On Saturday, I watched both Clerks films, back to back, which I highly recommend for any fan of Kevin Smith. There was something I hadn’t noticed before, but was pointed out to me and I’ve taken some time to consider it. There’s also the fact I wanted to break in my revamped PC with some gaming, but that’s neither here nor there.
It’s important for characters to change over the course of a narrative. This is a given rule in creating good fiction. Characters that stagnate, that do not evolve, usually don’t make for good stories. It is odd, then, that a character in the most iconic of the works of Kevin Smith, held by some as a premier storyteller of our generation, does not evolve. In fact, it’s been observed that, if aything, he gets dumber.
I’m speaking of Randal Graves.
We first meet Randal in Clerks, tasked with minding the video store next to the Quick Stop grudgingly run by his best friend Dante. Randal is Dante’s enabler, keeping him sane through his shift with thoroughly irreverent humor and pontifications on pop culture. Through Smith’s black and white lens, we see clearly how the dynamics of this friendship work and continue to evolve.
When Clerks II takes place, Dante has changed. Sure, he and Randal are still working dead-end jobs, but Dante’s taken steps to change that. He’s on the verge of taking the biggest one as the film opens. Yet Randal hasn’t. Years have passed but Randal has not evolved. Even the dealers that hang out on the sidewalk have changed and grown somewhat, but not Randal. He simply never bothered to grow up.
As much as this might seem as a knock against the character at first, there’s a reason his behavior is manifesting in this way. For those of you who’ve refrained from seeing Clearks II, I’ll encapsulate this examination in spoiler tags.
When Dante and Randal are in jail, Dante vents his frustrations at Randal and his apparent lack of initiative and desire to move beyond their jobs. Randal responds by saying, in essence, it doesn’t matter where he works as long as he’s working with Dante. The prospect of Dante leaving is terrifying to him, and he’s been acting out of that fear and a stubborn desire to hold onto his best friend. But as much as the emotional causes are apparent, especially on repeat viewing, there’s something else at work that, to me, shows Randal is just as smart as he was in Clerks.
In that original story, Randal confronted Veronica about Dante’s feelings because he felt Dante wouldn’t do it on his own. As much as it upset Dante to the point of physical violence, Dante did appreciate the act and ten years later is still confiding in his best friend. There’s a line in Clerks II that indicates Randal is aware of the controlling nature of the future Mrs Hicks, and while part of him doesn’t want to see Dante under this woman’s thumb, there’s got to be part of him screaming “HEY! THAT’S MY JOB!”
Still, for all of his shenanigans, Randal has been a good influence on Dante overall, and in the second film Dante does make more decisions on his own. That’s one of the things I appreciate about Kevin Smith’s writing and characterization, even if it seems one of those characters hasn’t evolved. These young men are both intelligent and, on at least some level, in touch with their emotions enough to understand the whys and wherefores of their feelings.
This is a rare case. But it’s still proof positive that just because good characterization does not necessarily mean constant evolution. There are exceptions to every rule, especially in creative endeavors like writing, with the important part being how those rules are broken.