What we mean by “conflict” is any kind of situation or feeling entailing opposition.
These may be battles, struggles, difficulties and a variety of problems such as dangers, failures, misfortunes or poverty.
Conflict produces unpleasant sensations (the physiological aspect) or feelings (the psychological aspect) on those who experience it, of which the most common are anxiety and frustration.
I shall return to this point later.
On how conflict arises
As this will already have made clear, the word “conflict” does not simply call up images of people crying, shouting or hitting each other. Conflict can be internal, discreet, subtle, without any exterior signs indicating its presence.
An office worker who does not dare ask his boss for a payrise is experiencing conflict. Indeed, the eternal movie fist-fight is rarely the most intense aspect of conflict in a given situation.
We see this clearly in 8 Mile: five-year-old Lily (Chloe Greenfield) is a terrified witness to family arguments and the beating up of her elder brother (Eminem). Her distress is more intense than the conflicts she is watching.
The eternal movie fist-fight is rarely
the most intense aspect of conflict.
In Warriors, the British UN troops posted in the former Yugoslavia are powerless witnesses to the atrocities carried out by the ethnic cleansers. They too are living a conflict that will leave its mark on them.
In Cyrano de Bergerac (Act II, scene 6), Cyrano is delighted to learn that Roxane is in love, firmly convinced that he is the lucky man. She suddenly reveals to him that she loves someone else. He accepts the news without flinching. This is conflict.
In The Chase, the parents of Bubber Reeves (Miriam Hopkins and Malcolm Atterbury) feel guilty about their son’s penchant for crime. An estate agent, Briggs (Henry Hull) comes to see them and his words rub salt in the wound. They say nothing, they show no reaction, but we understand that this is torture for them. This is conflict.
He accepts the news without flinching.
This is conflict.
In Living, Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) is enjoying himself in a night-club. On the face of it, everything is fine. But we know that a cancer is eating away at him and that he has little time left to live. There is a distinctly conflictual aspect to his entertainment.
In Black and White in Color, two European priests (Jacques Monnet, Peter Berling) are explaining to the Africans that the Whites are stronger than the Blacks because they have a better god. How can they prove this? The god of the Whites enables them to remain vertical while riding a bicycle. Thus a Black who believes in the White god will be able to ride a bicycle without falling. The Blacks watch the demonstration and nod in agreement. Though there is no dissent among the characters, the scene causes the spectator both to smile and to feel unease. This is a form of conflict.
We will see later how any joke, flash of humour or comic situation involves some sort of conflict (cf. chapter 9).