Why don't characters ever make mistakes?
March 30, 2010 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Are there any examples of television/movie scenes where simple non-plot-related mistakes are made intentionally?

TV/movies have come a long way in terms of realism, but it's still rare for actors to make the kinds of simple mistakes that people make all the time, unless those mistakes are integral to the plot.

Maybe they wouldn't add anything to the experience, but I'm curious to see what it would look like.

Can anyone point to examples (preferably online video) of such mistakes being made intentionally? Words being misspelled, people dropping things that are handed to them, futuristic scenes where certain technologies aren't explained (because everyone takes them for granted in the future)?

posted by mpls2 to Media & Arts (56 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
...it's still rare for characters to make the kinds of...
posted by mpls2 at 10:49 AM on March 30, 2010

Annie Hall -- "The question is: Will it change my wife?" (See the block quote in this article.)

Back to the Future II -- In the future, Marty's family has various technical difficulties in getting their window with a virtual-reality view to work. I believe the image isn't showing up clearly, and then Lorraine has trouble rolling up the screen. This doesn't have anything to do with the plot; it's just there to show that new technological advances create new irritants.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:59 AM on March 30, 2010

In Clerks 2, Jay had a hard time getting the Jackson 5 tape into the boombox before the rooftop dancing scene.

I don't think this was intentional but might have been left in because it was an element of realism. Those things could be a pain in the ass to latch.
posted by codswallop at 11:01 AM on March 30, 2010

As for TV, you could find a lot of these in Seinfeld. For instance, Elaine says, "He's like a svenjolly," and Jerry/George correct her and say it's "svengali." In another episode, Kramer refers to a "statue of limitations," and he doesn't believe Jerry when he says it's "statute of limitations."

These are incidental jokes that don't have anything to do with the plot, but I don't know if you'd count them since the mistakes do serve the purpose of adding more jokes to the episodes.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:04 AM on March 30, 2010

(Those Seinfeld episodes are "The Wallet" and "The Cafe," respectively.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:10 AM on March 30, 2010

I've thought along these lines too. It's kind of a slippery slope though. I always wondered if movies could have characterization that wasn't essentially to the end

ie most movies have a character
that was raised with x character flaw where said x character flaw miraculously was a good thing at the end of the movie.
posted by lakerk at 11:14 AM on March 30, 2010

There is a reoccurring joke in Arrested Development about none of the characters being able to operate the office phones correctly. Similarly, when something is to be shown as being on the local news, when a character turns the TV on it is never on the segment in question- they have to wait through an unrelated news segment first. They usually have a whole season of AD on Hulu at any given time.
posted by nowoutside at 11:16 AM on March 30, 2010

Police Squad was full of them. Here are some videos !
posted by lobstah at 11:19 AM on March 30, 2010

This search gives some examples

For physical mistakes, look for films where a character would be considered "hapless" and being clumsy and doing things wrong would add to the character and/or get some laughs (for example, H.I. in Raising Arizona)
posted by mikepop at 11:21 AM on March 30, 2010

Yeah, I'd also exclude mistakes that are made as jokes, as in Seinfeld or Back to the Future.
posted by mpls2 at 11:22 AM on March 30, 2010

I'm not sure if these count, but the first scenes I thought of were in The Empire Strikes Back when Han and Chewie are frantically trying to repair the Falcon before the Imperials arrive.

"Okay, try it now." *poof* *sparks* "Turn it off! Turn it off!"

"No, no, no, THIS one goes HERE, THAT one goes THERE!"

And the scene when Han powers up the Falcon and it dies before being brought back online with a well-placed smack.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:25 AM on March 30, 2010

OK, then you go ahead and ignore all my comments here since those examples are all jokes.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:26 AM on March 30, 2010

entropicamericana- not quite, but I would count it if, say, they were trying to repair something, one hands a screw to the other, the other drops it and picks it up (all without dialog or cinematography that calls attention to the mistake).
posted by mpls2 at 11:28 AM on March 30, 2010

In Kubrick's "Lolita," Charlotte Hayes (Shelley Winters) gets mad at her daughter and tells her to "get out tables off the elbow -- er -- elbows off the table." Shelly Winters always stuttered a lot in he speech and got easily verbally flustered. I've always suspect that moment was a gaff that got kept because it's funny and makes her seem all the more angry.

There's a moment in "Husbands and Wives" in which Mia Farrow trips as she and Woody are walking across the street. She has to grab onto him to steady herself. It adds nothing to the story, and I suspect it just happened. Had I been Woody, I would have chosen to leave it in, too. He was already going for a documentary feel.

My favorite is this hilarious and confusing exchange from "American Buffalo," a David Mamet play that has since been made into a movie. What you need to know is that Don and Teach are two (incompetent) small-time crooks. They want to call the guy they are planning to rob, in order to see if he's home. But they're worried about what to say if he IS home and actually picks up the phone:


Having worked on this scene with actors, I'll tell you it's really tough. They have to make the mistake on purpose without screwing it up and, by mistake, getting it right. And it can backfire when played before an audience. In fact, you can argue that it's unplayable, because if the actor really makes it convincing, it will look like an actor flub rather than a character flub. I've seen audiences react to it that way. I saw Al Pacino do it perfectly, and the guy sitting next to me -- not knowing the gaff is scripted -- whispered to his wife that he just heard Pacino flub a line.
posted by grumblebee at 11:31 AM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, I guess that was unintentional. But then, your example of the screw sounds to me like something that could easily just as well have been unintentional, and then for whatever reason it was intentionally decided to be left in.
posted by hermitosis at 11:33 AM on March 30, 2010

Ooh, I have one! There's a scene in Amelie where the title character is sitting at a bar eavesdropping on another character; when he suddenly starts talking to her, she gets nervous and downs her whole drink, then chokes on it just before the scene cuts away. If you watch the bloopers, you'll see that the actress did NOT mean to choke on it, and actually continues to cough it up and start laughing in the extended footage.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 11:33 AM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

In "Metropolitan," director Whit Stillman asked actor Taylor Nichols to stutter. Nichols has a slight stutter in real life, but he is able to stop it during performances. But Whit liked it and wanted Nichols to do it in the movie. Nichols had to fake what usually comes natural to him.

The stutter adds nothing to the plot.
posted by grumblebee at 11:35 AM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy often mispronounces words. There usually isn't enough emphasis placed on her mispronunciations to make them jokes, it's more just character development (Buffy has a poor vocabulary).

One example: "Holden Webster pronounces "nemeses" correctly and Buffy replies 'Is that how you say that?' This is an allusion to the Season Six episode "Gone" when both Warren and Buffy mispronounce it "nemesis-es."
posted by oinopaponton at 11:40 AM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's a GREAT moment like this -- the best I've ever seen and a really pure version of what you're talking about -- in "King of Comedy." DeNiro's character, Rupert Pupkin, is attempting to kidnap Jerry Lewis's character (called Jerry in the movie). Rupert accidentally drops his gun and it goes skittering across the sidewalk and around the front of a car. He has to scramble after it, retrieve it, get back to Jerry, and point the guy at him again before Jerry can get away.

In the movie, it all happens really quickly, and it's not "commented" on at all by the camera or the actors. It almost happens off frame.

I don't know for sure that it wasn't scripted, but it really seems like a complete accident. Rupert is not experienced with kidnapping or guns, so it makes sense to keep it in the movie.
posted by grumblebee at 11:40 AM on March 30, 2010

Twin Peaks:
During the filming of the scene in which Cooper first examines Laura's body, a malfunctioning fluorescent lamp above the table flickered constantly, but Lynch decided not to replace it, since he liked the disconcerting effect that it created. Also, during the take, one of the minor actors misheard a line and, thinking he was being asked his name, he told Cooper his real name instead of saying his line, briefly throwing everyone off balance. Lynch was reportedly pleased with the lifelike, unscripted moment in dialogue, and kept the mistake in the final cut.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:41 AM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

In The Big Lebowski, what the Dude refers to as a marmot is clearly a ferret.

Also, there's this exchange from "Objects in Space", the last episode of Firefly:
Simon: Are you Alliance?
Jubal Early: Am I a lion?
Simon: What?
Jubal Early: I don't think of myself as a lion. You might as well though, I have a mighty roar.
Simon: I said "Alliance."
Jubal Early: Oh, I thought...
Simon: No, I was...
Jubal Early: That's weird.
posted by teraflop at 11:45 AM on March 30, 2010

I've always loved this left-in blooper in Zoolander:

Throw It In: At the end of David Duchovny's long-explanation for why models make the perfect assassins, Ben Stiller forgot what the next line was, and just repeated his last one, "But why male models??" Duchovny, not wanting to ruin the take, ad-libbed "...Are you serious? I just told you, like a minute ago."
posted by phatkitten at 11:45 AM on March 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

Near the beginning of the movie of The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf is in Bilbo's house and smacks his head on the ceiling as he turns around. In the commentary it's revealed that Ian McKellen did that totally accidentally and just kept rolling with it.
posted by dfan at 11:47 AM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Black Dynamite. 'Dynamite! Dynamite!'
posted by imaswinger at 11:48 AM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, another blooper that wasn't cut:

In one of the support group scenes in Fight Club, Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter) is pressing down on one of those coffee dispenser things when Edward Norton's character starts talking to her. She turns toward him but doesn't take her finger off the coffee dispenser, and right as she pulls away she realizes the coffee is overflowing. They keep walking away, though, and the scene continues.
posted by phatkitten at 11:57 AM on March 30, 2010

In Reservoir Dogs, Harvey Keitel sparks his zippo several times before it lights.
posted by rocco at 11:57 AM on March 30, 2010

There's a scene in Star Wars where a stormtrooper whacks his head on a door.
posted by bondcliff at 12:02 PM on March 30, 2010

"intentionally". Crap. I guess the stormtrooper thing is more of a blooper.
posted by bondcliff at 12:02 PM on March 30, 2010

In Reservoir Dogs, Harvey Keitel sparks his zippo several times before it lights.

In one scene in Reservoir Dogs, Harvey Keitel never actually lights his cigarette. He does all this business with a cigarette, puffing, gesturing, and exhaling with an unlit smoke.

Good scene though.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:15 PM on March 30, 2010

I guess a left-in blooper is kinda the same thing as an adlib, so I'd accept that. At the end of the day, it's the director's artistic discretion to leave it in.
posted by mpls2 at 12:21 PM on March 30, 2010

... as long as the director leaves the blooper in on purpose, rather than because he never noticed it.
posted by mpls2 at 12:22 PM on March 30, 2010

Re-reading the link I posted:

In 2002's Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, George Lucas paid homage to the scene by having Jango Fett bump his head on the low clearance door of the Slave I with a sound effect added to make the gag more evident. In the 2004 re-release of the original Star Wars Trilogy, the "head-bumping stormtrooper" bump is enhanced with an obvious and loud sound effect.
posted by bondcliff at 12:25 PM on March 30, 2010

I think there's actually a ton of this sort of stuff, now that mockumenary is such the rage. So many movies and shows involve ad-libbed or partially ad-libbed dialog. "The Office," etc.

And there are people like Mike Leigh (and, before him, Cassavetes), who have been using improved (or semi-improved) dialogue for years.
posted by grumblebee at 12:28 PM on March 30, 2010

Actually, from what I've read "The Office" is very tightly scripted and there is not any ad-libbing.
posted by mikepop at 12:44 PM on March 30, 2010

Are you familiar with the "Goofs" section IMDB.com has on every movie summary? Because they mark many as "Errors made by characters (possibly deliberate errors by the filmmakers)" and some of these are just what you are looking for.

Here is one from the movie "Precious":

Errors made by characters (possibly deliberate errors by the filmmakers): Early in the movie when Precious is shown in her original high school, the teacher has written the word "REQUIRMENTS" in large print on the blackboard. The word is misspelled.
posted by GaelFC at 12:44 PM on March 30, 2010

Actually, from what I've read "The Office" is very tightly scripted and there is not any ad-libbing.

I don't know about the American version. The British one did involve a certain amount of improv. You can even see the actors experimenting on the DVDs.
posted by grumblebee at 12:48 PM on March 30, 2010

I can't put my finger on it, but the touches of mock-authenticity in the American "Office" seem too self-conscious. It's funny, because the glances to the camera or whatever that actually added to the realism in the British "Office" have become a kind of schtick in the later seasons of the American version.
posted by mpls2 at 12:50 PM on March 30, 2010

Here's a great one: Bette Davis's musical number in "Thank Your Lucky Stars" (1943). (It's a great example of a non-singer really SELLING a song through magnificent acting.)

At -1:14, Bette and a young guy dance, and he really throws her around. During which, she injured her knee. Despite being in a lot of pain, she finished the number. At -0:57, you can see her rubbing her hurt knee. But unless you know the story, it's easy to miss. It was left in, because it helps tell the story of a what a woman in her position has to deal with.


posted by grumblebee at 12:57 PM on March 30, 2010

In the British version of The Office, there's a janitor, played by Stephen Merchant's dad, who stares into the camera lens for an uncomfortable space of time. Adds nothing to the plot.
posted by sswiller at 1:06 PM on March 30, 2010

Ah yes, I should have specified that I read that in regards to the American version of The Office.
posted by mikepop at 1:20 PM on March 30, 2010

Tons of this in the Sopranos, where characters routinely garbled common sayings, proverbs, etc. There's a video on youtube, but here are few of the malapropisms that spring to mind:

"Revenge is like serving cold cuts"
"He's the hair apparent"
"We're on the precipice of an enormous crossroads"
"The sacred and the propane"
Sun Tazoo...he's the Chinese Prince Matchabelli
There's dysentery in the ranks...
posted by griseus at 1:27 PM on March 30, 2010

In the movie version of the Broadway show "Annie", one of the dancing chambermaids accidentally knocks down a row of drinking glasses on the table during the middle of the song "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here". The director left the take in the movie and the composer even added a musical effect that had a piano going from high to low down a scale in time with the falling glasses, which was not in the original orchestration for the song. (The actress/dancer who made the gaffe was my dance teacher in high school, and she told us this story.)
posted by Asparagirl at 2:12 PM on March 30, 2010

Risky Business makes a running gag out of running up to a set of double doors in front of the school, frantically trying to open one, discovering it's locked, then opening the other one. It's a small point being made about Joel's anxieties, that no choice he makes will ever turn out to be the right one, and that nothing, not even the simplest of things, will be easy.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:16 PM on March 30, 2010

From moviemistakes.com, on The Usual Suspects:
In the second meeting with Redfoot after Saul is killed, McManus confronts Redfoot, who flicks his cigarette onto McManus' face. In previous takes the actor who played Redfoot practiced repeatedly hitting Baldwin in the chest with the cigarette. However when the scene was filmed the actor aimed the cigarette too high and hit Baldwin in the face, Baldwin's reaction was real.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:17 PM on March 30, 2010

I just watched Almost Famous for the first time this weekend. While I was watching some of the behind the scenes stuff somebody said that during the scene where Penny asks William if he wants to go to Morocco with her he says "Ask me again". That was actually Patrick Fugit dropping character and asking for the line again so he could have another take. Cameron Crowe liked it so he left it in the final cut.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:45 PM on March 30, 2010

posted by phrontist at 3:20 PM on March 30, 2010

All of the stuttering, seemingly ad-libbed incidental dialogue in Fargo was actually scripted verbatim by the Coen brothers. It doesn't lend anything to the movie but a sense of authenticity.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 4:32 PM on March 30, 2010

Cher's pronunciation of "Hatian" in Clueless was the result of Alicia Silverstone not knowing how to pronounce the word. Amy Heckerling thought it was funny and representive of the character so she left it in.
posted by dogmom at 7:28 PM on March 30, 2010

Tony Soprano, in the first episode (I think), said "Hannibal Lecture"
posted by smersh at 11:20 PM on March 30, 2010

In Season 7 of Buffy, episode "Selfless", Sarah Michelle Gellar is balancing a can of pens & pencils on her head when the phone rings, and the can falls off her head.
posted by fantine at 1:31 PM on March 31, 2010

In the beginning of Punch-Drunk Love, Barry says, "business is very food" instead of "business is very good," and his sister calls him out on it. Apparently it was a typo that Paul Thomas Anderson decided to keep.
posted by Houyhnhnm at 3:35 PM on March 31, 2010

n the kitchen scene in Birdcage where Armand (Robin Williams) and Val realize Agador never prepared an entrée, Armand slips and falls while bringing the peso soup pot back into the dining room; as he's trying to get to his feet and is telling Val "go, go, she'll be here any minute, go", he is clearly cracking up. I'm not sure whether that was a goof left in, or a deliberate scripted moment that would be an answer to your question.
posted by WCityMike at 8:49 PM on March 31, 2010

In the original Star Wars, Han Solo boasts of the Millennium Falcon, "It's the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs." Luke gives him a funny look because a parsec is a measure of distance, not time. They probably used this intentionally to show that Han Solo was boastful, but didn't really know what he was talking about.

I second what GaelFC wrote about the "Goofs" section of imdb.com.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:59 PM on April 1, 2010

I second what GaelFC wrote about the "Goofs" section of imdb.com.

It took me a while to understand what the OP was looking for, but I don't think it's goofs or bloopers, unless the director sees the mistake and purposefully leaves it in the movie. Even then it doesn't fit (my understanding of) the OP's criteria, unless the mistake also LOOKS like a mistake to the audience. (In other words, it we find out, by reading imdb, that one of Fred Astaire's graceful dance moves came about by accident -- e.g. he tripped, but it happened to look good -- that's not what the OP is talking about. Nor is he talking about a mistake that the director didn't notice or was too stupid to cut out of the movie, such as the kind of thing we make fun of when we watch "Plan Nine From Outer Space.")

This is actually a fascinating question. My rephrasing of it is as follows: a major portion of real life is mistakes. We drop things we're trying to carry; we trip; we stutter; we dial wrong numbers. Why is this large aspect of the human condition so rarely portrayed in fiction? (And, the OP wonders, are there examples of scenes where it IS portrayed?)

Seen this way, it doesn't matter if a fictional mistake is scripted, improvised or "just happened." What matters is whether or not the viewer sees a character (not an actor) "screw up" and feels that screw up is in the movie intentionally, as much a part of the story as any other story element.

I do think this is very, very rare -- especially if you're looking for small moments. There are plenty of movies that hinge around major screw ups. In fact, that's a staple of crime dramas. (For an example that I won't spoil, see Kubrick's "The Killing.") For instance, if murderers didn't make mistakes, all mysteries would end with the detective failing to solve the case.

But, I think, the OP is talking about the smaller mistakes that appear so often in life but not, usually, in fiction: the stumbles, the typos, the slips of the tongue. Why are they not represented?

I have three answers (and I'm sure there are additional reasons I'm not thinking of):

1) Most writers follow traditional methods of storytelling. You can defend those methods via various theories that explain why they produce good drama; or you can defend them via appeals to tradition ("it's they way we've always told stories.") Defensible or not, most writers follow them. There are various versions of "the rules," but most of them boil down to a three (or five) act structure in which a hero (or heroes) has to overcome obstacles as he tries to achieve a goal.

The tradition teaches that anything which doesn't contribute to the template (hero/obstacles/goal) is gratuitous and should be excised from the story. ("Kill all your darlings," etc.) So a mistake can only be part of the story if it fits into the template.

Where would it fit? Well, a mistake can not be the hero. That doesn't make sense. Nor does it make sense for the mistake to be the hero's goal. It CAN make sense for a mistake to be an obstacle that the hero has to overcome in order to achieve his goal.

But let's pause here to reflect that, assuming a writer is trying to follow The Rules, they don't allow for a huge number of potential mistakes that might happen in real life, to a real person in the hero's situation.

For instance, if my goal is to seduce a blind girl, it's not an obstacle if I forgot to shine my shoes. The only mistakes that aren't gratuitous are ones that create legitimate obstacles for the hero as he strives to achieve his goal.

There are two sorts of obstacles: external obstacles and internal obstacles. An example of an external obstacle is a snow storm that prevents Wendy and Danny from leaving the Overlook Hotel (in "The Shining.") Another example is the bad guy who demands that the poor widow "pay the rent!" External obstacles never involve mistakes. (They might involve random natural events, such as snow storms and smoke monsters, but since they are external, they never involve the hero making a mistake.)

Mistakes are internal obstacles. Internal obstacles are less common in fiction than external ones. The most common form of fiction is melodrama, and melodramas almost never involve internal obstacles. So you're unlikely to see many mistakes in the next Superman movie. Melodramas are very "pure" and simple: a hero must overcome a villain (or a force of nature). That villain is the only problem. Once the hero overcomes the villain, the story is over.

Non-melodramas (or melodramas that aren't pure melodramas) do allow -- and encourage -- internal obstacles. Shakespeare is famous for them. "Hamlet" must overcome his indecision; "Othello" is thwarted by his jealousy; "Macbeth" is lead astray by his ambition; etc.

Notice that these internal obstacles stem from major character flaws: indecision, jealousy and ambition. They don't stem from typos. Other characters are hindered by similar "epic" internal obstacles: lust, fear, etc. A story where the internal obstacle is, say, clumsiness, doesn't seem important enough to merit our attention.

Actually, I can imagine a comedy based around clumsiness (see below), but what's hard to imagine is a story in which a character is not generally clumsy but, in just one scene, he trips, and that unusual bit of clumsiness becomes an obstacle.

Remember, according to The Rules, if it's not an obstacle, it doesn't belong in the story. So a trip that's so minor that the character instantly recovers doesn't belong.

On the other hand, if a generally non-clumsy character happens to stumble, and that stumble creates a major obstacle, we're likely to feel like the writer put it in because he couldn't come up with anything better. We EXPECT obstacles to come from major story elements (external peoples and events or major internal flaws).

Imagine if Gandalf couldn't help in a battle because he absent-mindedly left his staff at home. We wouldn't accept it. We'd think, "Okay, Tolkein needed that battle to be lost, and he couldn't come up with a way for it to happen other than via a lame, random accident."

What's interesting is that this happens all the time in real life. Huge plans fall apart because someone forgot to pack lunch or whatever. Why isn't that acceptable is a story? (See point three, below.)

We do sometimes see small mistakes in certain kinds of drama. The two genres that spring to my mind are romantic comedies and petty-crime comedies. For instance, there's a scene in "Play it Again Sam," in which Woody Allen's character is trying to tell Diane Keaton's character that she has the most beautiful eyes he's ever seen. But what comes out of his mouth is, "You have the most eyes I've ever seen." And the whole conceit in crime comedies is based around blundering, incompetent criminals. (I linked to "American Buffalo," above.)

So, while it is possible to follow The Rules and still include ordinary mistakes in your stories, you are very limited as to how those mistakes can be used and what sorts of stories they'll work in.

2) There are two major ways to get an audience to connect to a hero: you can make him someone we look up to (Batman, Jack Bauer) or someone we feel sorry for (Ben Stiller, Seth Rogen). You can mix these two types, but that's not easy to do well. Only the second type allows for small mistakes. Another way of saying this is that the appeal of much fiction is glamour. We want to think about the hero as us at our best. And the perfect us doesn't stumble. He's always cool. He's together. Don Draper my be deeply flawed, but he never drops his cigarette on his pants.

3) Stories are theistic.

In real life, I'm an atheist. I believe that the universe is random, in the sense that it has no special relationship with humans. Shit just happens to us, and the last shit that happened to us doesn't necessarily have any connection to the next shit that's going to happen to us. Life doesn't have a plan for us. Everything doesn't happen for a reason. If we trip and fall, that probably has nothing to do with "our character." It's because some atoms happened to line up in a particular way that happened to form a bulge in the carpet that we happened to be walking on.

Whether you share my cosmology or not, you -- and I -- are probably not an atheist when it comes to fiction. I don't think atheistic fiction works. That is, for whatever reason, we don't seem suited to enjoy fiction set in random universes.

I'm guessing this is because, if you strip the most complex movie down to its simplest component, it's someone telling us a story. We naturally experience all fiction as Someone Telling Us a Story. That's what distinguishes fiction, in our minds, from "thinking about stuff that happened."

And that someone -- the storyteller -- is God. He's the god of his story. And once we accept the existence of a god, even a temporary one that lasts for the duration of a story, we expect order. If a god imposes no ordering principals on his story, then what's the point of him? Then he's just rambling. As soon as he says, "let me tell you a story" (as soon as you see the opening credits, or even the movie poster), you expect the storyteller to choose each story element with care (don't show me Luke Skywalker sitting on the toilet for ten minutes.) And we expect "everything to happen for a reason."

Because of this, a mistake is only palatable in a story if it "happens for a reason." And, as I outlined in point one, above, mistakes CAN happen for a reason, but those reasons are few and far between.
posted by grumblebee at 7:58 AM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Jaltcoh: this doesn't have anything to do with the plot

I actually felt it did: the reason it was shown having problems was to demonstrate that Marty's family isn't doing well financially (to underscore "Old Marty" as a failure and his future as something "present Marty" would want to avoid), and their stuff – although futuristic to us – is malfunctioning and in need of replacement. Kind of like seeing someone with an old scuffed-up skipping first generation iPod – someone from the '80s or '90s would still be impressed by its futurism and capabilities, but in our minds we'd be comparing it to later models.
posted by WCityMike at 12:26 PM on April 4, 2010

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