What could a genius say that would change a monster to a saint?
December 2, 2009 9:34 PM   Subscribe

If a female motivational speaker delivered the equivalent of Henry's Eve of Saint Crispin's Day speech, if she could make a monster renounce evil- what would that sound like?

I'm writing a screenplay. One of the characters is a motivational speaker and her words help a bad man change. I'm hitting the books and doing the research...but can any of you offer suggestions? Of speakers you like, of quotes or paraphrases of their most effective work? I've been so busy writing the monster, I haven't had a chance to concentrate on the lady.
posted by flowerofhighrank to Human Relations (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If I'm understanding your question correctly, you're wanting examples of women speaking motivationally and effectively, so that you can get ideas for your character? If so, Sojourner Truth's "Aint I A Woman?" speech is a good one. In her case, the "monster" was racism and sexism, and she railed against it very powerfully.
posted by amyms at 9:57 PM on December 2, 2009

Once you finish writing the 'monster', I think the lady's speech, or at least the skeleton of it, will largely write itself. The most obvious thing that springs to mind is directly addressing some kind of regret — a distant child, family conflict, perhaps the trials and tribulations of a close friend. I think it really depends on whether the speech is directly meant to reform this character. If it's incidental — like a high-flying Wall Street stockbroker happening upon a sermon on the trials of the poor — it'll be more of a slow burner than a direct confrontation of the 'monster'. Also; is this the end of a long process of reform or embracing of said evils, or the catalyst for one of these?

These are just assorted thoughts: take them or leave them. If you can't decide, try a few possibilities and see if any of them jump off the page at you.
posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 10:21 PM on December 2, 2009

The image of Sinead O'connor singing a modified version of Bob Marley's War immediately came to mind upon reading your question.

These days no one can think about the Catholic church without thinking about sexual abuse of children and cover-ups. Back in those days she with vilified for her attack, even though it was pretty clear from the song she was making a point about child abuse.

Maybe she did not make anyone renounce evil (hard to say), but she gave strength to a lot of people, I am sure, to endure and to speak up.

"Children! Fight!
We know we will win
We are confident
In the victory
Of good over evil"

I have never heard Bob Marley's original rendition (which was about racism and apartheid), but I can only imagine he delivered it with the same power, and that it uplifted and gave strength to many people who suffered due to racism.
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 10:22 PM on December 2, 2009

It's worth noting that most inspiring oratory, male or female (Shakespeare's Henry V's St. Crispin's Day speech, William Wallace's 'Braveheart' speech, MLK's I Have a Dream, JFK's "Ask not what your country can do for you", Lincoln's Gettysburg, Obama's campaign rhetoric, etc.) are rallying cries to action rather than conversion speeches. If you're trying to convert a character from bad to good, religion's probably your best bet (your own language refers to turning a monster to a saint, after all); if you're writing for a secular motivational speaker try to crib as much as you can from famous preachers, holy books, etc. Religion's been in the conversion business for thousands of years and has figured out what works. If you're trying to road-to-Damascus your monster you're gonna need the force of angels.

Anything you write is going to seem unconvincing if the monster hasn't been put in a position to be receptive to it and if audience doesn't believe it themselves- and that's a very, very difficult thing. If you're relying on the force of the motivational speaker's words for their conversion and it isn't flawless you're better off writing around the actual speech, e.g. with a voiceover:

"V.O. (Monster) : As she stood on stage, I could feel her words strike me; I saw myself, I saw all the horrible things I had done and all the things I would do if I did not find my own strength; every syllable a waypoint on my journey through all the pain and hurt and regrets in my life," etc.

In summary: you're better off not trying to write the actual life-changing speech. If you have to, steal from religion.
posted by theclaw at 10:32 PM on December 2, 2009

Susan B. Anthony on women's suffrage (1873):
Friends and fellow citizens: I stand before you tonight under indictment for the alleged crime of having voted at the last presidential election, without having a lawful right to vote. It shall be my work this evening to prove to you that in thus voting, I not only committed no crime, but, instead, simply exercised my citizen's rights, guaranteed to me and all United States citizens by the National Constitution, beyond the power of any state to deny.
Mother Jones addressing West Virginia coal miners (1912):
Go down, men of to-day, who rob and exploit, go down into hell and look at the ruins you have put there, look at the jails. We pay $6,000,000 a year to chain men like demons in a bastille — and we call ourselves civilized. Six million dollars a year we pay for jails, and nothing for education.

I have been to jail more than once, and I expect to go again. If you are too cowardly to fight, I will fight. [...] They ask who started this thing. I started it, I did it, and I am not afraid to tell you if you are here, and I will start more before I leave West Virginia. I started this mass today, I had these banners written, and don't accuse anybody else of this job. It is freedom or death, and your children will be free. We are not going to leave a slave class to the coming generation, and I want to say to you that the next generation will not charge us for what we've done; they will charge and condemn us for what we have left undone.
Helen Keller on the general strike against the war (1916):
Strike against all ordinances and laws and institutions that continue the slaughter of peace and the butcheries of war. Srike against war, for without you no battles can be fought. Strike against manufacturing shrapnel and gas bombs and all other tools of murder. Strike against preparedness that means death and misery to millions of human being. Be not dumb, obedient slaves in an army of destruction. Be heroes in an army of construction.
Fannie Lou Hamer's address to the Democratic National Convention (1964):
I was carried to the county jail, and put in the booking room. They left some of the people in the booking room and began to place us in cells. I was placed in a cell with a young woman called Miss Ivesta Simpson. After I was placed in the cell I began to hear the sound of kicks and horrible screams, and I could hear somebody say, “Can you say, yes, sir, nigger? Can you say yes, sir?” [...] All of this is on account of us wanting to register, to become first-class citizens, and if the freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America, is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave where we have to sleep with our telephones off of the hooks because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?
posted by scody at 10:50 PM on December 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

OP here. thanks. These might be a little too political. This is what I have:

'and most of all, you must be open to the moment when things can change completely. These transformative moments are so rare. When we are prepared for them, they elude us. When we are at our worst, they come rushing in. They show no mercy; they use our past as the fuel for a bonfire to light the road to our future- and if you try to hold onto that past, the past that's made you its victim, you will burn down to the basement, nothing will be left.'

She inspires him to change, it's not so much political or social. It's personal. I need more of this voice.
Thank you all!
posted by flowerofhighrank at 11:47 PM on December 2, 2009

theclaw: you have a damn good point. It'll be hard to make them believe. I can't go V.O., though, for that very reason. if the audience won't buy her ethos, she's of no use to me. She doesn't have to say deeply inspirational things 24/7, but at a couple of points, she's got to ring true for the bad guy and the audience.
posted by flowerofhighrank at 12:01 AM on December 3, 2009

Hey man I'm making moves
and I am so much stronger than you.
I am so much stronger,
I am so much stronger than you.
Everybody thinks the way that we thought,
we thought ahead and look what we got.
I did not invent this world,
Call my words a string of pearls.
But you will find the sheen
loses all its luster.

-- Syd Straw
posted by Kirklander at 12:45 AM on December 3, 2009

If the bad man truly changes, then the change has to come from within. The speech has to be the trigger, in some way cutting to the heart of the man's self-justification. It must seem like the speech confirms something the man already suspects, but hasn't yet given voice to.

I think it's also important that his monstrousness also feels genuine, that he is able to justify his actions so that later he can come to doubt them.

The movie X-Men comes to mind. I enjoyed it more than many other action movies I've seen because I sympathized with Magneto. It's been a while since I've seen it, but I remember a scene where he's informed that the results of his actions will be more fatal than anticipated, and there's a moment where you see him pause and doubt, and then commit-- he's made his choice. But it made me believe that the right words could perhaps have swayed him, which made his character much more real to me, and the movie much better. I missed this aspect in the sequel.

I think A Clockwork Orange is also good in the opposite way: Alex doesn't have that aspect of humanity in his character, and so if the movie had ended with his genuine reformation, whether as a result of another character's speech or any other reason, it would not have been good, no matter the quality of the speech.
posted by alexei at 12:59 AM on December 3, 2009

I don't know if it's helpful to you, but there is an actual historical example of a female speaker delivering a St. Crispin's type speech. It's the speech that Queen Elizabeth gave to her troops at Tilbury, as they prepared to fight the Spanish Armada:
My loving people,

We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit our selves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust.

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you.

In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.
posted by yankeefog at 1:45 AM on December 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

Hmm, you could go all Tony Robbins and bust out the NLP, but my humble suggestion would be to also consider keeping it very, very simple.

There are a raft of awful psychoanalyses in movies that make me want to vom. I don't buy any of them because I get the impression the writer is furiously masturbating over how much psychology they can impress the audience with.

The one that sticks in my brain for being effective was Good Will Hunting.

I think about the things people have said to me over the years that have left lasting impressions, or made me really think, or want to change - by and large it was a word or two, a sentence, a short heartfelt conversation that did it, rather than being browbeaten with a rousing speech.

Perhaps this would work just as well.
You might be very attached to your speech, been looking forward to writing it for ages. Sometimes you have to kill your babies :)
posted by CardinalRichelieuHandPuppet at 3:08 AM on December 3, 2009

One more thing - I think GWH works because it challenges Will's very identity. People react very, very strongly when their identity is seriously threatened. Start knocking the legs out from the table of someone's core values and see what happens.

If you do decide to go the preachy route, you're going to need to find a way to have your monster confront the core values that make him what he is in such a way that he's left wanting to change them.

There is some really awesome conflict for you to get your teeth into, but it's really really fucking hard to pull off well, because it's internal conflict. Great for books, not so great for film.

Good luck with it.
posted by CardinalRichelieuHandPuppet at 3:12 AM on December 3, 2009

I dont think a speech can cause a conversion, a radical change in attitude and behavior. I think the more important thing is that your guy has been beaten into a state of reasonableness beforehand, then the motivational speaker can come in and deliver the coup de grace.

Not sure exactly what your background is, but what I am thinking of is an addict whose wife left him, got fired, lost the house etc and someone comes along and convinces him to put down the drugs or go to rehab or whatever. The guy never would have have quit if things were still going well for him.
posted by shothotbot at 5:16 AM on December 3, 2009

I'd expect the change to take place over two different moments - the speaker points out something to the "monster", he initially rejects it, then reflects, then later acts in a way that shows he's thought about it in the meantime.

So the speaker needs a little patience and wisdom - and wisdom enough not to show that she thinks she's wise.
posted by amtho at 5:59 AM on December 3, 2009

I may have been a little overly-influenced by my copy of "Free to be You and Me," but -- what's the difference between women's "inspirational speeches" and men's? Why not just simply seek out examples of "motivational speeches" from either gender?

That said, it almost became a cliche that every season-finale episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer featured Buffy delivering a kick-ass let's-go-get-'em speech to her compatriots.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:19 AM on December 3, 2009

Op here. Not working on this script anymore; taking a break on it. Thanks.
posted by flowerofhighrank at 2:35 PM on January 2, 2010

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