Purpose is the driving force behind every engaging story. It drives the plot forward and gives something for the characters to fight for. If each character has a clear objective, any engaged audience should be able to draw a sort of road map that gives them some sort of idea as to what is going to happen next.
Purpose is what a character wants, what he or she stands for, and whatever forces stand in the way of that create a compelling story.
The more characters that have definable goals and motivations, a clear Purpose, the more complex and entertaining a story is. That is one of the reasons I enjoyed watching The Punisher so much. Apart from the gunplay and spectacular violence, this show gives every major character a Purpose that drives their narrative forward.
Purpose is what connects us to a story. We all have the basic survival instincts that have been ingrained into our DNA, but Purpose gives our lives meaning beyond the base, repetitiveness of everyday life. We need a Purpose to find fulfillment, and that is why characters with apparent Purposes are so appealing.
As non-fiction characters in real life, we repeat insignificant motions on a constant basis to keep ourselves alive. We wake up and go to work. Brush our teeth. Pay the bills. Get the oil changed in the car.
Purpose is what makes all this worth it, and a good story focuses on this Purpose. It creates a story that means something. While not exactly a prophetic and profound show, The Punisher gives us a cast of characters who each have their own Purpose that they will wade through Heaven and Hell to achieve. Each Purpose varies in scope and aim, showing us how individual your Purpose has to be.
The Punisher himself, Frank Castle, strives to do one thing and one thing only. Exact revenge on the people who killed his family. High or low. Rich or Poor. He wants to kill them all. While hopefully not many of us can relate to that experience, his sense of Purpose is inspiring.
If I followed my dreams with the same intensity that Frank chases after those bad guys, I’d have ten books published, a 10 acre property with twenty dogs and a beautiful collection of antique butter churning equipment. That’s the dream. Frank is special though. He has a clarity of Purpose that can’t be matched. He will stop at nothing to bring down the men who wronged him. Nothing. Frank gets shot a lot, but never stops.
It’s almost as if the show-runners wanted to prove that Purpose is enough to allow you to survive a ridiculous amount of injuries. Which it just may.
On the other hand, Frank’s best friend, Curtis Hoyle, will do anything in his power to help out his fellow veterans. He’s not trying to change the world by any means. But for him, hosting small group sessions for returning veterans is enough.
While Frank Castle is busy taking down entire corrupt organizations, Curtis finds peace knowing he can change one young veteran’s life. His sense of Purpose is just as pure as Frank’s. His lifestyle leaves a lot less carnage, but Curtis is just as motivated as Frank, if not more.
There are different parallels of Purpose in the other characters. Billy Russo murders his best friend’s family in an attempt to gain more money and power. Russo’s Purpose is to elevate his own status and leave a lasting legacy, at whatever cost.
On the other side, David Liberman just wants to see his family safe. He could care less if he ends up rich and famous. His ultimate goal is to ensure the safety of his wife, son and daughter. It costs him his freedom, but he still does it.
Agent Dinah Madani will do anything to expose the corruption in the CIA and stands for truth and justice above all, while William Rawlins wants to keep American soil clean at the cost of honor and respect. Purpose can be big. It can be small. What matters is that it is present both in story and in real life.
Purpose is the ultimate fuel. It is the engine behind every noteworthy accomplishment we’ve ever had.
Agent Madani says of Frank Castle and Billy Russo, “Neither of them give a shit. Absolute purity of Purpose.”
When this purity of Purpose is achieved, we can achieve some sort of clarity to life’s meaning. For some, this purpose can be as simple as taking care of a family they love. For others, it can be as big as big as creating a legacy that will stand the test of time.
Purpose has different magnitudes. They are all just as important.
A Purpose as straightforward as wanting to bring joy and laughter into lives can lead to a comedian as successful as Jerry Seinfeld, or it can lead to the best damn Starbucks Barista to ever serve you that Grande Nitro Cold Brew with Sweet Cream. These two lifestyles are vastly different. Yet, both individuals can feel just as satisfied with life because they have a clear Purpose that they strive towards every day. They take step after step towards that purpose.
When this clarity of Purpose is lost, it leads to despair that can ruin the greatest of people. Purposelessness creates a boring story just as much as it creates a drab and disappointing life.
The very first episode of The Punisher illustrates the problem with losing your Purpose. Frank Castle has been degraded to a simple construction worker who only finds Purpose in knocking down walls with a sledgehammer. He is not much more than a drone that fills a generic cog in society. Without a Purpose, we might as well turn off our brain and fast forward sixty years to our deathbed.
Each day won’t be much different than the last if we aren’t progressing towards a goal. One that transcends everyday life.
Whether because of tragedy, mental illness, addiction, or simple complacency, this loss of Purpose happens every day. People simply turn into side characters in the world. They don’t serve much purpose aside from taking up space in a couple of scenes, saying a couple of lines, and if they are lucky, helping progress someone else’s story.
Purpose is what makes each of us the protagonist in our own story. It might not make us Frank Castle, but it gets us close enough to him to find some similarities. We become a character who changes, who faces obstacles, who overcomes those obstacles, and who ultimately creates a story worth telling.
When we find something that we will fight tooth and nail for, it a transformative experience.
We may not have all found it yet, but struggling and searching is only part of the journey.