to more easily defeat the Turks, which the British refuse as it could be later used against them; a charismatic Arab leader to take Lawrence’s place. Feisal’s final dismissal brings Lawrence’s mission to an end:

FEISAL: There is nothing further for a warrior here. We drive bargains. Old men’s work. Young men make wars — and virtues of war are the virtues of young men — courage and hope for the future. And then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men — mistrust and caution. It must be so.

(Bolt and Wilson, p. II-121)

Lolita: The objective characters run out of options by the end of the story. Quilty tries everything to talk his way out of being shot, but Humbert refuses to be bribed. Lolita, worn-out, disillusioned, and old at age seventeen, has no choice but to stay with Dick: “He (Quilty) broke my heart. You merely broke my life” (Nabokov 254). Humbert, a physical and mental wreck after refused by Lolita and killing Quilty, must allow himself to be picked up by the police.

Othello: Othello struggles with the idea that Desdemona is unfaithful: At first he refuses to believe it and he demands proof; he flusters Desdemona when she cannot produce a handkerchief he has given her; he “overhears” Cassio speaking of his affair with Desdemona; he sees the handkerchief in the hands of Cassio’s mistress. Now convinced that Desdemona has betrayed his love, Othello’s only option is to kill her. Facing her insanely jealous husband, Desdemona pleads innocence, when that fails, she begs for her life, then for one more day, then just to live until the morning. Othello rejects her requests and smothers her to death. An example of how the optionlock is illustrated by a minor objective character is found in Roderigo. Having lost Desdemona to Othello, Roderigo at first threatens to drown himself, then he engages Iago to promote his cause with Desdemona; he follows her to Cyprus; helps to discredit Cassio whom he believes is Desdemona’s lover; loses all his money when he’s duped by Iago; attempts to kill Cassio and fails–then is killed by Iago.

The Piano Lesson: Berniece exhausts all of her arguments against Boy Willie selling the piano. When he ignores her and starts to move the piano out of the house, Berniece is forced to threaten him with a gun. Boy Willie tries to sway Berniece to sell the piano by telling her his dream to own land, reasons that if she doesn’t play the piano he should sell it, and recalls their father’s anguish at being a sharecropper. When his heartfelt pleas fail to move her, he arranges to sell the piano anyway, even under threat of being shot. When Sutter’s ghost attacks him and Berniece saves him by playing the piano, Boy Willie has no choice but to let the piano stay in the family home where it belongs.

Platoon: The war will be over if the platoon and the rest of the American military run out of men; If the men in the platoon become two timers (if they get substantially injured twice) they return home; If the U.S. Military achieves their objective of winning the war, then the war will be over and the goal will have been met. The enormous loss of lives sustained in the last battle clearly indicates the U.S. military’s failure in making progress in the Vietnam War.

Pride and Prejudice: The objective characters move within a limited society, in which there are only so many possible marital connections one can make. As people are paired off, choices of a spouse are narrowed. In the case of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, the story is forced to a climax when Elizabeth gathers all the information necessary to exonerate his character and realizes there is no other man for her but him, and he learns she cares for him, making it possible for him to propose for a second time without fear of rejection.

Quills: Coulmier only has a finite number of ways (and The Marquis’ body parts) to stop The Marquis from telling his tales.

Rain Man: Charlie pressures the EPA to get his cars passed, gives his customers a discount, and gets an extension on his bank loan, but still loses his cars and goes bankrupt. Susanna pleads with Charlie to be compassionate toward his brother, then having exhausted all her arguments, the only thing left for her to do is to leave Charlie. Charlie does everything he can to make Raymond comfortable during their road trip, and then in his home, but his best efforts aren’t enough to satisfy Raymond’s needs. Having failed to convince Charlie to return Raymond, Dr. Bruner offers Charlie a payoff. Finally, Charlie’s forced to realize the best place for Raymond is at Walbrook.

Rear Window: When digging up the flower bed provides no evidence, (Jeff and) Lisa’s last chance to find incriminating evidence is to go inside Thorwald’s apartment in search of the wedding ring.

Rebel Without a Cause: Plato, concerned that Buzz’s friends will do harm to Jim, believes he has no other option but to brandish a gun to protect his friend; Jim’s angst has turned to utter devastation when Plato is killed, which at this point leaves him one of two options, continue to spiral downward in his depression, or look to his father to resurrect his spirits; once Frank recognizes he may lose his son, he takes the option to grow up to be a real man and father; and so forth.

Reservoir Dogs: Although Mr. Pink wants to go to a motel and Mr. Orange wants to be dropped off at a hospital, the robbers must wait at the warehouse for the arrival of their boss, Joe. In the search for the informant, various members of the group are eliminated as suspects; when Joe arrives, he narrows it down to one–Mr. Orange–and forces a showdown.

Revenge of the Nerds: It is when the objective characters run out of options that the story is forced to a climax. The nerds have done everything it seems they can to redeem themselves in the face of the school, yet when the Alpha Betas trash their house, the nerds find out they are still nerds. It is then, with the pep rally focusing on the Alpha Betas, that Lewis and Gilbert acknowledge their problems and decide to face their nemesis one last time.

Romeo and Juliet: With their two only children dead, the Montagues and Capulets come to their senses and reconcile.

Rosemary’s Baby: There are only so many people Rosemary can turn to for help. One by one they are eliminated until the baby is born.

Searching for Bobby Fischer: There is no indication whatsoever of how much time passes in the story. The climax is the championship game itself. The nature of the game is a loss of pieces, a narrowing of options, checkmate.

The Silence of the Lambs: Although time is running out for the Senator’s daughter, no set time limit is indicated. There cannot be many places where a murder victim worked as a seamstress and rare death’s head moths (which were found inside her corpse) are bred.

All Good Things (Star Trek: The Next Generation): Picard only has one option to save mankind–solve the meaning of the “paradox” and figure out a way to destroy the spatial anomaly.

Star Wars: There are only so many places that the Rebel forces can be hiding. It does not matter how long it takes the Empire to find the Rebel base, but once they do the showdown must occur.

Sula: Nel’s only options are to keep or release her anger after she accepts her guilt in Chicken Little’s drowning and confronts Sula for the part she has played in the dissolution of her marriage and their friendship.

The Sun Also Rises: In the end, most of the objective characters have run out of options. They had been drifting from “pillar to post” attending boring and repetitive social functions. After the frenetic activities of the fiesta, they come to the end of the road and are just as morally empty and disillusioned as ever.

Sunset Boulevard: There are only so many ways Joe can get a large amount of cash quickly enough to keep his car from being repossessed, stay in town, and keep himself in the Hollywood game. Having tried every way she knows to achieve her comeback–and failing, Norma attempts to hold onto the man who makes her feel loved. When this too fails, she succumbs to her ego and destroys him. Betty does everything she can to get Joe to develop his story with her, then she tries to convince him to leave Norma and come away with her until he makes her believe that he’s a lost cause.

Taxi Driver: Travis first seeks fulfillment in a woman, Betsy. When that fails, he goes to Wizard for counseling. When he has no answer, Travis can’t take it any more and seeks an outlet in violence, trying to kill Palantine. This option fails and he wreaks mayhem on those in the pimp business, finally running out of options when surrounded by police.

To Kill a Mockingbird: There is no time limit in the effort of bringing Tom Robinson to justice. Even after a verdict of “guilty,” Atticus plans to appeal. This last option is exhausted when Tom Robinson is fatally shot in an attempt to escape incarceration.

Tootsie: Michael, an actor who hasn’t worked in two years, needs $8,000 to produce a play that he can star in. At first he’s willing to take any lowly acting job to get the money, then he’s told his bad reputation is keeping him from working with New York producers. He would do commercials in Hollywood, but those producers don’t want him either. Michael pretends to be Dorothy Michaels, auditions for a soap opera, and gets the role. He can’t tell his neurotic girlfriend that he got the part she failed to obtain. He lies to her and leads a secret life. As Dorothy he falls in love with Julie, but can’t tell her he is really a man. He’s forced to continue his masquerade because Dorothy’s contract is renewed. If he tells the truth, he’ll risk prosecution for fraud, and most certainly Julie. When he slips in his role as Dorothy and tries to kiss Julie, she thinks Dorothy’s a lesbian and breaks off their relationship. Julie’s father proposes to Dorothy, and an actor on the soap tries to seduce Dorothy. Michael can’t handle the complications of his pretense, and is forced to make the shocking revelation on live television that he is really a man. Once he does this, he can court Julie as a man, and a better one at that for his experience of acting as a woman.

An example of how optionlock is illustrated by a minor objective character is illustrated in Les: He courts Dorothy and proposes. Then he’s put off, and has to wait for his answer. But when he learns Dorothy is really a man, there is no other option for him but to find a “real” woman.

Toy Story: There is not a specific time limit forcing the story to a conclusion; there is, however, a “race” between Woody and the moving van (figuratively and literally). One way of discerning an Optionlock story is the problem gets bigger as time passes, forcing the characters to consider their options more quickly. In Toy Story specifically, the looming problem is that the moving van is getting away while Woody’s options for reuniting with Andy are becoming increasingly slimmer. When RC Car’s batteries run out, Woody tries to light the rocket with the match. When the match fails, he uses Buzz’s helmet as a magnifying glass to light it. The rocket strategy almost doesn’t work either, but just as disaster seems imminent, Woody’s final option is to trust someone else to be in charge for once (when Buzz uses his wings to let them “fall with style” back to Andy), and that’s what finally results in success.

Unforgiven: After Munny and the Kid eliminate Davey and Quick Mike, Munny takes out the men in Greely’s bar until he’s sure there are none left as mean as he is, none left to harm the whores or to disrespect Ned’s body:

“Munny is still down on one knee pointing his pistol and looking through the thick smoke for someone to shoot but it seems there are no threats left.”

(Peoples, p. 124)

The Verdict: There are only a finite number of witnesses and avenues of prosecution — once they’re explored, that’s it.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: There is not any time limit to the games that George and Martha are playing with (and without) their guests. However, there are rules that limit the “playing field.” Once those rules have been sufficiently exceeded, events will change from being a game to becoming real.

Washington Square: There are only so many suitors for Catherine’s hand that are acceptable to her father, and the one man (Morris Townsend) that Catherine is willing to marry is not among them. Morris deserts Catherine once he is certain Doctor Sloper will deny Catherine an inheritance if they marry. After Doctor Sloper passes on, Morris comes back to court Catherine. Unforgiving of his past betrayal, she refuses his suit, spending the rest of her days as a spinster.

When Harry Met Sally: Harry must go through a certain number of empty relationships before realizing Sally is “the one.”

The Wild Bunch: The Wild Bunch run out of options in trying to get Angel back from Mapache: Pike tries to buy him back with Angel’s share of the gold, then with half of his own, but Mapache won’t bargain:

MAPACHE: No, I don’t need gold…I don’t sell that one.

(Green and Peckinpah, p. 103)

Finally, confronted by the determined Wild Bunch, he relents:

“MAPACHE: You want him…? Take him… […] MAPACHE GRABS HIM BY THE HAIR and his other hand flashes across the boy’s throat as he shoves Angel into the Americans, the blood splattering them from his severed throat.

AS PIKE STEPS BACK TO AVOID Angel’s falling body, he draws his forty-five automatic and fires twice into Mapache.”

(Green and Peckinpah, p. 108)

The climactic shootout ensues.

Witness: Schaeffer and McFee eliminate all who know of their crimes–the undercover cop and Carter–with only Book and Samuel remaining as a threat to them; hunted by his boss Schaeffer, Book has no place to hide except the Amish community; after Book’s fist fighting, Schaeffer narrows down the search to Lapp farms; Book kills off Fergie and McFee, with only Schaeffer left as a threat; surrounded by Amish witnesses, Schaeffer can’t kill them all and has no option but to give himself up, ending the story.

Excerpted from
Dramatica Story Development Software

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