Scene analysis: The Woodsman – empathy done right.


You can find this article in its entirety HERE.  


“For there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.”

 –Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being


The past is never farther than the bounce of a red, rubber ball for Walter in The Woodsman.

The Woodsman is not an easy movie to watch.  Its main character, Walter, played by Kevin Bacon, tries to adjust and assimilate back into society after twelve years in prison.  That Walter has a dark secret – he’s a child molester – along with urges he continually fights to control, make him a rather unsympathetic character as his inner turmoil often results in a curt and abrasive outward persona towards others.  Yet, in the midst of all we can’t help but let the film’s dramatic question, will Walter succumb to his desires once again, draw us in despite a host of his undesirable traits causing a level of discomfort with the viewer.

In a previous article, Empathy: your story’s best friend and matchmaker for your audience,  I noted some of the ways in which to build empathy for a character that may otherwise seem unrelatable – some of which are present in The Woodsman in an effort to understand what Walter is up against in his quest for redemption:

We’ve found a new home!  You can read the rest of this article as well as others HERE.  


About Jim Barker

A multi-award winning sculptor who uses a pen to shape words on a page that leave impressions in the mind.
This entry was posted in Empathy, Perspective, Story Structure. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Scene analysis: The Woodsman – empathy done right.

  1. thepissedoffpundit says:

    My favorite article so far. Forgot all about this movie, but never again; it’s too good to let it slip through the cracks. HBO’s “Oz” might be another great source of unlikable but interesting characters to study. I wish writers would think of humanizing their villains more often instead of making them so ludicrously easy to hate (Joffrey from GOT comes to mind). Obviously Walter is not the villain, but his traits are similar to one, and the writer (and Bacon, of course) turned him into a human being, not a cartoon.

    All in empathy like you say. I’d be interested in doing a scene-by-scene analysis of the movie one day, because it’s not easy what they pulled off here.


    • This will be a wild contrast to the article I plan on doing next. Here we have a movie about a child molester that uses empathy to its utmost power to embody forgiveness and redemption – something that, of all things, goes wrong in one of Pixar’s most loved films. It’ll be interesting to see the response to that article because I think the way the story unfortunately plays out reflects certain attitudes and beliefs in modern society. Absolutely amazing the differences in approach with a movie aimed at KIDS desensitizing them to positive reinforcement to a degree vs. a movie about KIDS being victims yet empowering them.


  2. Wow, terrific article, moving scene, took me to tears. :-/ sad sad subject matter.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: How Pixar surprisingly missed the mark with empathy in Toy Story 3. | The Bark Bites Back

  4. Pingback: How Pixar surprisingly missed the mark with empathy in Toy Story 3.

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