I was fascinated to read a comment about message fiction (in film) on an article about free speech in the Spectator. The commentator, Sue Smith, argues that message fiction is where the text contains no countervailing point of view. There is only one ‘truth’ presented and emotional imagery, such as showing a character who looks like a Nazi, is used to create:

All in all the appearance of “bad” – completely taking away the opportunity for an audience to consider for itself the important question, “what would I have done in a similar situation?”.

She goes on to argue that David Lean’s film Doctor Zhivago presents countervailing points of view, thereby reflecting the moral ambiguity of life, and forcing the reader to determine a ‘truth’ for themselves.

A scene with the doctor, his mistress Lara and Lara’s child Tatyana, who comes home from school with a drawing.

Tatyana,(showing Zhivago her drawing): “It’s the Tsar; he’s the enemy of the people”.
Zhivago (concerned); “He didn’t know he was their enemy”.
Tatyana: “Well, he should have”.

Both statements contain truths.

I can’t comment on the two films – Rabbit Proof Fence or Doctor Zhivago, as I’ve seen neither of them – but I like Sue’s idea of giving a ‘countervailing point-of-view’.

I desperately try NOT to write message fiction by creating sympathetic, but flawed characters (or that’s the aim, anyhow). If even minor characters could be the hero of their own story, then it’s up to the reader to decide who was in the right – or the wrong. Most heartbreaking tragedies, after all, involve sympathetic characters doing exactly what we might do in a similar situation… to their inevitable downfall.