Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

Pirandello in Modern Film

How Movie Characters Drive and Exceed Their Story

Rachel Wayne
6 min readJul 20, 2022


Many iconic characters seem to take on a life of their own — and according to Luigi Pirandello, they do. In 1921, the Italian playwright shocked the local theatre scene with Six Characters in Search of An Author, a highly “meta” play in which wayward characters urge a director to finish their story.

The absurdist production didn’t quite break the fourth wall as the actors never spoke to the audience. However, it broke an inner wall. The play-within-a-play questioned our relationship to characters and our obligation to hear / enable their stories. Initially, audiences jeered at the concept, screaming “Manicomio!” (“Madhouse!”) with a fury that could only be rivaled by Charlton Heston 47 years later.

Today, though, we’ve come to embrace the lives of characters. They are no longer figments of the author’s imagination. Modern films explore characters as living beings, allowing them autonomy and purpose that goes beyond the script.

In addition to the metatextual characters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and its appropriate metaverse), we’ve also seen some clever films play with the concept of characters as human.

Guy and fellow NPC Mike enjoying their digital coffees. Do characters get to choose their beverage?

Free Guy

A century ago, authors such as Arthur C. Clarke mused about artificial intelligence. What would constitute AI, and how would it interact with us? Could it ever become sentient? Clarke’s story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” explored these questions and inspired the film Blade Runner. Other films echoed the theme: AI could become near-human.

However, those AIs typically had a physical form. Yet in the real world, we interact with AIs all the time, and none of them have bodies. The film Her brilliantly and heartbreakingly depicted potential relationships with these non-corporeal AIs.

It was Free Guy, though, that first portrayed an AI as a source of character. Ryan Reynolds’ “Guy” is a Non-Player Character in a multiplayer online game. Somehow, he gains sentience and begins questioning his reality. It’s quite similar to…



Rachel Wayne

Artist/anthropologist/activist writing about art, media, culture, health, science, enterprise, and where they all meet. Join my list: