Big Rowan Ackison (greensh) wrote,
Big Rowan Ackison

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Movies, Suspension of Disbelief, and Life

This article is about how the movies are a mirror of how we believe the world. Some things are easily believed. Other things are accepted with a grain of salt. The rest of the world, hopefully a tiny minority, is disbelieved with a modicum of shocked ridicule. My final reaction of disbelief is biased by how forcefully I am asked to believe the contrary reality.

I saw a portion of Terminator (the first one!) on cable this weekend. From the wikipedia article:
The film takes place in 1984, introducing the concept of a "terminator", specifically the titular character (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a seemingly unstoppable cyborg assassin who has been sent back from the year 2029 by a race of artificially intelligent computer-controlled machines bent on the extermination of mankind. The Terminator's mission is to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) whose future son founds a resistance against the machines. A human, Kyle Reese, is also sent back from the future to protect her.
I have to say that I very much enjoyed the 1984 version over 1991 and 2003 sequels. The movie has the hallmarks of a timeless classic and is in league with "Men in Black", "Rocky Horror", "The Matrix", "Mad Max, Road Warrior", "Holy Grail", "Independence Day", "Young Frankenstein", Close Encounters", "Blade Runner" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (list compiled by my mate and I!). I put Terminator in this list of masters for some very geeky reasons.

Terminator walks a fine line between impossible and plausible technology. The movie took place in a universe that was a mirror to our own. This is not always the case. There are many movies, such as horror flicks, that take place in a universe that is close to our own, but not quite our universe. The close proximity to my reality is one of the things I really liked about Terminator. The sci-fi future technology was then mixed in as the Terminator, a mixture of machine and organic covering, was featured as the villain. This villain was futuristic, deadly, and plausible. The technology in the movie was an extension of were my universe may be heading. The cyborg's behavior and "decision making" seemed to reasonable for futuristic technology.

The 1991 and 2003 sequels moved into technology that was not plausible. The engineer in me rebels. The other Terminators featured some kind of intelligent liquid body that somehow included power supply and control systems. Ack! This is not part of my extended reality, sci-fi or otherwise. The movies went from science fiction to science fantasy. I'm not a fan of "science fantasy" when I am asked to view it as science fiction.

I'll give another example of this "genre" of science fantasy. I really like the other "Predator", another Schwarzenegger movie. This was big time science fiction with improbable weapons and suspension of belief. I compare this to "Alien vs. Predator". This movie was such a disappointment to me. The script writer and director broke rule after rule of physics in my reality. The movie's version of the final straw was the equipment sled that somehow outraced an explosion at the end of the movie. My mate is my witness that I was laughing out loud in the movie theatre. The movie had leaped off of tracks of science fiction and landed into the lap of science fantasy.

My observations and reactions go to the heart of the definition of "suspension of disbelief". From
Suspension of disbelief is an aesthetic theory intended to characterize people's relationships to art. It was coined by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1817 to refer to what he called "dramatic truth". It refers to the alleged willingness of a reader or viewer to accept as true the premises of a work of fiction, even if they are fantastic, impossible, or otherwise contradictory to "reality". It also refers to the willingness of the audience to overlook the limitations of a medium, so that these do not interfere with the acceptance of those premises. According to the theory, suspension of disbelief is a quid pro quo: the audience tacitly agrees to provisionally suspend their judgment in exchange for the promise of entertainment.
My listed movie classics all have the trait of making suspension of disbelief an easy thing. For me, the things that make suspension of disbelief easy are:

  • The reality presented is an easy extension of my own

  • The reality presented does not violate too many "laws" of my reality or aspects of my reality that I'm familiar with

  • The human motivations and group dynamics are ones that I identify with or connect to

  • A strong impelling story can overcome the bending of "laws"

Ah! This list also reflects how I relate to the many beliefs that surround me. The movies are just a mirror of how I relate to a larger world. I am presented with the beliefs of others and the systems that support those beliefs. In reaction I must either accept them, view them with a degree of suspended belief, or reject them as not part of my reality. I won't agree with everything in the world. In fact, it is probable that I will only fully agree with small fraction of the reality I encounter. This leaves a big dose of reality that has to go in other buckets. I'd like to think that I place most of this reality in an accepting suspension of disbelief. The hope is that I'll learn more and then move the beliefs into my "accepted" column.

Just as in the movies, laughter is my reaction to those beliefs that are not part of my reality. This unusual reaction is telling. It is not a reaction of derision. I instead laugh because I know these beliefs come from a place that I don't currently relate to. The challenge is to decide if I can move these beliefs away from fantasy. I suppose my final reaction depends on how much the other person or group is forcing their beliefs on me. Some movies, like Predator vs. Alien, do seem to "force" their reality on the viewer. Some belief systems, particularly political or religious, are forceful in their interaction with others. I wish I could just laugh at these. Sadly I cannot given the relative danger they represented in my life. Thankfully I can laugh at the movies, acknowledging that my suspension of disbelief has broken down.

Side question... which do you consider your 'classic movies' of all time?
Tags: beliefs, movies

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