John Q: A Dramatistic Analysis

The following is a Dramatistic Analysis on the 2002 film, John Q. For the sake of those who have not seen the film, and for those who have seen it and forgotten, I have included a movie trailer from (below).

By: Quinn Silbermann

John Quincy Archibald is a man who will stop at nothing to look after his family in the 2002 film, John Q. Early on in the film the viewer learns that John and wife Denise struggle to make ends meet, as they have to choose between paying the monthly bill for the car or the mortgage. John is a blue-collar man who works in a factory, but his hours are cut down to part-time because the company is shifting most of its production to Mexico. As such, John looks for another job but to his dismay, shows up to an interview with four-hundred other applicants, and is ultimately deemed overqualified. Soon after, the film depicts John’s son Mike up to bat at his baseball game. While running the bases, Mike collapses and is immediately rushed to an emergency room by John and Denise. At the hospital, the Archibald’s are debriefed on Mike’s condition. Rebecca Payne, hospital director, and Dr. Turner, lead cardiology doctor, explain that Mike is in need of a heart transplant because his is three times larger than it should be and beyond repair. The hospital officials also reveal that the Archibald’s insurance is insufficient for the surgery, and instead they would have to pay for it with cash totalling at $250,000 with a $75,000 down payment. John exhausts all options for financial loans and government aid, and has to resort to selling his belongings. Still, John comes up short, and the hospital decides that they can no longer cover the escalating costs of Mike’s care, so he was to be sent home where he would slowly pass away. Up against a wall, John goes into the hospital with locks, chains, and a firearm to hold everyone inside hostage. In dealing with Lt. Grimes of the police, John reveals that all he wants is for his son to be put on the list to receive a new heart. In the end, Mike does receive a heart and is restored to health, and John is found guilty for holding the hospital hostage. John Q perfectly aligns with the dramatistic perspective. The purpose of this written piece is to conduct a dramatistic analysis of John Q, looking at how the concepts of the pentad, and the absolution of guilt serve to justify John’s criminal actions, as well as the film’s potential implications.

The pentad, containing the act, agent(s), agency, scene, and purpose, can be applied to John Q in order to understand why John’s breaking of society’s norms is justified from the majority of characters in the movie, and likely the viewer (Sellnow 52). The act is simply the behavior that breaks societal norms, and in this case the act is clearly John’s manipulation of the hospital at gunpoint (Sellnow 52). At face value, this is something that would not be accepted by society. John ignores the fact that there are other people on the recipient list that are no-less deserving than his son Mike. The agent is the person performing the unlawful behaviour, and this is without a doubt John Archibald (Sellnow 52). The agency denotes the tools and means that the agent uses (Sellnow 52). John uses chains and locks to deny his hostages from fleeing and a firearm to keep them under his control. He also uses a telephone and walkie-talkie to communicate with people outside of the hospital, most often the police. The scene is the hospital, as it is the setting that the behaviour takes place in (Sellnow 52). The purpose, arguably the most vital aspect of the pentad, pertains to the reason the agent engages in rule-breaking behaviour (Sellnow 53). John’s justification for his criminal acts is that he was wronged by the healthcare system. No one was willing to look past the dollar signs and help his son, so he put the lives of others, as well as his own, on the line for the benefit of his fading son. All five aspects of the pentad form the foundation for John’s absolution of guilt.

John storms into a hospital, threatening doctors, security guards, and patients (even a pregnant woman), with a gun. As such, John is guilty. The concept of absolution of guilt explains that in order for the agent’s behaviour to be excused, he or she must be justified via transcendence, mortification, and/or victimage (Sellnow 53). John fits the mould for transcendence and victimage (Sellnow 53). Trancendence occurs when the protagonist is “following a higher calling” (Sellnow 53). John is cornered, he desperately holds the hospital hostage because he loves his son so much and no one will listen to his pleas. His cause, his son’s very life, is without a doubt an honourable cause and a higher calling. Alternatively, John’s actions can be viewed as victimage. Victimage involves the agent blaming someone or something for his or her course of action (Sellnow 54). John blames the American healthcare system for not caring about blue-collar families. He sells his car and even his wedding ring, all in a failed attempt to meet the healthcare system’s requirements for the transplant procedure. This example of victimage appears valid to the blue-collar masses in the film that surround the hospital and cheer for him. Within the concept of victimage, John fits the role of the tragic hero. The tragic hero partakes in victimage but in the end is punished (Sellnow 56). Indeed, in one of the final scenes of the movie John is being tried for his crimes. He is found guilty of kidnapping, and thus has to suffer for his actions in jail. He goes off smiling though, as his beloved son is alive and well. John got more or less what he set out for, but what does that say?

There are plausible implications to the vigilante justice behaviours portrayed in John Q. Because John felt he had exhausted all avenues and the clock was ticking with Mike’s blood pressure dropping dangerously low, he took action. He ignored the law and jeopardized the lives of many, threatening to start killing hostages if Mike is not put on the heart recipient list. One might argue “it had to be done!” But, what this says is, “holding people at gunpoint is an appropriate means of attaining goals.” John is a character that a lot of Americans could relate to. He is simple, constantly asking for the hospital staff to repeat themselves in Lehman’s terms. He is hard-working, putting in time at a physically demanding factory job and still finding time to search for a second job. He is a family man, who attends his son’s baseball games and eases his wife’s financial worries. Thus, if a large number of American viewers watch the film, they might associate with John Archibald to such an extent that they agree with his acts of vigilante justice. A viewer might reason that if they were faced with a similar situation in the future, they might do the same as John. There is also the potential implication that the film brings the flaws of the American healthcare system front and centre, and in an accessible way for the not-so politically inclined. This extreme Hollywood depiction could get Americans to educate themselves on their healthcare system and out of their seats about the shortcomings. These implications all arise from a simple man who puts the life of his son before literally everything else.

John Q is a dangerous and heart-felt example of dramatism. It is hard, as a viewer, not to root for John as he takes matters into his own hands. In fact, even his hostages upon release tell news reporters that John is a great man, a hero of sorts. The viewer even finds out among the film’s final minutes that John’s firearm was not loaded with ammunition the whole time, and that he never intended on harming anyone. The dramatistic concept of the pentad can be easily applied to John Q, with the key point being that the purpose of the hostage situation is to get Mike’s name on the heart recipient list. In addition, John’s guilt can be absolved after considering him either motivated by either transcendence (the life of his son), or victimage (the healthcare system failed his family). Finally, it is important to note the potential implications of the film, such as an increase in vigilante justice and criticism of the American healthcare system. These may be mere speculations, but at the end of the day, it’s hard to root against John Q and what he stands for.


One thought on “John Q: A Dramatistic Analysis

  1. The movie John Q is a perfect example of a popular culture text that takes on a dramatistic perspective. The story line of the movie does indeed fulfill the five elements of dramatistic criticism, also known as the pentad. The fact that John Archibald does hold up a hospital so that his son could be taken care of without the full hospital fees paid, is portrayed as the rule breaking behaviour. It is true that John absolves his guilt through transcendence and also victimage. John’s higher calling was indeed the idea to protect the life of his son. It is John’s duty to protect his own flesh and blood at any means necessary, and this can be seen when he takes action to hold up the hospital the way he did. I do agree when you say, “John blames the American healthcare system for not caring about blue-collar families” (Silbermann). This does make sense to why John would be the tragic hero because he himself is part of the “blue-collared” society and right then he was experiencing the downfalls it had in the American healthcare system. He does what he has to to do what he feels is best for his son’s life, and at that moment when no one wanted to help his son, John felt that it was necessary to use weapons and force to save his son’s life. The blog was an excellent dramatistic analysis of the movie John Q. All aspects were covered in sufficient detail and proof to why we should believe so.

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