The Unlucky Lucky Character

Bullet Train

A few months back, I watched an action, dark comedy called ‘Bullet Train’.  This post isn’t about the plot, but about the main character played by Brad Pitt.  They call him Ladybug, which is considered lucky.  Yet, he talks about and proves to have bad luck.  He also seems to have good luck.  How does this work?

Well, it’s both simple on paper, but appears to be difficult to pull off.  An unlucky lucky character will routinely wander into bad situations.  They just can’t stay out of trouble, which is why they end up in their adventure.  These are the types who will think they’re in the clear and step into a room to find every enemy and their 9th grade math teacher just hanging around.  It isn’t like the character was walking into a trap, but they are no running and fighting for their lives again.  The lucky part is simply that they always manage to get away and win.  It’s usually not by their own actions, but by a freak accident that goes in their favor.

I’m sure people can think of other heroes who stumble into their adventure.  It’s basically a staple of action movies, especially when there’s a comedic tone.  I keep thinking about Bruce Willis here since ‘Die Hard’ and ‘The Fifth Element’ have a lot of unlucky lucky hero aspects.  It’s this ‘curse’ that manages to keep the action and story moving since they can’t get out of the situation.  As long as the plot has yet to be resolved, these heroes are trapped in the tight grip of fate.  It’s like a story about destiny, but without the nobility or the hero’s full consent.  Many times the hero complains about their plight even though they repeatedly come out on top.

That odd negativity is a common staple of these characters too.  They aren’t necessarily pessimistic, but they have a sense of their bad luck.  One may hope for the best or to finish the adventure, but they aren’t that surprised when things go wrong.  Of course, they will hit a level of pessimism once too much has gone wrong.  At that point, they can’t really deny that they were born under a black cloud.  This is where some dark humor can come into play or the character starts testing the extent of their bad luck.  Maybe they’ll walk out into the middle of a gunfight to see if they’ll get shot.  Up to the author if they do or another bizarre accident saves them.

After watching ‘Bullet Train’, I still can’t seem to figure out what the appeal of the unlucky lucky character is.  I enjoy watching these characters, but I can’t put my finger on why they entertain me so much.  Is it the comedic aspect since I like humor?  That could be it.  Is it that I personally think it’s realistic for a person to wandering into a bad situation and flail their way to victory?  Possibly, but that isn’t very common.  It could really just be that this type of character and story keeps me guessing.  I know something will go wrong, but I don’t know what or how.  I know the hero will survive, but I don’t know how or in what condition.  I mean, these types of heroes tend to get a beating and finish with quite a few injuries.

From the writing perspective, these can’t be as easy to write as one thinks.  I would say Darwin Slepsnor falls into this category since he stumbles into his adventures.  He does have some luck too.  Going by that, I always have a challenge in finding a balance between him controlling his path and bad/good luck directing him.  You want these characters to have some control, but you also need them to be at the whim of the universe enough that they have bad luck.  Luck is all about chance, so you can’t have the character in the driver’s seat for every event.  If you go too far to one side, you make a mess.  Either the character is manipulating everything to the point where luck isn’t a factor or they have no influence of their own lives.  People may prefer the former, but that removes the unlucky lucky hero title entirely.  As usual, we’re all down to balance.

So, what do you think of characters who are both lucky and unlucky?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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9 Responses to The Unlucky Lucky Character

  1. L. Marie says:

    You have the most interesting posts! I haven’t seen Bullet Train but how cool that you were inspired to write this because of it. Maybe the appeal is that many people might feel like these characters. They aren’t the chosen ones who are destined to have lives of great significance. But like Adam Sandler’s character in Uncut Gems or all of the characters in Requiem for a Dream,
    they instead are slapped with some of the sad realities of life. We can’t help rooting for them to pull out of the tailspin. The characters who seem more fortunate seem, at least to me, like wish fulfillment characters. We want to be like them.


  2. Oloriel says:

    “The Fifth Element” being my favourite movie of all time, it does make me think what is it about the characters and the whole story itself that I find appealing, and just like you wrote, I cannot quite put my finger on it. I guess you could say that in these kinds of stories, for me at least, the characters feel like characters, as opposed to for example encountering characters in media which feel like they are there to very obviously fulfill a purpose – even though that is basically, I guess, the purpose of every character.
    To add to that, I feel like in these current times, I tend to venture and consume stories that have characters who contribute you could say Nothing, just being there – and I think it is because it makes the stories seem more realistic to me.
    I think what as well appeals to me with Lucky/ Unlucky characters is the expectation of Growth and Becoming, which I anticipate and feel good when it comes true, but again, in a not- so – obvious manner? In comparison, I do not like superhero characters, because in a way it is obvious to me that superheroes are gonna superhero, if that makes sense!


    • I recently showed the movie to my son. He enjoyed the characters even though the plot confused him. That might be why I loved the movie so much. All of the characters have unique personalities. Superheroes are a tough archetype. The reason is because they’re designed with a status quo that has to always be maintained. It’s the downside to having a character in a story with no definable ending or goal beyond fighting crime. They can only change through retiring, dying, or turning evil.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My husband will tell you this about his dice rolls when gaming.


  4. I love to read about the unlucky who, in spite of that cloud, manage to triumph in the end. The Fifth Element was a favorite example of this in my mind as well.


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