Thursday, July 03, 2008

Suspension of Disbelief


I went to see the movie WANTED with my daughter last weekend.  At one point during the movie she leaned over and whispered, "That's so unbelievable."  I whispered back, "And yet, earlier, you completely bought into the whole curving the bullet thing."
[That's not a spoiler; if you've seen the trailer, it's in there.]  Anyway, I had to laugh because she had obviously reached her maximum for suspension of disbelief.  Is it hard enough to believe how attractive Angelina Jolie can be at times?  :-)

If a movie is done well, and even filled with unreal stunts and strange mythology, the viewer will go along for the ride.  But when we find ourselves shaking our heads at something, then the illusion has been shattered.

The same goes for the stories we write and read.  Mostly, you'll find the need to go beyond your normal beliefs and trust in the author's new world in fantasy and paranormals, but it's been done in straight contemporaries as well.  The vampire myth is so legend, and steeped in all cultures and mythologies that it's very easy to suspend one's disbelief and go along for the ride that yes, those guys can survive merely by sucking blood.

But it's always going to happen.  You're watching a movie, or reading a book, and you are suddenly drawn out of the story to shake your head, "That could never happen."

So I want to hear some examples of great story-telling, in which you completely bought the whole premise and found yourself immersed in the incredible world created.  
As well, what movies or books suddenly jabbed you out of the story and made you go, "Huh?"

M

22 comments:

Debra Moore said...

TThe 4th movie in the Indiana Jones saga comes immediately to mind. When he rolled out of that refrigerator, I just cracked up. Sometimes suspension of disbelief is just WORTH IT because it’s so darn funny.

I don’t want to be one of those people who takes things too seriously anyway...why not go along for the ride? And with Harrison Ford driving? Oh yeah, I’m there...

Debra Moore aka Moira Reid
www.readmoore.com

Dina said...

I saw Wanted, I love watching James McAvoy and yes, some things you know are reaching in most things, but I go to movies and read books for some fun. Sometimes there is nothng that might make me say, yea right, but again, I expect this to happen, so for the most, I'm ok with it and am happy with it.

Betina Krahn said...

You're so right, Michelle. . . if a movie is done right, we'll believe anything. If not, well, shame on the movie maker.

Sometimes it's the script-- Eragon for example-- awful dialogue, sophomoric. Sometimes it's the acting-- Costner in Prince of Thieves. Sometimes it starts with the casting and just goes on and on-- like with Hancock. (I LOVE Will Smith and could hardly bear to see him in this role-- so anti-hero and so angry and crude and unlikeable. Plus, the plot. . . sigh. Such a missed opportunity with such a high concept idea.)

My favorite book example is a recent "thriller" (NYT author, no less!) that made me laugh out loud in all the wrong places. The author (named after a viking god-- not sure if it's a shortening of his last name or just a pretentious choice) created an international information broker (sort of baddie)who is a dwarf with a grudge who lives in a castle in Scotland. We find out later that the dwarf had been severely abused in a brothel by the Al Quiada-leader villain and was out for revenge. Enter his two huge dogs(the dwarf's only real "friends") one of which gets shot and the other, the dwarf rides away on! And the hero (snort, chuckle, titter) rescues the injured dog and returns it to the dwarf at the end. . . for which, the amoral dwarf sends him a puppy of the same breed!!!

Stretches credibility past all boundaries. And of course, on the last page, as the hero's girlfriend(and fellow operative) goes out on the porch to retrieve the puppy, she gets her brains splattered all over the front door by an assassin.

Author shoulda stuck with the improbable warm fuzzies.

And they say Romance is "unrealistic!" SNORT.

Playground Monitor said...

I've been a Superman fan since I can remember so I'm real good at suspending disbelief. I think it's easy to believe a man can leap tall buildings in a single bound and is faster than a speeding bullet when he stands for truth, justice and the American Way.

I felt the same way about the fridge scene in the new Indiana Jones movie, but I still loved Harrison Ford's return as one of my all-time favorite movie heroes.

Of course now Betina has me curious about this book she read.

Marilyn

Samantha Hunter said...

The most recent movies that had me completely buying in were the Bourne series -- I don't think I had a moment where I thought "that's so unrealistic" though they certainly were incredible... to this day dh and I joke about what we could do with a toaster... But they were so much fun, and Matt D sold it, and sold it well.

I will also buy into well done if completely unrealistic fantasy -- Buffy, Superhero stories, etc -- because I know from the onset I am going into another world, so the rules don't apply.

I thought National Treasure 2 sucked -- really, picking apart desks in Buckingham Palace and the Oval Office -- yeah, I'm SURE that would happen...

Sam

Michele Hauf said...

I agree the Bourne movies rocked and in our household we are constantly referring to the valuable uses of a rolled up magazine for defense. :-)

So Hancock didn't work for you, eh, Betina? I was with a couple friends the other day who were really looking forward to the movie, but myself, the trailers didn't impress me, so I don't need to see it. It looks like a downer. Though i do love Will Smith.

And the dwarf book sounds a riot!

AuthorM said...

Sam, that's funny, my husband said the same thing about NT2, and I just kept saying "suspend your disbelief, OF COURSE they couldn't sneak into the White House! They couldn't do ANY of this!"

I can't think of any movies or books off the top of my head that I just said "...No. More."

Oh...LOST. I loved Lost's first and much of second season. Really, truly loved. But when Jack was the *only* person possible who could *possibly* transfuse the blood to Boone and OF COURSE (not only could he also diagnose that Sawyer needed glasses)he spent hours transfusing HIS OWN BLOOD...

Lost lost me.

And usually I can pretty willingly suspend disbelief. But that tipped me over the edge. And I LOVED it. So I was very sad.

M

Keri Ford said...

I haven't cared to see Wanted because of the commercials. I dont' think I can suspend my disbelief. I basically rolled my eyes through the first bit of Casino Royal with all that jumping going on.

Any kind of superhero stuff I can buy into because there's usually this cosmic radiation that started the whole powers thing...and well, since I don't know anything about cosmic radiation, I decide Hollywood must have their facts right.

Anything with any sort of government alterations to humans(such as teh Bourne movies) I can also get because I don't put anything past what our government is capable of.

Michele Hauf said...

Keri, if you go into Wanted, knowing it was adapted from a graphic novel (or comic book?) then you can kinda go to the superhero route with your disbelief suspension. :-)

catslady said...

I think disbelief is more the norm in movies nowadays with all the new technology. We actually have a saying in our house - it's a Bryan - (someone we know who constantly complains through every movie that things aren't believable).

The last book I read that bothered me was Running with Scissors - just couldn't believe it and then I found out it was a true story!!!!

Tori Lennox said...

A recent example that had me laughing at myself was Surf's Up which I saw this past week for the first time. I had a problem with the whole tropical island full of penguins. Because, y'know, it's perfectly normal for penguins to surf and TALK. LOL!

Michele Hauf said...

Now you see, I can buy a talking animal any day. I was raised on the Aristocats, Lady and the Tramp, Cinderella, etc. And let's not forget talking toys with Toy Story! :-)

MsHellion said...

I loved the Indy 4 refrigerator incident. That was a riot. A YEAH RIGHT, but still funny enough that I'd buy it. It's Indiana Jones. He was nose to nose with a cobra and didn't die...sure he could survive being cooked in a fridge!

Independence Day: some of the passionate speeches were campy--which will draw me out faster than "bad action". And I never really understood how Will was able to land that spacecraft when they blew up the mothership...

Armageddon: one of my FAVORITE movies (I love Bruce, and Liv & Ben were so cute!)--and every bad thing that could go wrong does, but when the guys said, "It's spinning on its third axis", I was like, "WTH? That's the DUMBEST thing I ever heard!" (Yeah, because oil digging to drop a nuke into a meteor is believable.)

Helen Brenna said...

What a fun topic, Michele!

Here's one for ya - Forrest Gump. While I was watching the movie, I couldn't have cared less that it was completely unrealistic for one man to have all those happenings in his life. Afterward, I got a big chuckle out of it. If I'm being entertained, I don't care.

I don't think we can get away with it in books. Everything has to be well motivated, otherwise it'll feel contrived. I don't get why, either. Maybe we look for different things/experiences from movies vs books?

anne frasier said...

Helen, I don't think it works as well in books because we have more time to think about it. In movies more senses are engaged, so it's much easier to fall for what's happening. Kind of like a magic trick. Even plot holes aren't that apparent until later. The viewer doesn't have time to think because the next curve is coming.

Estella said...

Surf's Up. As far as I know penguins don't inhabit tropical islands.

Cindy Gerard said...

Many years ago I was so looking forward to Legends of the Fall. But half way through, I hit the eye-rolling stage. And then, after the father - Anthony Hopkins who is generally a brilliant actor - had his stroke (yet one more epic tragedy in a movie full of tragedies) and he started writing on a chalk board, it just cracked me up. I know. Don't throw eggs. the subject matter was tragic but maybe I'd had too much gloom and doom by that time and I lapsed into the 'funeral syndrome'. You know, that horrible thing that sometimes happens when you're so chocked up with emotion that you've been holding back that unfortunately, the emotion that comes out is laughter. You don't know why you're laughing, you just are. It's horrible and embarrassing and - well, that's what happened to me at the scene in Legends. Everyone else was wiping their eyes and I was giggling.
Okay. that was probably way more than you wanted to hear. Deadline dementia again. My WIP is due Monday. Somebody help me!!!!!

Debra Dixon said...

Michele-- This is NOT the first time I've heard that complaint about WANTED. A friend saw it and said she wanted her 2 hours and her money back.

Christie Ridgway said...

I read a great book that came out last month. It's part of a series called the Final Prophecy, and the first book is titled Nightkeepers. It's all about the Mayan prophecy that the world will end in 2012. These good guys are trying to stop that from happening.

I totally bought it! AND, I just went to her website to get the titles right and man, does the website make you swallow the myth! I'm not a paranormal author or one who itches to build a new world, but I'm so impressed with what Jessica Andersen is doing. As a reader, I love it.

M. said...

I have two sons, meaning I watch many reps of the Pirates of the Caribbean series whether I like it or not (which, overall, I do) but it still irks me every time when Miss Swann supposedly calls the pirate bluff by pretending to drop the last gold medallion over the edge of the ship and they all get scared and do her bidding, yet - hello? - isn't the whole point that they can walk the ocean floor with ease? And doesn't the gold 'call' to them, as the yellow-eyed pirate likes to taunt her? They could just hop over the side to retrieve it.
*rant over*

Helen Brenna said...

Anne F!! Hey you!!

And you're explanation seems spot on.

Legends of the Fall - don't get me going, Cindy.

J.A.S.Z.I. said...

The movie Wanted pushed my ability to suspend disbelief right to the brink. The curving bullet scenes were hard enough to believe, but when the main character shot and killed his target as his car flipped like pancakes, made me shake my head and say,"Come on now!" However, whenever I find myself mumbling "Come on now!" I always remind myself that it's only a movie or novel designed to take me away from the everyday and keep me on the edge of my seat. The only movie that didn't make me yell, "Come on now!" was the first Matrix. Go figure.

J.A.S.Z.I.
http://unitedstatesunderattack.blogspot.com/