Suspension of Disbelief - How Can I do this?
August 20, 2010 8:04 AM   Subscribe

Suspension of Disbelief - How come some can do it and others can't? Why can't I?

First of all, I'm someone who loves toys, stuffed animals and putting googly eyes on inanimate objects.

You would think I would be able to suspend my disbelief when it came to fantasy/sci-fi type of movies or television shows.

I am the most annoying person in the world to watch television or movies with. So I usually do it alone.
I cannot, since I was young, suspend my disbelief.
I'm constantly pointing out "plot holes" or saying "Why don't they just call the police?" "That actually wouldn't happen" "Why didn't they just...."

I dislike pretty much 90% of movies and television shows because I just can't handle how unrealistic stuff is despite it being "entertainment". Sometimes I can't believe that a seemingly realistic movie would have something unbelievable in it.

Most of my friends enjoy watching sci-fi/action/fantasy and I always decline on watching these types of movies.

As my ex said, "You like movies with no plot"
True. Most of the movies (and books) I like are just about regular people in regular life. That or documentaries.

How do I learn to suspend my disbelief so I don't get frustrated or disappointed while watching movies? How come it's so hard for me to do this?
posted by KogeLiz to Media & Arts (57 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you haven't already, I suggest seeking out an experience that demonstrates, viscerally, that your idea of 'reality' is constructed in your mind and not a result something 'realistic' that you're perceiving. Psychedelics would be a quick way to access that kind of knowledge, if done in a way that supports that kind of process. A longer route would be a meditative path through contemplative practice or body/mind work like yoga. The Council on Spiritual Practices does some interesting research through John's Hopkins on entheogens (psychedelics used intentionally for perception change and spiritual practice) which is worth looking at for studies where you could experience psychedelics in a legal and controlled environment. Though I would suggest using them in an environment you construct on your own with the help of experienced practitioners. Leary's book "The Psychedelic Experience" is a good guide for beginners.
posted by jardinier at 8:18 AM on August 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


well, one of the things I like about film critic Roger Ebert is that he rates movies according to how well they do what they set out to do. He doesn't rate, say, "The Secret Life of Bees" (a precariously-assembled melodramatic chick flick) directly alongside, say, "Citizen Kane," because they're not the same kind of movie. He rates each one according to how well it fulfills the guidelines of the type of film it purports to be.

So, if the movie in question starts out with some kind of ludicrous "cartoon physics," or some other pretext that could never happen, he acknowledges the setup, and then watches to see how well the filmmaker obeys his own rules. If the film is correctly executed within its own guidelines (or if the actors do a superior job - sometimes that's the movie's saving grace), it gets a passing score.

you might try that kind of approach.
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:20 AM on August 20, 2010 [7 favorites]


It may help to do some soul-searching to discover why it bothers you. Why are you frustrated or disappointed? Why do things have to be realistic? After all, life isn't very realistic sometimes, is it? It's not realistic for someone to survive being struck by lighting seven times over 35 years, to win the lottery repeatedly, to take control of the world's largest nation without being born into privilege. And yet all these things have happen and will continue to happen. And they happen, many times, to regular people who live regular lives. Regular lives in which they don't call the police because they have different ways of going about the world than you do. That make stupid mistakes that, if in a movie, would seem like plot holes written by a careless author.

Also, you may benefit from reading Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces (it's non-fiction!) and learn about the roots of archetypes.
posted by griphus at 8:23 AM on August 20, 2010 [7 favorites]


One way to stop looking at film and art with a literal mind is to try to think about things on meta-levels, and ask yourself how is it about the thing it's about. For example, "Star Wars" isn't about a boy named Luke. It's a retelling of the classic hero's journey.

Here's another example. Do you like Mad Men? I thought the most recent episode was pretty good. And then this analysis of one of the emotional layers really blew me away, because I hadn't noticed it at all while watching.

... privacy ... was a motif throughout the show. ... Allison pries by inquiring about the photo of Don and Anna, and asks whether it was in "the letter from California"—bad manners, which causes Don some annoyance. Trudy's condition becomes public knowledge almost before Pete hears about it, and the office is putting a card and champagne gift together almost before he's told his colleagues. As Don notes, the one-way glass focus group elicits a gabfest that is none of anyone else's business. Ken complains that unflattering comments about him are circulating. Joan is put out because her office has been invaded. ... Don's discomfort with the "let-it-all-hang-out" generation is a question of manners, of privacy.

This episode wasn't about privacy. Nothing said "This is an episode about privacy," because on the surface, it's a soap opera set in an advertising agency.

But all of these different "privacy" notes were indeed in the episode, and they were very subtle.

Once you start looking at art like this, you'll stop worrying so much about plot holes.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:26 AM on August 20, 2010 [8 favorites]


I dislike pretty much 90% of movies and television shows

Which ones have you liked? That may help narrow down how to help you.
posted by nomadicink at 8:26 AM on August 20, 2010


Being pleasantly tired after exercise helps me suspend disbelief. After working out, or walking/jogging for an hour, Hollywood pablum becomes much more palatable. I think beer helps in a similar way.
posted by Balna Watya at 8:26 AM on August 20, 2010


Three possible answers:
1) If you dislike 90% of movies and shows, just don't watch them. No social pressure from your friends should be so high as to make you waste your time on a principally uncomfortable and frustrating experience. There's so much else to do instead. And let's face it, those movies are make-believe. We (others) just pretend that we find them realistic (although the Balrog is pretty cool).
or
2) Learn to keep quiet about what's going on in your head. Even if your mind will not all of a sudden learn how to, as you call it, suspend your disbelief, perhaps you needn't tell everyone about it right away. Few will - deep down - disagree with you if you point out a plot hole or whatnot, they just don't want to hear about it right then; you spoil their efforts to get lost in the movie and enjoy. Just keep it inside.
and
3) If you now decide to sit down and watch some or other movie, you have checked off that time anyway. Quit treating it as super-precious time that deserves to be filled with flawless quality. You'll get less impatient that way.
posted by Namlit at 8:27 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll volunteer that it may just be that you have a low tolerance for crappy movies. That is, movies where the entire plot is sacrificed to, say, showing you loud car chases or fight scenes.

In better films, the directors and writers will often keep tighter control over the movie. And when it does deviate from reality or expectation it is because that is intentional - it carries significance or meaning in itself.
posted by vacapinta at 8:30 AM on August 20, 2010


I don't know that you need to change as much as you just need to watch better movies!

I can't stand stupid plot holes either. There are exceptions where the movie may be so good that even though I recognize one problem, it might be obvious that they needed that to happen simply so the movie doesn't end there- and everything else was so believable and entertaining that I'll forgive them for that one spot. For example, at the 1 hour mark, the lead hero really could have won if she would have used the sword on the opponent while he was down instead of thinking the battle was won and turning around, allowing him to reach for the sword- resulting in another 30 minutes of action. But what follows is probably essential to wrapping up other plot points. It might have been really stupid that it happened that way at that one part, but the rest of the movie made sense and was really good, to I'll recognize that this "problem" was needed in order for the whole thing to work.

But really, if an entire movie is filled with stupid plot problems like that, I will totally call that out and hate the movie. There's nothing wrong with that. It means you need entertainment with a brain. It's a little harder to find, but it's out there!
posted by Eicats at 8:31 AM on August 20, 2010


There are many ways to categorize viewers, but one useful way is to divide them between the in-the-moment people and the holistic people. I'll define these types in a second, but note that they tend to be fuzzy categories. I'll talk about them as if they are binary, because that makes the definitions clearer, but that doesn't mean that real in-the-moment people don't care about the holistic stuff or that holistic people aren't thrilled by whatever is happening in the moment. It's a matter of degree.

In-the-moment viewers mostly enjoy the scene they are watching. They don't care as much as holistic viewers about how that moment ties in with the movie as a whole. This type of viewer is much more likely to forgive a gratuitous explosion or space battle, because "it's fucking cool!"

Holistic viewers carry a map in their heads while they're watching. They don't do this on purpose. It just happens. They are continually aware of a sort of "you are hear" arrow and how that point-in-space/time fits in with the entire map.

(If you want to take my map metaphor literally, imagine two readers of "Lord of the Rings." One reader is mostly into what's happening to Frodo at the moment. The other sees the entire map of middle Earth in his head.)

It's not that in-the-moment people aren't smart enough to see the big picture. It's just not what their mind latches onto as important, so if something in the moment is thrilling enough, who cares if it violates some sort of grand story element or even if it contradicts something that came before?

The holistic views MUST fit all new information into the map. If something new doesn't fit, it creates discord. In real life, if something doesn't fit, a holistic thinker is in trouble. In other words, if an elephant suddenly materializes in front of him, he can't just say, "Cool!" He's going to try to fit in what happened with what he knows about physics or whatever. And he won't be able to. He'll be deeply, deeply disturbed. But there's an escape in fiction. You can always break out of it and think. "It's not real. It's just a movie. The writer/director screwed up." But then you're distanced from the movie, not enjoying it as much as the "Cool! Light sabers" people.

I feel for you, because I'm a holistic viewer. I doubt you can overcome it. I think this is an ingrained personality type. What you can do is (a) not be a horrible person to watch movies with, because you can realize that people who aren't as holistic as you aren't wrong or stupid. They just enjoy in a different way from you. And (b) you can realize that there are tons of movies in the world. You can watch the ones that you enjoy and stop expecting to like them all. Because no one likes all movies.

More info here (self-link): http://grumblebee.podbean.com/2010/08/15/a-tale-told-by-an-idiot-0001-does-consistency-matter/

PS. If you're built this way, but crave the escape of sci-fi, try novels instead of movies. Often novelists care more about catering to holistic people than filmmakers do.
posted by grumblebee at 8:34 AM on August 20, 2010 [15 favorites]


Oh! And if you've never watched a Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie, try that! Here's a question about good ones to watch. The plot holes and the lack of believability becomes a source of hilarity.
posted by griphus at 8:34 AM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


There is a way to approach this problem that will not require you to use psychedelic drugs. If you understand what an artist is trying to do, then you will be able to appreciate the degree to which that artist is succeeding or failing in that objective. A basic strategy of fantasy literature, pioneered by the late L. Sprague de Camp, is to start with a fantasy premise and then work out the logical consequences of that premise. It actually does not matter whether the premise is in any way believable, because you are writing fantasy. You can invent any premise which you think will yield a dramatically interesting result. The question then becomes, have you done a good job of working out the logical consequences of that premise? If you have, then the fantasy works. An interesting example of this is the novel "The Mis-enchanted Sword" by Lawrence Watt-Evans. The logic is very impressive, I would even call it Asimovian (and Asimov himself also wrote some fantasy short stories, which naturally are very logical).

There are other ways of writing fantasy. Sometimes logic is irrelevant to the fantasy because it is intended to be poetic and metaphorical, rather than being taken literally. Again, if the poetry speaks to you, the fantasy works. Fantasy can also be entirely humorous in nature, such as in the Discworld series, and again, it would be judged only by how funny it is, not how believable it is. If it makes you laugh, it works. Some fantasy is intended to explore traditional or mythological themes and it succeeds to the extent that it is true to its origins and contributes to an existing tradition, and again, that may have nothing to do with logic or believability.

Consider one of the world's greatest fantasies, the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien (I would once have called it the most popular fantasy in the world, prior to the Harry Potter series). Tolkien used this to explore religious themes. It is an elaborate meditation about how evil comes about by a rebellion against God - essentially the same theme as Paradise Lost by Milton. So the question might arise, why would anyone choose evil when it only results in ugliness and horror? What is the advantage of ruling in Mordor when all your subjects are monsters and there is no beauty, joy, or goodness in anything you rule? The answer is that all of this proceeds from the original rebellion by Morgoth (meaning Satan) against Eru-Illuvatar (God). Nobody planned to create a realm of desolate uglilness, that was the consequence of rebellion against God. It is logical on its own terms. You are free to judge those terms to be believable or unbelievable, but as a fantasy it works.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling is basically a complicated story for children, and is not supposed to actually make sense. I personally cannot enjoy it, and I think it has little to offer to adult readers (the movies, however, are fun to look at - you have to admire the special effects). For children it is fun, because it is full of weird and cute ideas. Children easily suspend their disbelief because they have not learned the habits or techniques of critical thinking anyway. To children everything in the world is mysterious and inexplicable anyway, so fantasy fits easily into their world-view. But in your case, don't even try to suspend your disbelief in Harry Potter, there is no point.

One of things that most struck me about the Buffy the Vampire series is the believability of the characters and their reactions. I felt that if real people were in that fantasy situation, they could plausibly give those kinds of responses. The premises of the series are extremely bizarre indeed, but given those premises, the results are worked out in a very logical manner. But the real point of the series is not so much the logic as it is the irony. Joss Whedon has a magnificent sense of irony, and that is what makes his TV series interesting.
posted by grizzled at 8:39 AM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


So, if the movie in question starts out with some kind of ludicrous "cartoon physics," or some other pretext that could never happen, he acknowledges the setup, and then watches to see how well the filmmaker obeys his own rules.

I just want to point out that most viewers that I've met who are like the OP don't have a problem with cartoon physics. It's a bit hard to explain. I've been talking about my objections for years, and usually someone says, "So you can't enjoy a cartoon?" Which is totally wrong. I can. And, granted, the OP did use the world "realistic," so maybe he really only can enjoy movies that seem to be set in an everyday world. But I doubt it.

Speaking for myself, I can enjoy ANY kind of world as long as it's consistent. I enjoy bugs bunny cartoons, and it doesn't bother me that he can do all sorts of magical things (e.g. run off cliffs without falling), because it's consistent. But if halfway through a cartoon, everyone started referring to him as Bill Bunny, that would really bother men.

It really bothers me how, on the original "Star Trek," in all those episodes where the transporter malfunctions and people are stranded on the planet, no one even thinks to say, "Hey, let's use a shuttle craft!" Note that I'm not bothered by transporters (which are not realistic). I'm bothered by inconsistencies WITHIN the world of the show.

Linking this to my previous post, note that in order to be bothered by the fact that they're not considering the shuttle craft, you need to have a map of the whole show in your head. In a scene in which shuttles aren't even referred to, you have to remember that they exist.

Again, I'm sure that ALL viewers know on some level that they exist. It's just that for some of us, this sort of "fact" pops up unbidden. So it feels like I'm in a room with a bunch of people all complaining about how hungry they are while there's a big cake in front of them. HUH? I can't "suspend my disbelief," because I can't stop seeing the cake.
posted by grumblebee at 8:44 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm constantly pointing out "plot holes" or saying "Why don't they just call the police?" "That actually wouldn't happen" "Why didn't they just...."

I dislike pretty much 90% of movies and television shows because I just can't handle how unrealistic stuff is despite it being "entertainment". Sometimes I can't believe that a seemingly realistic movie would have something unbelievable in it.


I think it might help if you purposely look at movies and TV as being more of an artistic storytelling device than a portrayal of reality. When you look at The Persistence of Memory, you probably don't say "Clocks wouldn't melt like that!", you just accept that as a work of art it's trying to make you feel a certain way while not conforming to reality.

There's a difference between actual mistakes and artistic license, but in general if a film or TV show does something unrealistic it's because it would be difficult to both be realistic and tell the story that they want to tell. If you see a James Bond film and the bad guys are shooting at him in the middle of the film, you know that he's not actually going to die even if he would get shot in real life, because he's the main character and the movie wouldn't work without him. It's fiction, characters are not real people and the worlds they live in are not the real world, so you should try to shut off the part of your brain that cares about what would actually happen in real life. Think of it as like watching a marionette puppet show, where you have to ignore the strings and just pay attention to the performance itself.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:48 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


It might help to seek out movies and shows that are very plot-dense. If I'm struggling to keep up with a plot, it's harder for me to find holes, and at some point I'll just sit back and figure it'll come together later.

Additionally, is there anything you like about shows other than plot? Comedy, interesting cinematography, musical numbers, etc? There are a lot of movies with lame plots whose entertainment value comes from those. Otherwise, if what you like is a good plot, no need to bother with that stuff - you like what you like.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:52 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are enough movies out there that no one should have to watch too much stuff they don't like. So I don't think you should feel too pressured to see and enjoy what others do.

BUT.

Now, a lot of your aggravation is probably due to sloppy writing and editing and directing, which is pervasive in television and mainstream movies. So I won't address that, per se. Otherwise, stories are a product of the creative process, and creativity is not rational.

The very act of watching a film is surrender -- to the director's vision, to the character's choices. Your inability or unwillingness to surrender is very telling, I think. Do you not trust others to tell stories the way you would tell them? Do you not trust characters to make the "right" decisions? Movies are an opportunity to see others' thoughts and fantasies, and trying to impose your own logic onto them is futile. Suspension of disbelief is all about trust -- you want to be able to trust that any inconsistency you perceive is a deliberate creative choice, the purpose of which becomes an interesting puzzle for you to consider.

Have you watched many Hitchcock or Kubrick films? These directors specifically were masters of sublimating and thwarting the viewer's expectations.

I recommend you explore writing. Write your own stories, and begin looking at why you think a character would do one thing and not another, or why it might be important for something to happen just so. Writing purely for the sake of writing, making a game out of it for yourself, is the best way to understand what is going on in people's heads when they're creating TV and movies, and if nothing else you will develop an appreciation for how awfully hard it is to do it well, which might help you ease up a bit.
posted by hermitosis at 8:56 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seconding changing your view point to something along the lines of accepting plot devices as just that, devices that will further the plot and are only accessory in telling the story.

I love sci-fi, and I love nitpicking at plot holes. Even though I know 3 episodes back Captain Picard used the transporter to rescue someone in that exact same situation, I can accept that it's not going to work this time because of some made up BS. Don't care about the fake science stuff, find a show where you care about the characters. Then care about the characters no matter how unrealistic the show is. Scifi is ultimately about telling a story about people, and allowing extraordinary plots to make commentary of the real world. Don't let the window dressings distract from the view.

Disclaimer: this may not work with British sci-fi. That stuff is more cheesy than a 100lbs wheel of cheddar.
posted by fontophilic at 9:00 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Narrative convention, particularly in Hollywood, can be very annoying. A good place to start might be movies that mess with the very idea, and so practically demand a response like yours. Then you know at least your response is appropriate, and you might enjoy the film a bit more. If you haven't already seen them, Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway by David Lynch are excellent examples (but don't go quite as crazy as some of his recent stuff), and the classic Rashomon might plausibly fit in the same category, in which 4 narratives are shown to be mutually non-supporting.
posted by fcummins at 9:01 AM on August 20, 2010


You have no problem to be solved.

You're just an intelligent, thinking person who likes certain types of movies and TV shows but doesn't like most movies or TV shows. So, just watch that type. This is a good thing: you're in touch with what you do and don't like. You don't just go along with what you're expected to like.

You might like many of the movies listed in this question of mine, though some of them fit better than others. I especially recommend the movies My Dinner with Andre and Slacker!
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:05 AM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Here's one thing to think about.

During dreams, usually one enters a state of complete suspension of disbelief. One where you go along with what your brain is throwing at you, regardless of how improbable it seems. In that sense, I see many movies and films as falling into someone else's dream. A world they have constructed and may therefor follow a different set of rules than the you live in.

Do you enjoy recounting or trying to remember your dreams? Do you like listening to other people describe theirs? Does it interest you to see how the mind creates alternate realities where some fundamental rules change and logic is not always followed? If the answer is no, maybe you just are not a huge fan of fiction and that is fine. But, if the answer is yes, maybe you could look at these things as entering another person's dream. I find that lets me let go of little plotholes on otherwise enjoyable movies.
posted by piratebowling at 9:07 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


To touch on toodleydoodley's comment above, you suspend disbelief by accepting the internal logic to the movie or the television show. In other words, the reality that we live is not the same as the reality for the characters in a movie. Try thinking of it as an entirely different universe or an alternate reality, if you can, where what we understand to be real isn't for them.

If you can accept that the movie is reflecting its own world, rather than our world, you may find some of the plot lines make a little more sense (for instance, not calling the police. There are many reasons in our world not to call the police --- there may be the same or other reasons in the movie's world -- maybe emotional distress, distrust, bench warrant for three unpaid speeding tickets).

You may also have to accept that we don't know everything about the characters and their motivations. A two - three hour movie, while it may only be a few hours of one day or cover many years, is usually still only f a glimpse. We may add or subtract our own assumptions and understanding about the characters, but outside of the movie itself, we really don't always know much about them. Just as people fade in and out of our real lives, so do characters in the movie. Accept them for who they are in the movie and their failings and you may find you like the movies better.

Now, movies and shows that don't stick to their own internal logic annoy the heck out of me at times, but movies that keep to their own internal logic I find to be entertaining on many levels.
posted by zizzle at 9:07 AM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm kinda sorta like this and love movies. LOVE THEM. The truth is that most scif movies suck and pretty much all movies and tv shows aren't tightly plotted. There's always plot holes.

So I watch for the emotional catharsis. I loved the recent Battlestar Galatica not because it was in space or had advanced technology but because of the characters and their interactions with each other. This doesn't mean plot doesn't matter, it just means I don't care as much when i notice plotholes because it's not my main focus. I still need a good plot to get into the story, but no longer require things to be perfect.
posted by nomadicink at 9:10 AM on August 20, 2010


Are you able to pretend? Childhood play, role playing games, etc? I have a hard time not noticing stupid plot points in movies, and in order to enjoy the movie I usually have to tell myself, "ok, just pretend that could happen." And if the rest of the movie makes sense in light of that, I can usually go on to enjoy it.

Although I will still remember the annoying stuff, and I will bitch about it with my husband who is also driven crazy by stuff like that. And since we like to bitch about and pick apart movies (even those we actually liked!) it kind of works for us, gives us something to talk about on the way home. So maybe finding another "holistic" person to analyze and discuss movies with might make them more enjoyable for you.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:25 AM on August 20, 2010


It really bothers me how, on the original "Star Trek," in all those episodes where the transporter malfunctions and people are stranded on the planet, no one even thinks to say, "Hey, let's use a shuttle craft!" Note that I'm not bothered by transporters (which are not realistic). I'm bothered by inconsistencies WITHIN the world of the show.


You might want to suspend your disbelief for that one as well. Warning: geekery. The celebrated example of this is an episode called "The Enemy Within," which was the fifth episode produced. It would be some time before shuttlecraft ever appeared or were mentioned in the show, so it is hard to fault the script's author (Richard Matheson, btw) for not employing a solution which was a later addition to the show.

As best I can dimly recollect decades on, every other occasion where a landing party was stranded there was a reason (force field or some such) why the shuttlecraft could not be used either. I am sure I will now be proven wrong by those whose nerd fu exceed my own.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:28 AM on August 20, 2010


Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers and links.
It is more of a self exploration for me but by everyone's responses - it helps me a lot.


Regarding Grumblebee's responses -
I realized that this is pretty much spot on of how I am.
As for the second post, yes, it's hard to explain - I can watch completely unrealistic things such as Bugs Bunny... but.. well, you explained it better!

others that suggested acid or mushrooms or whatever:
as for drugs, I am prone to panic attacks - so I probably will never try those types.


griphus - as for MST3K - used to be one of my favorite shows!


"It might help to seek out movies and shows that are very plot-dense. If I'm struggling to keep up with a plot, it's harder for me to find holes, and at some point I'll just sit back and figure it'll come together later."

Ha, that's something I find almost impossible to do! I'm getting better at just waiting for it to "all come together" but it's hard. I need to know what's going on or I start asking questions or trying to figure it out (and fall behind watching the movie).


Do you not trust others to tell stories the way you would tell them? Do you not trust characters to make the "right" decisions?

Maybe you're on to something. In real life, I need to know ALL the details on everything. I "need" to know what someone was thinking when they did it, why they did it, etc.
People tend to skip over details... but in order for me to fully understand something - I need answers. At work, with friends, relationships, etc.
My sister is like this, too.
If I try to write an autobiographical short story about something and I forget some of the details (my memory sucks), then I won't finish writing it.
posted by KogeLiz at 9:41 AM on August 20, 2010


I'm pretty much the same as you. However, when I watch a movie, the first thing I try to do is to pick up the theme or message of the movie and pay scrupulous attention to the details that support it. I sometimes get criticized for absolutely loving movies that others consider to be utter trash, simply because I concentrate on the particular parts that contribute to what I want to take away from it.

Pretty much every movie is bullshit, but you tease out the threads that are meaningful to you and work with those. Robocop is a great example.
posted by klanawa at 9:43 AM on August 20, 2010


you suspend disbelief by accepting the internal logic to the movie or the television show.

Talking about internal logic works as a casual phrase, meaning roughly that facts in story worlds aren't necessarily the facts in our world (e.g. in a story world, there's no problem with the current president of the USA being named Sam Obama.)

But just to be exacting and overly-literal for a moment, there really is no such thing as story logic, if we're saying that it's somehow different than regular (real-world) logic. By which I mean that the human mind is only capable of following one sort of logic -- basically the kind described by Aristotle.

All cows have wheels.
Frank is a cow.
--------------------------
Therefor frank has wheels.

That is just regular old logic, even though all cows DON'T have wheels.

I can't imagine a human mind that can REALLY accept this:

All cows have wheels.
Frank is a cow.
---------------------------
Frank doesn't have wheels.

I can image human minds that don't waste time thinking about it. But if they do think about it, it's going to create cognitive dissonance. And not an interesting kind.

When we talk about story logic, we usually mean that a story world has different axioms and facts than our world. Logic isn't really about facts. It's about relationships between facts and what sort of predictions we can make about them. (The statement "people can fly" is not, by itself, illogical.)

I doubt that the OP sees "Superman" and says, "Wait a minute! People can't fly!" Though he can correct me if I'm wrong. One of the things that's tough about writing sci-fi and fantasy, is that once you stray from real-world physics, you have fewer checks to make sure you don't screw something up.

If, in a realistic story, you posit that there's a house on Second Avenue, you don't have to work to keep the logic consistent. You don't have to think, "Wait? Can houses float or not?" But once you posit that people can fly or transport or whatever, you have to keep track of the ramifications of this constantly. You're probably going to screw up occasionally. And that's when it get tricky for certain kinds of viewers.

There was that old show, "Space 1999" in which an alien character could morph her body into the form of any animal. That AXIOM didn't bother me. What bothered me is that it never occurred to her to morph into a bug an crawl under door when they she was trapped into a room. I remember being bothered by this when I was a really little kid.

People know they can turn into bugs.
People generally think of simple plans that can help them escape traps.
This person is in a trap that she could escape by turning into a bug.
-------------------
Therefor she WILL think of turning into a bug.

Except she doesn't. Which is just GOING To bother some people.
posted by grumblebee at 9:43 AM on August 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


The celebrated example of this is an episode called "The Enemy Within," which was the fifth episode produced. It would be some time before shuttlecraft ever appeared or were mentioned in the show, so it is hard to fault the script's author (Richard Matheson, btw) for not employing a solution which was a later addition to the show.

I'm not faulting anyone. I'm a director and I screw things up all the time. If I, say, have a fake-looking fireplace in one of my shows, it's probably because I can't help it. I'm out of budget. That's not my fault, but it creates whatever effect in the audience's mind that it creates.

In other words, aesthetic problems don't vanish because they're out of the artists' control. Whether or not we blame artists is a different issue altogether. For some people. IF a big part of your viewing experience is sort of riding along with the artist saying "Good job!" "Bad job." "Not great, but I understand...." IF you get pleasure from doing that -- and I'm not knocking it if you do -- then great. But a mistake is still a mistake.
posted by grumblebee at 9:49 AM on August 20, 2010


A small revision: in my above comment I refer to Buffy the Vampire; I meant Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of course. You already knew that.
posted by grizzled at 9:53 AM on August 20, 2010


i wonder what your motivation to suspend disbelief is. is it so you can be with friends or is it to truly enjoy movies? i feel much the way you do b/c i have a diverse group of friends/family that enjoy tv/film. my parents love what i would call typical, boring, extremely mainstream movies/tv. between my eye-rolling, i try to see something of value in it b/c i do want to hang out with my folks. perhaps it's the fashion, the music, the language used or anything. a discussion after (that doesn't include a litney of why it sucked) also helps b/c you get to see what others thought about it but you have to be willing to see things from other people's perspectives & believe that they're perspectives are as right as yours. consider the post-discussion as exercise for you to 'get on their team'. for ex: friend is saying well i was scared when she went into the parking garage. you: instead of saying" uh obviously the guy was going to jump out and attack her" and say "really? i know i jumped too when the guy jumped out even though i knew he was coming for her". and go from there w/o pointing out all of the faults.

i second that life is unbelievable at times...read up on that too...might help.
posted by UltraD at 10:07 AM on August 20, 2010


This question is kind of a revelation for me because I am also this kind of movie viewer, and it drives all the people with whom I watch movies NUTS. KogeLiz, I don't know if it's suspension-of-disbelief you have issues with, but you have higher demands for internally consistent logic than other people do. Grumblebee's examples about the shuttlecraft or the woman who doesn't turn into a bug when she totally could are spot-on. It's one thing to ask the viewer to imagine people can fly, or houses can be suspended by hundreds of balloons, or dogs can talk, but it's quite another to tell a viewer that a character is going to act in a stupid or illogical manner for this one moment because if they were to act in a logically consistent manner it wouldn't advance the plot the same way. The former requires simple suspension-of-disbelief, the latter requires you to be OK with the plotwriter's laziness.

The best solution I've come up with (aside from avoiding these movies altogether) is to find and enjoy the movies where one gets the feeling that the scriptwriter knows what they're doing is dumb, they know it's not meant to have a lot of artistic merit, and as such they're using the movie as a vehicle for explosions and hilarity. Take Boondock Saints. It is not great movie-making, a lot of things aren't consistent about it, but I can believe the director wasn't out to make a great movie, they're just creating situations for the characters to shoot a lot of people and look badass and that's all. I've learned to appreciate it for that. Maybe you can at least learn to appreciate those types of silly, over-the-top movies.

I don't know how to help you with movies with no internal logic where the director meant to Make Art (Avatar, I'm looking at you), though--I've yet to learn that trick myself.
posted by schroedinger at 10:09 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


It helps me to pay less attention. That is, if all of a sudden the Queen's helicopter is crashing because yeah, they did use a helicopter and yeah, the air really froze like that and yeah, no one spotted it happening and told them to not go there or land or whatever, I start analyzing the music choices and contemplating what the sound engineers must have done to simulate the sound of air freezing and trying to determine if I recognize any of the secondary and tertiary talent. Reciting Pi helps, too.

This is mainly useful for the times when it all falls through and your friends are sick of you saying things like "RED MATTER?!?? THEY ACTUALLY USED THAT FOR THE FINAL CUT?!?!!" thereby drowning out the Meaningful Dialog.
posted by SMPA at 10:18 AM on August 20, 2010


I think UltraD has a really good point. I'd do some soul-searching about why this is important to you. Since you mentioned social-life issues ("I am the most annoying person in the world to watch television or movies with"), it's worth noting that whether-or-not-you-like-a-movie is not the only (or even necessarily the most interesting) way to discuss it with friends.

I hate "Star Wars," which puts me in a minority, at least amongst those I grew up with. I think I have good aesthetic reasons for claiming it's a bad movie. But so what? I can list those reasons one by one, and people will agree, disagree or get bored. Ultimately, that conversation will go nowhere, unless it's a conversation about complex aesthetic issues. Which it almost certainly isn't. (Believe me! That's my favorite topic, and I have almost no one to discuss it with, even though most of my friends are artists.) It will turn into a "Your favorite band sucks" conversation.

So, instead you can say...

"You really like 'Star Wars,' don't you?"

"Yeah."

"Okay, what's your favorite scene?"

"Hm. I like so many, but ... I'd have to say when they destroy the Death Star."

"Because they're killing off the bad guys?"

"Well, yes. That... and it's just cool."

"You mean like the special effects."

"Yeah."

Etc.

Movies, good or bad, can be great launching pads for discussion. They can lead way beyond what I posted, above. For instance, those Star Wars movies, much as I hate them, are about family relationships. ("I am your father, Luke." Etc.) What a rich minefield for conversation! I don't have to like Star Wars to think about what it would be like if I was in a huge battle with my dad! What would you do in that case? Would you continue to fight him or align yourself with him?
posted by grumblebee at 10:19 AM on August 20, 2010


Marvel Comics had a thing called the No-Prize (it was an empty envelope) which they offered for a while to anyone who wrote in and:

1. Spotted a continuity error, and
2. Came up with an explanation which would make it not a continuity error.

This might be something to try doing (silently of course) when something like this happens in a movie.

To use the Star Trek example: If they could obviously use a shuttlecraft, rather than go nuts over the fact that they don't, put your imagination to work: Assume there is actually a reason they don't, but the characters don't feel the need to repeat out loud something they all already know (actually, that would be a bigger stretch for me than anything else, in a Star Trek episode). Maybe there's too much depleted dilithium in the atmosphere or whatever.

Basically what it will always work out to is that the characters are going where the story needs them to go and sometimes the writers forget to come up with bullshit excuses for why they can't do something that might make more sense. More to the point, they're stories. They're not going for realism, you know?
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:28 AM on August 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


That way I see it, this mostly comes down to how you orient to rails. The rails are everywhere. They are the frames upon which the plot elements hang, they are the expectations about what should or shouldn't happen, they are the edges to everything.

In your head, you have your own set of rails. You follow along them every day. You adjust them where they need bending. But all the stimulus around you abides by a set of rails, too. It is the framework that each individual thing follows. It helps us classifying things...especially art and media, 'this is a comedy', 'this is a third person narrative', 'this is a statement about humanity', etc.

Sometimes we are asked to put aside our own rails and follow somebody else's. This presents no problem when the pathways are aligned. It's like taking a stroll with somebody along a brightly lit street. However, other times this can be hugely problematic, especially depending on how attached you are to using your own rails.

One of the best examples I can think of for this happens when watching a 3D movie. Traditionally, up to that point, most movie scenes and screenspaces were in focus. This allows the viewer's eyes to wander all over the place as one wishes. He or she can use her own rails, and the terrain is wide open. All that is changed in a 3D film. The rails are narrowly defined by the filmmaker, designed to focus your eyes down a particular viewing path. You, the viewer, are forced to follow somebody else's rails. Failure to do this results in confusion and headache. And it's why there's that initial few minutes of visual struggle (for some, like myself) when sitting down for a 3D experience.

It's also the difference between people who prefer a staged apartment vs. an empty one when making a choice about purchasing. For me, I like the staged apartment. It's clearly somebody else's rails, but I can mentally remove them and replace with my own (seeing their furniture as a mere suggestion and imagining how I would do things differently). Some people have a really hard time with this. Seriously hard. They need to start from the blank slate, the lowest common denominator from which they can stack up things according to their own rules. The empty room allows them to stay on their rails.

A movie that asks you to buy into an outlandish premise or expects you to slog through seemingly farce dialogue is really wanting you to set aside your rails (expectations, beliefs, etc.) and adopt theirs. It's ok if it's hard for you to do...you're quite attached to them. And that makes sense...what's more constant and reliable than your own set of beliefs about the world? Why would anybody want to mess with the very framework that we all agree upon? How do others not see such things, nor find them giant distractions?

But, if you start from a different expectation or contextual basis for interpreting the stimuli, you won't be as distracted by the aberrations - they are to be expected (and really, they're not aberrations at all, because in this frame, Distraction X belongs to the set of 'Things that can happen'). Reset your starting point. You're now synced up, and now happily not fighting the flow or focus.

For fun practice, the movie 'The Prestige' plays with this whole concept a LOT, and on multiple levels (at times, breaking the 4th wall and creating an almost direct dialogue between the director (the magician) and the viewer (the audience)). A la, 'The world is solid/The world is not solid.'
posted by iamkimiam at 10:40 AM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, don't conflate 'things you like/enjoy' with 'things that make sense or are logically sound'. If you look hard enough, you may find plenty of examples that serve to show you that these two sets are actually only partially overlapping.

Like you, I "enjoy movies with no plot." The Big Kahuna is one of my favorites. Just a bunch of guys, talking in a room. It took me a long time to learn how to enjoy things that were seemingly 'flawed'. I actually started with (and surprised myself by) enjoying a few films that were so incredibly out there that I had no choice but to let go of everything and enjoy them. I kind of worked backwards from there, now taking into context what it is that the particular piece is supposed to 'do'. I've learned to shut off intellectual brain when the movie demands I do so...i.e. Hot Tub Time Machine, Mars Attacks, etc.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:45 AM on August 20, 2010


When I have that problem, I try to think up my own explanation for why the character acted in the way they did. To use grumblebee's example, maybe she didn't think of turning into a bug, or maybe turning into a bug is especially unpleasant. The better written the show is, the easier it will be - I imagine it would be an exercise in frustration in some of more plot hole riddles pieces (unfortunately including a lot of sci-fi), but if you're having this problem with virtually all fiction, the problem might be more with you than with the shows. It helps that in real life people don't always act in the most logical or predictable ways either.
posted by fermezporte at 10:53 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


By the way, stay as far from time-travel movies as you can. In my experience, they are the worst offenders. It's gotten that just the mention of time travel sets off warning bells in my mind.

The ones that drive me the most crazy are the ones that acknowledge (but don't REALLY acknowledge) the Butterfly Effect. People go back in time, open all kinds of doors that weren't opened, say things to people that weren't said, etc. And yet worry that "We can't kill Hitler, because that will change HISTORY!"

I gots news for folks. That horse has already left the stable. Except -- apparently -- it hasn't. You can do anything you want, as long as you don't save J.F.K or murder your own father.

Of course, it's possible that history is some sort of bendable thing that can adjust itself to follow the same path as long as it's only disturbed in "small ways" and not big ones. But the characters generally don't know that. And defining what's "a small difference" vs a big one ... I don't know how you'd do that. History, in these movies, seems to be a creature that only cares about major news events or things in the childhoods of the characters.
posted by grumblebee at 11:10 AM on August 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


Jaltcoh has it. You are allowed to dislike certain genres.

Try watching some Robert Altman.
posted by thejoshu at 11:26 AM on August 20, 2010


I think you've got a lot of useful answers along a spectrum of responses, but I just want to add that I really expanded my ability to step back and enjoy films as pieces of art after I took a history of film/film appreciation course in college (even though it was one of the only Bs I ever got, and the papers were darned hard!). I wasn't like you to start out with, exactly, and I still won't watch 95% of horror, mainstream comedy, romantic comedy films, etc., but I appreciate film as film (and certain kinds of silly genre films as examples of their genres) a lot more now.

That doesn't stop me from going online and complaining about the lack of "five-second explanations" and other pet peeves after I see films, mind you. (Five-second explanations are verbal handwaves that patch up irritating holes, like the "history is a bendable thing that can adjust itself to follow the same path if it's only disturbed in small ways" explanation that COULD be thrown into time travel films to avoid the irritating contradiction that grumblebee observes.) But those are usually small gripes about films I otherwise liked. Nothing--no book, film, photo, meal--is perfect.

Did I mention I usually go to see no more than 6 films in the theater in a year? Some years it's only one or two.

I am very, very picky about what I pay up for, after I've read a lot of reviews and talked to friends. I don't feel obligated to go see movies that I think are going to be borderline interesting or ultimately irritate me. (I am an SF fan, but most SF films are terrible--I didn't bother seeing Avatar or Kickass; I think I only saw 4 films in the theater in 2009 and I've only seen 1 this year.)

If I were you, I'd try taking a good film appreciation course or reading a really good book (being sure to find a course or book that doesn't look down on genre films), and then after that, I wouldn't feel bad about mostly watching the movies that I enjoyed. Movies are expensive. If you simply can't find any way to like anything besides "slice of life" films, just say so with a smile and a lack of judgment. "SF isn't my thing. You guys have fun!"

One P. S. Like fermezporte, I do sometimes remind myself that real life is totally inexplicable. Look at government policy, management decisions, the behavior of certain family members, the way some people drive, YouTube comments, etc. If everyone constantly made the most intelligent decisions for themselves, life would be completely different.
posted by wintersweet at 11:40 AM on August 20, 2010


One P. S. Like fermezporte, I do sometimes remind myself that real life is totally inexplicable. Look at government policy, management decisions, the behavior of certain family members, the way some people drive, YouTube comments, etc. If everyone constantly made the most intelligent decisions for themselves, life would be completely different.

This statement fascinates me, because, to me, all those things are totally explicable. I don't mean that I necessarily understand them perfectly or even correctly, but I CAN come up with plausible (to me) explanations for them without straining. Yes, government policy is sick and twisted in many cases, but it's not "Twilight Zone" stuff. It all makes sense, when I think for two seconds that it comes from normal human beings, with all their foibles.

But I do hear people, all the time, saying things like, "I just can't wrap my head around government policy" or "I don't understand why people are racist" or "Why would someone become a Republican?" Maybe if your general view is that the world is inexplicable, it's not strange to find events in movies inexplicable.

I do feel a sense of mystery in life quite often. What's it like to be Japanese? What's in that deep part of the ocean we've never explored? What is that guy across from me on the subway thinking? But those things aren't contradictions. They're just question marks.
posted by grumblebee at 11:51 AM on August 20, 2010


By the way, stay as far from time-travel movies as you can. In my experience, they are the worst offenders. It's gotten that just the mention of time travel sets off warning bells in my mind.

I tend to be driven crazy by time-travel stories unless they incorporate - and this may help you the way it helped me, unless you already know about it in which case nevermind - the Novikov Self-Consistency Principle.

A story along the lines you propose which uses this principle would mean that the time travelers only think they have changed even small details - but they haven't. In other words, they cannot change history because the effects of their actions are the same in any direction: though they aren't aware of this, the history they know has actually already factored in, and includes, their attempts to change it.

I find it creates an interesting challenge for a writer and also avoids the headscratching lunacy that most time-travel stories attempt.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:05 PM on August 20, 2010


I agree with piratebowling that the key to what is going on with you is dreams, but from a slightly different point of view.

By chance, I happen to know a few people with narcolepsy (and read anecdotes about it as I am able to find them).

Among the problems they have in common is a tendency for dreamlike content to make its way into their perceptions and memories, rendering those perceptions and memories very distressingly unreliable in some cases. This could be a side effect of episodes of incomplete cataplexy during the day, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's actually worsened by treatment with stimulants which can keep you going without necessarily abolishing the overlay of REM and the accompanying hallucinations.

Some people (not among my friends, at this point) just seem to go with it and end up living in a very different sort of world than most of us, with ghosts and demons-- and angels-- sharing the sidewalks with people. I think this is what was going on with the poet William Blake.

Other narcoleptics, my friends in particular, resist it, and end up adopting stances very like yours, where they test even their own memories, or especially their own memories, perhaps, for logical consistency and physical plausibility and reject things that don't measure up, even if they remember them clearly.

Movies are like waking dreams in a lot of respects, and I'd guess they maximize your skepticism as a result of that resemblance.

I also think there's a possibility narcoleptics are able to adjust their very brain chemistry to minimize the hallucinatory content of their dreams, because that helps reduce the disruption that occurs when dream content does bleed into their real worlds.
posted by jamjam at 12:52 PM on August 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


jamjam, that's fascinating. It reminds me that there are a few -- a VERY few -- people who are able to logic away illnesses like OCD (Howard Stern) and even schizophrenia (John Nash). "Logic away" isn't really correct, because many of them still suffer, but they are least able to weaken the symptoms.

When people with delusions believe those delusions, I always wonder if this is because their impairment has damaged their logical-thinking abilities in addition to whatever else it's done or because they are not skeptical thinkers to begin with and wouldn't be if they were cognitively typical.

On a personal level, I've often wondered if the years I've spent as a skeptic would save me if I ever developed delusions. If I'd be able to say, "Yes, it sure seems like there's a demon in the room with me, but of course that can't be the case, because..."
posted by grumblebee at 1:10 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I know when I watch music/bands that I don't like or movies/shows that I don't like, I concentrate on different facets about the craft, performance, or setting. like: "what is the production crew doing right now?", "what are these writers trying to get across?" , "who is stealing the show?", "was this filmed in Massachusetts or Canada?", "how are they interacting with each other?" or "man, what the hell were they thinking when they recorded these voice overdub tracks?". Sometimes I'll find myself engaged before I know it.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 1:55 PM on August 20, 2010


I really have trouble suspending disbelief when watching live action fantasy and sci fi, but I can watch cartoons with no problem. In other words, I enjoyed Cowboy Bebop, but thought Firefly was ridiculous. I solved this "problem" by not seeing fantasy/sci fi movies in the theater and doing something else, such as knitting or paperwork, when watching such movies or programs at home. Also, I think movies with a slower pace bother me less; Stalker and Solaris are two of my favorite movies.
posted by betweenthebars at 2:14 PM on August 20, 2010


I have every confidence that you would be able to, grumblebee!

I hadn't heard that about Howard Stern; very interesting. Nash is a great example to think about, in this connection, because as well as 'logicing away' his delusions, I've heard him say in an interview that he was initially 'mathed into' them in the sense that he gave them undue credence because they came to him in the same voice as his mathematical insights .

Since I started thinking along these lines about narcolepsy, I've been wondering whether the large and ever increasing sleep deficit we are experiencing as a society has forced us collectively along the continuum toward the narcoleptic pole, and whether the ever increasing intrusion of florid fantasy elements into virtually every form of artistic expression is the result.

But the Wikipedia article I read and linked for the purpose of my answer offers a more disturbing rival (conceivably complementary) hypothesis:

Currently a link between GlaxoSmithKline's swine flu vaccine Pandemrix and childhood narcolepsy is being investigated due to increased prevalence of narcolepsy in Finnish and Swedish children after vaccinations [16].

If the vaccine does this, then there is an excellent chance the flu itself does so as well, only much more severely, since vaccination symptoms are typically symptoms of the disease they are meant to prevent, only much milder.

I'll have to see if I can associate historical periods of deep religious fervor with bad outbreaks of the flu.
posted by jamjam at 2:16 PM on August 20, 2010


I am the most annoying person in the world to watch television or movies with. So I usually do it alone.

Most of my friends enjoy watching sci-fi/action/fantasy and I always decline on watching these types of movies.


From this, it sounds to me like part of your issue is that watching movies is a social activity that you'd like to be better at. That's kind of why you want to be able to suspend disbelief, yeah? I imagine it's not because you'd like to fill your head with stuff that looks like dreck to you. So to that end, I think the two most productive things you could learn how to do here would not be how to suspend disbelief, but how enjoy disagreeing with a movie and how to keep the running commentary inside your head until the movie/program is over.

With regards to the first, I find that I can get a great amount of enjoyment out of pulling apart a book, article, or tv show that I don't particularly like. You don't have to watch the movie on its own terms. You can approach it and frame it however you like. So instead of watching a movie and going, 'GRAR how could they be so stupid to DO that?' you can think, 'Why did the director make that decision? Why did he or she think it was so important that everyone got into that banana boat?'

And secondly, I think a lot of people are much more sympathetic to discussions of what was wrong with the movie once it's over; it's just that they don't like getting interrupted in the middle of it. So if you are sitting next to them quietly, they won't get annoyed with you, and it won't matter what you're thinking inside your head. And then afterwards, pick one or two things about the movie that you weren't so fond of and talk about those instead of pulling out your entire laundry list of grievances. That way other people have space to have their say to and you get to have a friendly sort of discussion about the movie, which is a more equal sort of social exchange than a god-damnit-why-does-no-one-in-movies-ever-have-any-common-sense sort of rant.
posted by colfax at 2:34 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


How do you feel about "camp?" I realized while watching the Flash Gordon movie, that when I was younger I would have been scoffing at how stupid it was. But now I was loving the ridiculous spectacle of it.

How about musicals? Do you go, "people don't really burst into song" or do you accept that as a convention of the genre? If the latter, what exactly bothers you in sci-fi, fantasy, and action movies, and are there common threads you can identify as conventions of those genres?
posted by RobotHero at 3:28 PM on August 20, 2010


I'm going to digress along a tangent, just for kicks.

Do you ever have the problem that when people gripe or complain to you, you analyze their problem and attempt to give them advice on how best to solve it? And then notice that the person seems irritated by your advice?

Announcing a problem, like the plot of a movie or book, is not an invitation to analyze. They may want help from you (or the plot may invite study), but what people most often crave, sometimes without realizing it, is sympathy.

If you offer an empathetic response first, it lets the person feel that they are being heard. At that point, you can gently offer an example of your own experience or other advice, but it's best to ask first.

Likewise, a story is meant to evoke an emotional response. You're not meant to analyze. The write is trying to tell a story of how something would make them feel. Can you imagine what someone in such a situation would feel like, in the heat of the moment? Haven't you ever been in a stressful situation in which you momentarily had a lapse of logic?

Of course, if you can't ignore gaping plot holes even with this sort of empathetic approach, or the characters are not sympathetic, it's just bad writing.
posted by Araucaria at 4:00 PM on August 20, 2010


Lots of people are saying you should watch different movies. I think you need different friends. ;)

I watch tons of movies of all genres and budgets. I don't like a lot of them but me and my friends mostly agree on what films are good and what is good or bad about a particular film. We mostly have film production / screenwriting backgrounds and we look at film from that perspective. For instance, we pretty much all think Inception sucked and we agree on why we think it sucked. Though we discuss those reasons, what's more fascinating to us is why 90% of the people who see it DON'T think it sucks; the answer has nothing to do with intelligence. Examining why that film is a hit (when we think it's shit) leads to hours of conversation on narrative structure, tricks, and techniques, which we then take into our discussions of other films.

Note that when we discuss films, especially when we discuss them with people who disagree with us, we DO NOT ever try to convince them they're "wrong". In fact, we'd rather they convinced us that we're "wrong," but it rarely happens (though it certainly has).

However, if you simply don't want to discuss films you hate because "they suck" then new friends won't help you either. It is me and my friends' fascination with concepts of storytelling which make it possible to talk about shit movies more than, "ohmigod it sucked ass".

But all of these different "privacy" notes were indeed in the episode, and they were very subtle.

Once you start looking at art like this, you'll stop worrying so much about plot holes.


I don't agree. I'd posit that the type of personality that fixates on what makes a plot work or not work would innately pick up on theme. To me, the episode was "about" privacy. That was the theme of the episode. It seems blatant to me and the reason is that I'm *only* interested in story and storytelling when it comes to movies, and theme is a major part of storytelling. And because I'm interested in story to the degree that I am, I don't "worry" or "think about" plot holes... I simply notice them. I don't "go looking" for them. They're there as obviously, to me, as the things that make a plot consistent are there to people who don't notice the holes. It's just a way of experiencing story and I don't really have any say in it.

One thing that's bothersome to me is that people who experience stories in the way that I don't (who don't consider plot holes and such a problem) pretty much ALWAYS assume I'm just trying to be difficult or come across as smarter than they are. If it weren't so frustrating, it'd be amusing.

In another thread, someone said I "nitpicked" Inception to death. Well, no, I simply watched it and as I did, I found it ridiculously inconsistent with its own logic. That's just the way my brain experiences story. I didn't have to nipick. I didn't even have to examine. My dissatisfaction (to put it mildly) with the film, happened in tandem with its unspooling. I didn't enjoy watching it because every two minutes my brain was thinking "um... no" and "what?! no." etc. etc.

Believe me, if I could make my storyteller brain accept the "disjunct" that exists (to me) in plot-hole-riddled narrative, I would. My life would be much easier. But, in my experience, it is not possible to change that. I'm wired one way regarding my understanding of (and therefore creation of) narrative and there's no changing it. To share a script that I wrote that I know contains a plot hole would keep me up nights and drive me to the loony bin. I'd rather throw 120 pages into the garbage and start again from scratch even though I'd rather not.

I suspect the OP of this thread has a brain that works similar to mine. In my experience, the only way to not get frustrated with those around you when discussing these issues is to have a purpose (your own understanding) to the conversation. That is, don't discuss if something sucks or doesn't--discuss how it functions and use what you find to help you understand how other narratives function.
posted by dobbs at 4:05 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


A lot of good advice. I didn't read everything in the thread, but a few quick points:

- it's not unusual for reasonably intelligent people to be annoyed by about 95% of popular movies and TV. Most entertainment seems to be made for about a 90 IQ with a high school education. It does make for more work, but yeah, I'd rather dig a little harder and find the more intelligent kind of show. That doesn't mean I wear an ascot and watch nothing but opera. But I'd rather watch Dead Like Me than Gilligan's Island, just as I prefer this site to fark. This isn't a problem.

- what might be a problem, as has already been discussed, is your reaction to your friend's enjoyment of stuff you don't like. This comes in at least three flavors. For example:
- Mrs. RKS really loves the Lord of the Rings movies. I find them slow-paced. As far as I know (i.e. as long as I've been able to stay awake), they're fairly intelligent depictions of books that are considered great classics. But they're not my cup of tea. So her enjoyment of the movies doesn't bother me at all - I respect her opinion of them; I just can't get into them.
- Mrs. RKS will also voluntarily watch "episodes I-III" of the Star Wars movies. The newer ones, with Jar-jar, Anakin, and other characters that should have died in committee, or stayed safely in the backstory, or something. Her enjoyment of these movies actually bothers me a bit, not on any fundamental deep level, but sort of on a polite you've-got-to-be-kidding sort of level, and I would tease her about them if I wanted to lose all conjugal access to her.
- My brother has spent lots and lots of money taking his family to Disney World, enjoys Disney movies, and thinks they are Great Art. I think Disney's approach to entertainment has contributed to a great deal of the Wrong Thinking in the United States when it comes to entertainment, and is Exhibit A under "Why Europeans don't like us," not that I care what they think, except that in this case I agree with them. Rarely, I catch myself enjoying a Disney film, but I feel very bad about it afterwards, and for the most part Disney's movie and television programming makes me want to get up and leave the room. I mean, seriously, it makes my sinuses itch.

It's that last category that can create a problem, and it's not necessarily that you're a prig, it could be that you have friends with somewhat bad taste. We all have our guilty pleasures, but if something bothers you the way Disney bothers me, you have to really work at agreeing to disagree sometimes.

- another random observation. If you're well-read and/or have first-hand knowledge of certain things, it can really knock you out of the narrative frame and interfere with your enjoyment of the story. The movie "Big Fish" was filmed in my city, my company did a little work in connection with it (providing some props) and while it's an okay movie and I enjoy watching it, I can't enjoy it the same way other people might. I'm constantly distracted by my knowledge of where they filmed things, the people I know who were extras in the movie, MY PROPS we provided, etc. More generally, I have a friend who is an FBI agent, and of course he cannot stand most movies involving the FBI. "Silence of the Lambs" is in many respects an interesting and psychologically very true movie, but have you ever thought about how ridiculous it is for a young agent who hasn't even graduated from Quantico yet to become involved in a major case with a serial killer? I didn't until he pointed it out; I didn't become more intelligent, I just learned something. It may be the same for you - you just happen to know things your friends don't.

Finally, I've noticed many fairly intelligent people kinda have to deconstruct movies and TVs to enjoy them. IOW, they learn enough about producing and directing to sorta become movie critics, and since they can't get lost in a movie or tv show the way others can, they entertain themselves by noticing things like camera angles and narrative devices. It's a coping mechanism.

It's a complex issue. I think I sometimes feel the same way you do. With rare exceptions (ex. you watch "Birth of a Nation" and your friends are rooting for the Klan), it's really not necessary to make serious value judgments about your friends for liking certain things you don't. We all have a different perspective on things.
posted by randomkeystrike at 4:15 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Probably won't help much, but the poet Keats called the term 'negative capability'. Quote (emphasis added):
"I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subjects; several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously - I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason - Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge. This pursued through Volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates every other consideration."
posted by ollyollyoxenfree at 9:03 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, I no longer judge movies as to whether they are consistent or not. I have a bastardized version of Deleuze's idea that philosophy is about generation of new concepts. I applied that to movies and fiction I read, insofar as I judge them based on what new ideas I either get from the book, or generate myself. An example is the movie Inception, five years ago I might have disliked it because there were parts that were inconsistent; nevertheless, I now love it. Mainly because of the ideas that the movie generated within me, and allowed my imagination to run wild e.g. the idea of dream hackers, the idea of multi-threaded realities, and so on.

In essence, it is the difference between convergent thinking and divergent thinking.
posted by ollyollyoxenfree at 9:15 PM on August 20, 2010


It's interesting you mention panic attacks/anxiety. I have a relative who seems somewhat similar to you in her movie watching (slightly different--she just can get into very few movies because she sort of worry-worry-worries and obsesses about "What's that?" "Why did they do that?" "Who's that?" What's going on?", so she can't just sit back & relax and enjoy a bit of mystery because she gets so obsessive about, "I don't know what's going on--I'm going to be l-o-s-t!!!!!").

She's also extremely anxious and has been known to have panic attacks.

In watching a movie, we all notice the same things she does--a mysterious or unexplained person or action or event, or someone who appears in the movie and we're not quite sure who the person is or whether it is the same person who appeared sometime earlier in the movie.

The difference between the 'normal person' and my relative, though, is precisely that my relative *worries and frets and obsesses* about these relatively minor mysteries until her mind is filled with the worry Worry WORRY! rather than the movie, and then she can't enjoy the movie at all.

If someone could just give her a chill pill that would last for 30 minutes or so, so that she could get into the main part of the movie without getting caught up in this buzzing cloud of anxious thoughts, she would enjoy it all just fine.

I wonder if that might be the case with you--you're noticing things that most everyone notices as well, but most other people are just able to let it go whereas it sounds like to me (though only you could say this for certain) that you might be obsessively overthinking this particular aspect of the movies.

Just for example--yesterday I was watching some crazy Clint Eastwood flick. I remember thinking at two different points, "That doesn't make any sense--completely unbelievable!"

But 20 seconds later, I'd completely put it out of my mind. I'll bet if the same thing happened to you, you'd still be thinking and thinking and thinking about that same little unbelievable plot twist 5 or 10 or 15 minutes later. And thinking, all that time, about how that just totally ruined the movie for you. And with that on your mind, obsessively, all the time, of course you're on the lookout for plot holes with probably 100X the sensitively of the average person, so maybe you'd have noticed maybe 10 or 20 plot holes in the same time period I only noticed two. Yes?

Point is, if in fact this is the case (and again, only you can say for sure--and even if it is the case, only you can say if this is really a 'problem' for you or simply an aspect of your personality that you are willing to accept and live with) then addressing the obsessive thinking patterns and/or the anxiety or whatever fundamental issues may be behind the obsessive thinking, might be a productive way to address this particular issue and also help you out in some other ways.
posted by flug at 7:48 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: "By chance, I happen to know a few people with narcolepsy (and read anecdotes about it as I am able to find them)."

Interesting... as I have narcolepsy...
posted by KogeLiz at 7:16 AM on August 23, 2010


Response by poster: Also,

There's way too many great responses to pick the best one.
Consider them all "best answer".
posted by KogeLiz at 7:30 AM on August 23, 2010


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