False protagonist

From Academic Kids

In film a false protagonist is a technique for making a scene more jarring or a character more notable. It involves presenting a character at the start of the film as the main character, but then disposing of this character, usually killing them.

The most notable example of this is Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho in which the film opens with superstar Janet Leigh as the main character. When she is killed partway through the film the murder is far more unexpected and shocking and builds Bates up to be a far more fearsome villain.

A character is made to seem like the main protagonist based on a number of techniques. Star power is a very effective one. Close-ups are also used. Generally the star of a film will get more and longer close-ups than any other character.

Another notable example of this technique where it is used to somewhat different effect is in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West. That film opens with a ten minute scene in which three men wait for a train. The camera examines the men and their preparations in close detail. When at the end of the scene Charles Bronson's character arrives and quickly dispatches the three it serves to build up Bronson's character as a potent force.

In George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, Eddard Stark is a false protagonist.

A recent film which uses the technique in another different manner is Runaway Jury which opens with Dylan McDermott portrayed as the protagonist as he begins a seemingly normal day of work. When, a few minutes into the film, he is gunned down it is an attempt to make the crime seem far more villainous.

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