When it boils down to it, all cinema with very few exceptions contain some sort of Fantasy, even some of the most realistic drama’s will contain some sort of factually incorrect element. In a recent film my wife pointed out that the several machines surrounding a character’s bed in a hospital had nothing to do with what the character was actually suffering. It’s a small point, and not one many people will pick up on, but how far is too far before suspension of disbelief becomes absolute absurdity?
Most would argue that a strong story with strong characters can push the boundaries of reality purely because the rest of the film has sucked you in. A good example of this is probably the original Matrix movie (not the sequels), a movie that contains ships and machines that defy gravity. The core concept of the film at the time was so unique and so captivating that audiences dismissed this fantasy without so much as a second thought. Hey, if this film can make a concept like the Matrix feel possible, who am I to say that the technology to defy gravity doesn’t exist? You get the idea.
Here’s a noodle bender for you … How many of you realised that the time travel depicted in such films as Back to the Future comes with a seriously inherent danger? When Marty gets the DeLorean up to 88 miles per hour and goes back in time, technically he’d end up in outer space. Here’s a lovely picture I saw today that inspired this post to demonstrate:
You see, for Marty to truly go back in time the DeLorean would have to be a time and space machine teleporting him not just backwards in time but moving his location in space to be at the appropriate location. It’s something that seems pretty obvious now that someone has pointed it out, but when you watched that movie, did you really care?
It’s best now to think of a movie when you did care that something wasn’t believable. I can find some recent examples but how about Prometheus where (sorry, spoilers) a character performs a cesarean on herself. The act of performing the operation is actually handled quite nicely, the problem however is that many people know someone who has had this operation, or they’ve had one themselves. Anyone who has will tell you that you aren’t going to be getting up and walking around anytime soon, let alone doing any heavy lifting. It’s a complete fail, for most of the films final moments the audience can’t get past this glaring plot hole and all of a sudden all the other smaller “fantasies” in the film become far more obvious and the veil that held back our disbelief comes shattering down.
It’s not just playing games with concepts audiences are already familiar with however that causes this problem, it can be a film that tries to be too clever. For an example of this, lets take the recent Total Recall remake. In this film a Train goes through the centre of the Earth, complete with windows that let you see the molten lava outside. This Train must “switch gravity” as it passes by the centre where you experience a brief moment of no gravity. Choking yet? You see, having a Train that goes through the Earth is not going to be met with disbelief in a film (although it should be) but adding the extras bits does. Could you imagine if Doc Brown from Back to the Future also had to explain to us that the DeLorean travelled through space as well? It’s just a step too far into the required information to suspend disbelief, it would have been better if this Train just didn’t attempt to address the Gravity issue (amongst others) at all.
Audiences want to forget about reality for the most part and will often only complain if something they generally know to be true is somehow altered without either reasonable explanation or a really good payoff. By this I mean, everyone knows what punching something does, but in an action movie everyone shelves this if the fight itself is enjoyable. What really gets me however is when a movies wants to try to be realistic and completely gets it wrong. What’s the difference between Bruce Wayne having his back broken in The Dark Knight Rises only to be up and fighting a few months later than the two examples in this article so far? It’s simple … Batman didn’t let reality get in the way of a good story!