There is a fine line between giving characters a back story for characterization purposes and giving every character in a movie a long and complex back story. Having a back story for characterization is good; it gives the character a depth that writers, directors, and actors can use to bring a character to life. However, introducing every last character’s overly complicated back story into a film can make a movie uninteresting to an audience.
Protagonist vs. Antagonist
In epic movies that have many sequels, they can afford to give a sympathetic past to the antagonist of the film – but they usually don’t set that up in the first movie. When we watch movies, we look for characters to side with, which are usually the film’s protagonist. However, when everyone and their mother has a back story that makes you feel bad for the character, it makes it all the harder to pick a side. If the movie very clearly has a good guys vs. bad guys plot, it can make it really hard to allow yourself to get absorbed into the movie.
Loss of Focus
If too many characters have different back stories that work their way into the movie, it can be hard to keep up with what’s going on. If this guy has a sister in rehab, but this one is going through a divorce, but this one has a sick kid, it’s kind of hard to know which back story has relevance to the film. Do we really need to know that the taxi cab driver, who’s only purpose in the film is to get the character from point A to point B, has a gambling problem and his dog ran away? It’s even worse if none of the story lines have any importance to the film – it cheapens the character. It makes it difficult for an audience to be sympathetic with any of the characters.
Only So Much Time
Long movies are still less than 3 hours long, and most run around only 90 minutes. If every character in the movie has a back story that’s worth exploring, there’s no way to do it in the time span. This would lead to many characters having unfinished story lines, or to other characters having story lines rushed just to fit into the film. Either way, it comes off as sloppy and leaves the audience feeling unsatisfied.
It is important to make sure that your characters have interesting back stories to give them depth and make them seem real in a movie. However, not all of these back stories should be introduced into the film, especially if there is no way to explore them all in a way that won’t distract an audience from the movie as a whole.