Just recently I finished Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo (2004). The anime is a futuristic retelling of the classic, originally penned by the great french writer, Alexandre Dumas. And it quickly made me realize how over the years, I have loved the plot of Monte Cristo without actually reading the book in its entirety. I recall fondness for the 2002 American film. I really enjoyed the anime. But throughout my short lifetime, I have been attracted to the plot. Revenge plots are always great. However, my attention started to turn towards the act of betrayal. In my belief, betrayal can serve as such a great catalyst for plot. Perhaps betrayal is surrounded by such strong emotion at its roots. I recall many of my most favorite stories has featured betrayal as a focal point. The Count of Monte Cristo sets up as the prototypical betrayal story-line.
But why is it so effective as a catalyst?
One of the most important tasks for any storyteller is to make the audience care about your protagonist. That is a topic I have I’ve discussed prior on this blog. When you have an act of betrayal as your inciting moment, most people will react. Most people have suffered a betrayal or two in life. When someone you trusted stabbed you in the back… something you believed in failed you… it evokes emotional, perhaps depending on the execution of the event, betrayal creates a sense of alarm. One cannot help but empathize with Edmond Dantes as his own blood sold him out. In the case of revenge plots, betrayal establishes the motive for the protagonist. At that point, we understand what the hero has to do. Betrayal creates sympathy, and now as a reader, as a viewer, you care for the victim.
But what else makes betrayal such an intriguing obstacle for a character to overcome?
The very premise of the act forces the character to change right before our eyes. For the very act of betrayal means the character has to cope with a certain a brutal contradiction. If the protagonist’s best friend betrays him, he has to compare the mountain of contrary evidence, spanning over all those years, against the single act that changed everything. The mental transformation itself is intriguing to witness. Though the stages of acceptance, we have to watch as our protagonist struggle with the idea that prior to the moment of realization he did not even comprehend to be the truth. That is called good story in my books.
So it is exactly a great inciting moment? I take a look at some of the more memorable video games, and I cannot help but believe. One of my favorite video game franchises, Suikoden, have often deployed the use of betrayal to jump-start its plot. In the very first game, the protagonist Tir McDohl (for the sake of clarity, I shall use the novelization’s name for him), whose father is in favor with the emperor, is betrayed by the empire and is hunted down. The second game of the franchise, the protagonist (once again, for sake of clarity I will refer to as Riou) among with the rest of his unit of cadets is betrayed by his own kingdom for political purposes. In both instances, the protagonist is forced to fight against what he had previously believed in. McDohl has to go against not only a man he holds great respect for, but to also go against what was previously perceived his destiny; instead of a great imperial general like his father, he became a revolutionary leader. Riou, no doubt, had joined the youth brigade as a young man because he believed in his country, and wanted to serve. However, he found himself the victim of the kingdom. Both were labeled as traitors, but truly they were the individuals betrayed. And from that moment of betrayal, they embarked on adventures in order to come to terms with the betrayal. In both instances, the characters became sympathetic; their causes shared the same effect.
Another favorite of mine is Final Fantasy Tactics. The final act of the prologue that set the stage for the entire game, which placed the main characters in the roles, was an act of betrayal. The betrayal could be considered layered. For Ramza Beoulve, the betrayal witness the contradiction to the naive idea of honor, an ideal boasted by his family of knights. His brothers were willing to sacrifice a commoner girl, who they supposedly considered a sister, in order to reach their goals easier. Ramza has to come to terms that his perception of his half-brothers as well as the world he lives in is very wrong. To Delita, the Beoulves were supposed to have accepted him and his sister as members of their family. For them to carelessly throw aside his sister’s life, Delita paid the greatest price. He has to come to terms that he is not a privileged member of the nobility, and therefore, his life at that point basically has been lied. The pain this betrayal inflicted upon Delita caused him to take action against the establishment of society. This betrayal is what sparks his actions that drove the much of the plot in Final Fantasy Tactics.
While the act of betrayal is useful, it needs proper cause for the event. Fernand Mondego wanted Edmond’s fiancée for himself. Luca Blight wanted to go to war, thus needed to sacrifice Riou and his fellow cadets. The emperor has to recognize the fact that McDohl’s best friend is a threat to his reign. The Beoulve elder brothers felt the cost of resources that was required for a rescue had greater value than the life of Delita’s sister. One cannot have betrayal just to create instant drama. A best friend wouldn’t sell out his friend, unless there’s underlying motive, strong enough to break that sacred bond. The more personal the betrayal, the greatest the impetus must be.
I cannot also forget that betrayal can be a climatic moment late in the stories. However, I think I’ll discuss that another day.
Nevertheless, the art of betrayal is that there is many facets, many things the event can contribute, not only to the development of the protagonist but also to the plot and to the back story. That is why I find myself so intrigued with the inclusion of betrayal within story lines, and why I must respect the Count of Monte Cristo. For the beauty of betrayal is that it is indeed a multidimensional event with many layers and consequences.