The Death of Suspension of Disbelief

Watching classic movies is always a nice experience. To me, old cinema has a special charm to it that newer films just can’t replicate. There are a lot of reasons why; older visual quality, practical effects over CGI, fantastic performers who are either no longer with us or have stopped caring about acting, the list goes on. But the main thing for me is that they didn’t waste your time.

A few days ago, I rewatched a classic drama/comedy: Groundhog Day. The movie is simple: Bill Murray gets stick in a time loop and he can only escape by learning how to be a good person. Not a moment of time was wasted in this movie. It introduced its characters, established the setting, started the time loop, and carried on from there. Not a single moment is wasted.

Movies nowadays are insistent on wasting your time. Not usually in terms of plot, mind you. They waste your time explaining everything!

You can’t watch a movie these days without them explaining the logic of the world or events. Are you watching a horror movie with a mysterious monster? Well, get ready for the writers to explain exactly what the monster is, where it came from, and how to beat it! Watching a time-travel story? Prepare yourself, because we’re gonna explain every single fucking rule of our world’s time travel mechanics!

Let’s go back to Groundhog Day. If that movie were to come out today, do you know what the complaints would be? “Well, why did Bill Murray get stuck in a time-loop? That doesn’t make much sense!” Or “How did he manage to do all those things on his last day in the loop?” No one would be appreciating the plot for what it is. They’d be busy nitpicking.

Audiences don’t make it much better either. They’ll always complain when the movie doesn’t explain how things work within the setting! If every detail isn’t explained in some way or another, it is somehow a less enjoyable film! We can’t just sit back and accept that we’re watching a work of fiction!

I don’t know how, when or why. But somewhere along the way, everyone seems to have forgotten what ‘suspension of disbelief’ is.

This is why I love classic movies so much. They expect the audience to suspend their disbelief, accepts what the movie is setting down, and simply enjoy the story! Because they don’t worry about it, they can focus on the things that matter: a good plot with good characters, interesting visuals, and great performances!

Take Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. The movie stars an unkillable badass who only fears snakes (and even then, he’s not that afraid of them), works as a professor at a college when he isn’t out on an adventure, and can fuck any woman he wants any time he wants! How did he become this way? Who trained him into an unkillable badass? The answer is: who cares? Watch the movie!

Every classic film has this strength. The main character of Back to the Future is a teenage boy who is best friends with a disgraced nuclear physicist that sends him back in time, where he nearly bangs his mom. Terminator is about a robot that gets sent back in time to murder a woman before she can give birth to a hero that stops the robot’s master, and she’s defended by a man from the future that then becomes the father of said hero who is also his best friend (what is with old time-travel movies and banging people’s moms?) Bill Murray is stuck in a time loop for no reason!

Audiences didn’t ask questions then. All they said was “Okay, proceed!”

I miss those days. The days before writers became worried about the sense of their world. Before people forgot that ‘fiction’ and ‘logic’ didn’t always go hand in hand. When people understood that sometimes you just had to accept that it was the way it was and enjoy the story.

I do understand, don’t get me wrong. A well written fictional world is worth exploring! Especially in a fantasy or sci-fi setting! The writers present a world filled with magic, science so advanced that it may as well be magic, and mysteries at every corner! How could the audience not want to unravel those mysteries! They want to break down the logic and find out how the world works!

But it’s those very mysteries that make those worlds interesting! Giving the audience something to think about is what gives art longevity! People can fill in those gaps with their own interpretations. If you do have to give people answers, you need to find a balance as to not ruin the mystery! Give people enough logic to understand, but not so much as to ruin the appeal!

I miss the days when there wasn’t an answer for everything. When movies could present something magically absurd, so totally fictional that it is beyond comprehension, and the audience could just accept it. When movies like Groundhog Day or Back to the Future could come out and simply be accepted, no questions asked.

Do I sound like a boomer yet? If not, then I’m clearly not trying hard enough! I need to sell my curmudgeonly side!

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