Swimming with Sharks (1994)

by | Sep 2, 2012 | - 1 - Gain Stories

A young screenwriter pursues Hollywood success at all costs and becomes selfishly world-wise in the process.

Medium: Film

Writer(s): George Huang

Director: George Huang

Production Co.(s): Cineville; Keystone Studios; Mama'Z Boy Entertainment

The Story on the Screen

In Swimming with Sharks, a young screenwriter named Guy goes to work for a Hollywood mogul and is thrilled for the chance to do so, thinking it gives him a foot in one very big door. Soon after he begins his employment, however, he discovers that the mogul is abusive and prone to humiliating those who work around him. And when the mogul takes credit for developing a screenplay he has written, Guy breaks into his home, subduing and torturing him.

Guy is a young screenwriter who suffers abuse and humiliation at the hands of the Hollywood mogul he works for. When the mogul takes credit for developing a screenplay that Guy has written, he seeks revenge.

At the climax, Guy faces a choice of whom to murder—the mogul or his own girlfriend, who has come to the mogul's door to pitch a script. The final scene reveals that he has done the latter… and that he has pinned on her the break-in and torture of the mogul. In doing so, he has become world-wise in an ugly sense—like the mogul himself, with whom he partners in the end.

Behind the Scenes

Guy is the character whose actions drive the story, and his are the eyes, ears, and heart through which we-the-audience are meant to experience its world; therefore, he is clearly the main character. And because his goal involves acquiring power and influence that he has never possessed, he is a gain character—and his treasure is possession of that power and influence (a bundled package).

Guy is a gain character whose treasure is possession of power and influence.

The path that he pursues in the story can be generally categorized as "seeking status" (or personal power) at the cost of abandoning moral conduct, which stands in opposition to the advice most (not all) parents are likely to pass on to their children and serves well as the basis of an inadvisable endeavor. As a result, the proposition for Swimming with Sharks may be stated:

  • One should not attempt to gain status at the cost of abandoning moral conduct, because success in the attempt will render the status hollow and worthy of contempt.

By the time the credits roll, Guy has succeeded in his attempt to gain the status he desires—or at least he appears to be well on his way to doing so. But we-the-audience know him to be a murderous villain, and in our minds he has joined the ranks of those who deserve to be jailed. His success offends us and leaves us disappointed, which renders Swimming with Sharks as a succeed/disappointed story.

Swimming with Sharks is an example of a rare breed of story—succeed/disappointed.

As Chapter 10 of Discovering the Soul of Your Story points out, the condemnation that we-the-audience hand down at the end of the story is far from "hollow" even though we do not really live in the story world. Human beings comprise a social species and tend to rely on the approval of the collective for their sense of well-being and right and wrong. That is why there are morality tales, laws against murder and theft, and formal "shunning" practices displayed across the globe.

Some people and cultures couch their approval in the form of religious strictures; others do not. But all of us feel it, and evidence suggests that it may well be encoded in our genes. So when we-the-audience shake our fists in denouncement of any kind of conduct—even if the parties involved are not "real" in a physical sense, we reaffirm the power of the collective and its approval in our lives.

By inviting us into the story, the storyteller swears us in as judges of right and wrong. And when we pound our gavel in judgment, the hands of all humanity share in the blow.

For More Information

For details regarding the concepts and terms used in this analysis, refer to the Discovering the Soul of Your Story overview video and the glossary. For more story analyses like this, visit the Story Analyses page (or use the search tools in the sidebar).

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