How Pacing Worked for Knight's Locke (2014)

What does the film Locke have in common with scientific studies about the passage of time? Pacing. Scientists believe we experience a slower passage of time when we pay more attention to what we're doing. That's why time goes by when we're having fun. We're pleasantly distracted and lose our sense of time. The same works in the movies. Action scenes go by faster because we're not paying attention to details. A slower, dramatic scene is the opposite. The attention to detail makes time feel slower. So, how were these principles used to make Locke more entertaining?

Locke's entire plot takes place in the front seat of a car. Such a story would be expected to move at a slower pace, but in Locke's case, the further could be the truth. The film actually went by fast. So what could possibly happen in the front sear of a car to grab our attention to the point where where we lose our sense of time? The answer: Physical action isn't the only way to speed up a movie.

Locke: The Basic Story

Locke takes an unexpected car trip to another city after getting some distressing news. As a result, many lives are turned upside down. For about an hour and half, the audience sits back to watch - and listen - as the lives unravel from Locke's unexpected road trip. We would expect the journey to be a slow one, but it wasn't at all. The stakes were high enough to keep us gripped to the story. The protagonist cared about his plight and so did we. But that's not all that we needed for good pacing.

We Need Contrasting Elements

A contrasting element brings balance to an artwork. It also contributes to the experience too. Music works our soul by having hot versus neutral notes, painters do the same with colours or shading and writers do the same with sentence structure. Juxtaposing hot and neutral elements gives the artwork its flavour. Locke is no exception.

Locke has neutral elements that kept the story stable. It established a rhythm much like a track for a rollercoaster. It's important because the story needed to be kept moving in some way since most of the scenes took place in the car. These neutral elements were probably overlooked yet the most important to the story working so well for audiences.

Locke also had hot elements that provoked high feelings. During this state, the audience lost track of time. They were distracted so that the minutes passed by quicker, psychologically speaking of course. It also heated up the story so that the stakes and therefore the interested rose within each audience member.

The interplay of these elements literally put the audience in cruise control so that they could watch the drama unfold like passengers on the road trip. 

Neutral Elements

Locke drove seamlessly and stopped only for one light. Many audience members didn't realize how this kept the story together. Imagine if he stopped for many lights along his trip. It would have detracted us from the running story through the telephone conversations. Those conversations moved the story forward and needed steady element to support it. Also, Locke's voice was calm and steady throughout the ordeal too. He stayed practical and centered except for an occasional outburst. This calmness served to support the cruise control feel of the story too.

Hot Elements 

The film wouldn't have been interesting without some hot elements that spiked our interest. For example, the characters on the other end of the phone got agitated to the point of panic or breakdown. Since we were gripped with their plight, our interest grew and with that our sense of time - or the pacing - sped up too. We got pulled into the feelings of the moment. Another hot element included psychotic flashbacks with angry, derogatory family members who quite literally took the back seat of the car. It was a bit weird, but mostly spoke to Locke's desperation. These hot elements made the story interesting which meant piqued our interest to the point of changing our sense of time.

Putting it all Together

We could now see how a story like Locke controlled its pacing throughout the film. First, the story wasn't extraordinary - there wasn't any supernatural or epic crisis that kept us interested. In fact, the plight was rather ordinary. That made everything easy to understand and relatable. Second, the protagonist was deeply involved in his story - so involved that he was willing to risk his marriage, career and future over it. This element drew in the audience right away. It's important because we need to get interested in the road trip.

Once interested, the contrasting elements could do its work. First, we got on a track literally, with a road trip that has few stops. This choice allowed the story to move almost seamlessly from beginning to end. Locke's steady tone of voice helped too. These were the neutral elements. Second, characters on the other end of the phone were hot-headed, panicky and extremely frustrated. Our sense of time sped up during these moments which helped the movie go back faster. These were the hot elements. Combine these two elements and we have an interesting movie with a pace that speeds up and slows down like any other film.

The result was a stunning achievement in storytelling. Locke showed that storytelling is indeed an art (with a little science, too) that could achieve more story with less physical action.