I’ve been pretty harsh on a lot of movies lately, and I think much of my reasoning for that is justified. But when I have been critical of them there are some people (friends included) who think I’m just too literal…that I won’t allow my Suspension of Disbelief to kick in and allow myself to just sit back and enjoy what I’m watching. That’s not the problem I have. My issue with films today is that it seems the filmmakers expect the audiences to use their Suspension of Disbelief to make up for their incoherent storylines…or better yet…lazy writing. We all so badly want movies to be really great again, and everyone is always on the look out for that next classic…the film that we’ll all swoon for and take with us for the rest of our lives, like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Jaws, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, The Iron Giant (well, that film will always be with me anyway). But instead we get everything else to make up for the lack of solid storytelling…namely spectacle. The films of today can generate emotion in us…the problem for me though is that the emotion the film wants us to feel doesn’t always come from an honest place. The film might have a message that everyone can agree on and feel for…but the filmmakers never challenge the audience further than that…never challenging their own belief systems. So in the end result, everything becomes didactic, and this is the problem where we might be inclined to use our suspension of disbelief to cover up those logic holes in the story, making up excuses as we go along because we so badly want the message of the film to be justified in our minds, however good it may be. It’s not the audiences fault though for wanting to make up those excuses though. It’s what the filmmakers expect from us now…to make us believe we went on this harrowing journey with the film…when really all we got was a reaffirmation of what we already knew…and yet, nothing to challenge us.
Well here’s a short film that does challenge that belief, especially when it comes to suspending your disbelief. Because for the first 40 minutes of The Mission, we’re taken on a harsh realistic journey with these WWII aviators, knowing the serious danger these men face, and the fate of young aviator trapped in the belly gunner of the plane, with the landing gear destroyed and no possible hope of escape, except to be crushed when the plane has to make a forced landing on its belly in order for the rest of the crew to survive. But then in the last five minutes the absolute impossible happens…a miracle so far fetched and out there that it’s just beyond comprehension. Of course…Spielberg does this on purpose…and you really have to ask yourself if you’re just going to accept it for what it is…to suspend your disbelief in the wildest most ridiculous fashion. For me, I can do that. I believe in what Spielberg has challenged in me, and I say yes.
But secretly though…to tell you the truth, he had me pretty much from the get go. Because the hero of the film as it turns out is an artist. Better yet, when he gets out of the military he wants to be an animator and go work for Walt Disney. How crazy wonderful is that? A hero in a Steven Spielberg film who wants to be an animator. So I’m biased, my justification for believing in him was the guy wants to be an animator. They can’t let him die! But believing in that characters dream is also your entrance in allowing yourself to accept the ending. For all we know, the kid could have died. He could have been killed by the oncoming shrapnel we see before he becomes trapped and this could just be paving the way for some wonderful afterlife where you’re reunited with loved ones and everything turns out all right in the end…if you want to get literal about that. But that’s not really how I’d like to see it. I like the notion of believing in miracles, that strange, possibly magical occurances can happen without explanation. With this film, I don’t feel cheated by that notion. It works because Spielberg, using sleight of hand, prepares us for it, with the imagination of this young pilot, and all the cartoon caricatures, drawings, paintings of sexy girls on the side of the plane…this boy is off in his own universe, and he makes the impossible happen. It’s a great little story.
As for my own thoughts on Suspension of Disbelief, you can’t say I don’t believe in it at all…I use it all the time. I remember in Superman II when Superman is at the North Pole and he loses all his powers. And then somehow, by himself, he walks through the freezing cold North Pole landscape and out of nowhere ends up in a small town that looks like Vermont…as a human without any powers. That’s really stretching it. But I’m okay with it because the major jump in logic doesn’t interfere with the themes of the rest of the story. They just needed to get him quickly from point A to B, and he still gets the shit kicked out of him by everyone. So I said, “okay”. It’s when I see a jump in logic that forces a character down a particular road in order to meet the needs of the “message” of the story, then I have a problem. Because when that happens, to me, that character is not following their own truth…they are being pulled by the will of the filmmakers. You have to treat your characters as if they are their own entities. As you begin to realize who they are, you are also getting to know them, and its amazing to watch after awhile because then the character starts telling you what he/she desires most. They are prodded and challenged through their whole journey…will they make it and get what they want? That depends on what you have to say about the character. But it never feels right to me when I see a character cheated out of their greatest adventure in life because they have to learn some stupid moral, and to cover it up by making the audience fill in the blanks so they can justify the lack of logic…well, I get pissed then.
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