Tuesday, May 01, 2007


When I say flip-flops I don’t mean shoes. Flip-flops is the name that I give characters who are opposites, but exchange character traits.

Oscar and Felix of Neil Simon’s play The Odd Couple, are probably the most famous flip-flops. One is clean and prissy while the other is sloppy and gruff. Their marriages have broken up and they are thrown together as roommates. They are extreme opposites, which offers the best opportunity for conflict and, therefore, comedy. Their ritual pain is having to live with one another.

By the end of the story we have seen why both of their marriages failed. This pairing is a replay, or a clone, of each of their marriages. But it has also changed both characters. Both are a little more aware of their respective faults. They could each stand to be a little bit like the other.

In fact, the last messy thing Oscar does is tell his poker guests to watch their cigarette ashes. He says, “ This is my house, not a pig sty.” This is a huge change from the Oscar at the opening of the play.

Another classic example is The African Queen. In that film, Humphrey Bogart plays a crusty, hard-drinking boat captain, while Katharine Hepburn plays his flip-flop. She is a stuffy religious matron who detests vulgar vices such as demon rum. These two share little in common except the small boat they are trapped on together.

Through the ritual pain of having to make their way down a treacherous river together, they both become fuller people. Each has something the other is lacking, and by exchanging traits they become whole.

Sometimes only one of the characters needs to change and the other is the catalyst for that change, such as in Beauty and the Beast. When the Beast changes enough on the inside to earn the love of a woman, he changes on the outside from a beast to a handsome man. The change is only an external manifestation of what is going on internally.

Shrek turns this idea on its green funnel-shaped ear, but it is still the same story. Shrek is completely comfortable with who he is; it is the Princess who must change.

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