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Article: The Proposition (Story Structure/Breakdown)

The Proposition (Story Breakdown)

The Proposition (Story Structure/Breakdown)

Screenplay written by Nick Cave
Film directed by John Hillcoat

OPENING IMAGE - A series of historic photographs of early settlers, native people, prisoners, and lawmen shifts into images of characters and scenes from the actual film.

Point of Attack

A gunfight occurs between outlaws Charlie Burns, his younger, simpleton brother Mikey, and a few gang members and a group of troopers led by Captain Stanley.

Inciting Incident | Catalyst

The Burns brothers, Charlie and Mikey are captured by Captain Stanley's men after the violent confrontation. The captain gives Charlie a proposition: He must track down and kill his older brother, Arthur (the notorious leader of the gang responsible for a brutal crime spree, including the murder of the local Hopkins family), by Christmas day or Captain Stanley will execute Mikey within nine days. He agrees to let Mikey go and give Charlie a pardon if Charlie kills his brother Arthur.

Call to Action (and Debate)

Charlie visits the site of the Hopkins' murders, where he views the family's graves and the empty baby cradle of the youngest victim. Charlie is torn between loyalty to his older brother and saving his younger sibling's life. Charlie, who has parted company with his brother's gang, must decide whether to comply with the Captain's proposition, risking his own life and betraying his brother, or refusing, which would lead to Mikey's execution.

First Turning Point | Plot Point 1

Charlie sets out on a perilous journey through the brutal landscape to find Arthur.

THE B STORYLINE - Revolves around the relationship between Captain Stanley and his wife Martha, who is having a difficult time adjusting to life in Australia after recently relocating from London, England, and has questions about the price of their civilized life in such a violent land.

THE C STORYLINE - Captain Stanley, who has been brought to Australia to round up and kill "rebel" Aboriginals and "clean up the town", must hide his proposition from the townsfolk (who may not understand why he would negotiate the release of two criminals in order to take down the gang leader), and must navigate his own men, who try to undermine him, as well as Mr. Fletcher, who hired him and brought him to Australia.

SUCCESS & FAILURE (CAPTAIN STANLEY) - One of Captain Stanley's men, Sergeant Lawrence, reveals that Stanley allowed Charlie Burns to get away. Martha is shunned by townsfolk now that they know the truth of Captain Stanley's proposition. After learning of Captain Stanley's deal with Charlie, Mr. Fletcher orders Mikey to be flogged - receiving 100 lashes. Captain Stanley protests that it will kill him, and it would break his deal with Charlie Burns. Mr. Fletcher proclaims that if Charlie returns with his brother, that Charlie and Arhtur will also be hanged. Martha is devastated when she learns her husband made a deal with two of the men who raped and killed her friend, Eliza Hopkins. When Captain Stanley finds out that Sergeant Lawrence revealed the proposition Stanley made with Charlie Burns, the Captain sends Sergeant Lawrence to round up rebels near the Anoka Ranges (where Arthur Burns is known to hide out with his gang).

SUCCESS & FAILURE (CHARLIE) - Charlie faces numerous challenges while tracking down his brother as he rides into the harsh and unforgiving landscapes of the Australian Outback. Charlie stops at a cantina where the owner Dan O'Reilly has been killed. There, he engages with a drunk man, Jellon Lamb, who claims he is a fortune hunter. Charlie gives a fake name realizing that Jellon Lamb is a bounty hunter, and knocks him out. After Charlie spends a night near the Anoka Ranges, he wakes up to find his horse killed, and is shot through the chest with an Aboriginal spear. He witnesses the man who speared him being shot, and then collapses.


Having been saved by one of the members of his brother's gang, Samuel Stout, Charlie wakes up in the cave where the gang are hiding. Queenie tends to Charlie's wounds, while Two Bob keeps lookout. Arthur tells Charlie, "I know why you are back. We are family. We belong together." Charlie lies to Arthur and tells him that Mikey is not with him because he met a girl.

DESCENT (CAPTAIN STANLEY) - Captain Stanley attempts to protect Mikey from the townsfolk and threatens to shoot anyone who tries to have him flogged. Captain Stanley fears the flogging will be his and Martha's death sentence at the hands of the Burns gang. Martha convinces Captain Stanley to allow the flogging as revenge for the rape and death of her friend. During the brutal lashing, Martha faints. Captain Stanley is fired when he throws the blood-soaked lash at Mr. Fletcher. Captain Stanley questions what he is doing, telling Martha "I had an idea about justice for the town, for the country, for you. And now... I don't know."

DESCENT (CHARLIE) - Charlie contemplates ending Arthur's life. He has numerous opportunities but does not kill his brother. Arthur realizes Charlie has been lying about Mikey, and rides off with Two Bob to find him. Instead, they find Sergeant Lawrence and his men, who, after shooting Black rebels near the Anoka Ranges have gotten drunk in Danny O'Reilly's bar and fallen asleep. Sergeant Lawrence, hearing noises wanders into the stables to investigate and is confronted by Arthur and Two Bob. Realizing Arthur is going to kill him, but hoping he will spare his life, Sgt, Lawrence reveals that Charlie has been sent to kill Arthur. Arthur kills Sergeant Lawrence.

Crisis Point | Second Turning Point | Plot Point 2 (Captain Stanley)

The town doctor informs Captain Stanley that Mikey will not survive the flogging.

Crisis Point | Second Turning Point | Plot Point 2 (Charlie)

Bounty hunter Jellon Lamb sneaks into the cave hideout and ties up Samuel and a still-recovering Charlie. Arthur and Two Bob return, and Two Bob shoots Jellon Lamb. While Arthur uses a knife to torture Jellon Lamb, Charlie points a gun at the back of Arthur's head. Arthur asks, "Why can't you ever just stop me?"

REFLECTION & ENGLIGHTENMENT - Charlie pulls the trigger but shoots Jellon Lamb in the head instead to end his suffering at the hands of Arthur. Charlie reveals to Arthur that Mikey is in custody and will be hung on Christmas day. Arthur, Samuel, and Two Bob ride out after Charlie to save Mikey.

RUN UP TO THE CLIMAX - The gang, dressed in trooper uniforms, with Two Bob in shackles, pretend to be bringing a prisoner into the jail. Charlie frees his badly injured brother Mikey. Arthur tells Charlie he'll meet him at the Captain's home. Charlie and Two Bob escape with Mikey. Arthur and Samuel stay behind to kill and decapitate the guards. Mikey dies from his wounds while lying in Charlie's arms. Charlie and Two Bob bury Mikey under rocks. Two Bob blames Charlie for Mikey's death and departs alone.

Climax | Final Confrontation

Arthur and Samuel bust through the doors of Captain Stanley's home while he and Martha are enjoying their Christmas meal. The Captain is savagely beaten and shot, and forced to watch as Martha is raped. Charlie appears and informs Arthur that Mikey has died. Arthur simply asks Charlie to listen to Samuel's sweet singing as he is brutalizing Martha. Disgusted by their actions, Charlie shoots Samuel in the head, and fatally shoots Arthur. Arthur stumbles out of the home. Charlie leaves Martha and Captain Stanley, saying "I'm going to be with my brother."

Resolution | Denouement | Final Image

Charlie finds Arthur sitting on the ground. He sits with him as the sun sets, and Arthur dies.

Get the Movie: Digital Film (AppleTV)