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Blood Diamond is a 2006 movie focusing on illegal diamond trade in Sierra Leone set in 1999, during a civil war in the country (Zwick). A fisherman named Solomon Vandy is enslaved and forced to work in a camp run by a rebel army. Further, the story revolves around a remarkably large diamond Vandy finds. Another main character, a smuggler named Danny Archer, wants to use it to pay his employers back and leave the continent seized by war and illegal trade. The movie can be called an adventure film, a drama, or a thriller (“Blood Diamond”), but many signs indicate that it is also a melodrama. Based on the plot, the definition of a melodrama, character development, and effects used, the melodramatic features of the movie can be revealed.
At the beginning of the movie, Vandy finds a very large diamond that Captain Poison, a cruel warlord and one of the main villains of the story, wants to take away, but the encampment is suddenly raided by the government forces, and both are captured. However, Vandy manages to bury the diamond first. In prison, he meets Danny Archer, a smuggler, tells him about the diamond, and the two escape. Archer develops a plan to use Vandy to find a diamond so that he could compensate his employers for the failed smuggling mission and leave the continent forever. Later, Archer meets Maddy Bowen, an American journalist who can help him with his plans in exchange for evidence of the illegal diamond trade.
Returning to the encampment, Vandy and Archer try to take it over with the military support of Archer’s employers. Among the young soldiers who protect the area, there is Vandy’s son who was brainwashed and calls his father a traitor. Vandy ultimately kills Captain Poison, Archer is mortally wounded, and Dia, Vandy’s son who holds him at gunpoint, is persuaded by his father to come to his senses and put the gun down. At the end of the movie, Vandy exchanges the diamond for a large amount of money and the opportunity to be reunited with his family. Maddy publishes her investigation and raises awareness of blood diamonds.
Melodrama as a Genre
Many aspects of the movie’s script allow classifying it as a melodrama. This genre is generally defined as “a type of narrative in which the over-dramatic plot-line is designed to play on people’s emotions—sometimes at the expense of character development, subtext, and nuance” (“What Is a Melodrama?”). As the definition suggests, a melodramatic movie may not have highly artistic merits but still be attractive to viewers because it delivers strong emotions to them. Melodramas often sacrifice plausibility and authenticity to achieve a stronger emotional appeal. In doing so, works of this genre resort to exaggerations and clichés.
Melodramas may be accused of the lack of proper connection to the real world and embellishing or prettifying stories, characters, and scenes. One of the major examples is Titanic, a popular 1997 movie that starred Leonardo DiCaprio who plays Archer in Blood Diamond (“Blood Diamond”). In Titanic, the scene in which the main characters are waiting for someone to save them in the cold water after the sinking of the ship has been widely criticized as far-fetched. At the same time, it is one of the most famous movie scenes of the last 20 years, and many fans of the movie praise it for being touching and affecting.
Portrayal of Characters
Melodramatic features of a movie are especially evident in the way characters are developed. Specifically, characters in such a movie can be “stereotypical archetypes” (“What Is a Melodrama?”). This means that they lack depth and controversial qualities that are found in real-life people and represent widely shared ideas and images instead. This is especially applicable to villains; melodramatic villains are often the embodiment of evil featuring no positive qualities and displaying no internal ethical decision-making processes. An example in Blood Diamond is Captain Poison. Even his name suggests his evil nature; he is not only a ruthless overseer of the enslaved workforce but also a brainwasher who recruits young children and turns them into monster warriors. Captain Poison says, “You think I’m a devil, but only because I have lived in Hell” (“Blood Diamond Screenplay”), which shows that the character is a typical archetype.
Similarly, good characters in melodramas are often good in every aspect. However, this is not the case for all the characters of Blood Diamond. Archer demonstrates questionable ethics; e.g., when he says to Maddy “I am using him [Vandy], and you are using me, and this is how it works” (“Blood Diamond Screenplay”). Not entirely positive, the character is still rather stereotypical, as he goes through the expected ethical transformation by the end of the story. Another character, Vandy, is even more clichéd: he is a poor fisherman who simply wants to be with his family but falls victim to the illegal trade and the violence that accompanies it. Even the fact that Vandy brutally murders Captain Poison does not seem to make him less of a stereotypically positive character because the murder can be perceived by viewers as fair retribution for all the evil things Captain Poison did.
To enhance the emotional appeal, melodramas often employ special effects; e.g., playing dramatic music during some scenes. One of the most affecting scenes of Blood Diamond, the scene in which Vandy persuades his son to put the gun down, is accompanied by a soft background melody that grows louder and louder as Vandy speaks. The effect of background music is also important in action scenes; e.g., the scene in which the camp is attacked by government troops. Energetic and fast music increases the tension and makes a viewer more worried about Vandy who can be shot any second. Audio effects suggest the emotion that the viewer is supposed to experience at a given moment. For example, when Archer shares his true feeling with Maddy, and she feels compassion for him and takes his hand, a romantic melody is playing as the characters go silent.
Blood Diamond is a melodrama, which means that the movie employs certain over-dramatic techniques to play on the viewers’ emotions. The characters are mostly either good or bad without nuances, and special effects are used to enhance the emotional appeal. Also, the script uses stereotypes and archetypes in character development in order not to distract a viewer from the affecting story. Vandy is almost entirely positive, and Archer goes through an ethical transformation: these are examples of widely used techniques in melodramas. While some viewers may find certain scenes far-fetched, others will enjoy the way Blood Diamond is a touching story set in horrifying circumstances.
“Blood Diamond Screenplay.” Daily Script, 2005, Web.
“Blood Diamond.” IMDb. 2006, Web.
“What Is a Melodrama? – Definition, Characteristics & Examples.” Study.com, Web.
Zwick, Edward, director. Blood Diamond. Bedford Falls Productions, 2006.