The “Why Did You Do That” Moment

Posted: November 20, 2013 in Article
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I’ve got a thing about movies, and stories in general. I like things to be logically consistent. I don’t need everything to follow real world rules for everything, but I need a touch of verisimilitude to run through the tale. It’s okay for Batman to run around with a cartoon bomb over his head and have to stop for a moment and say “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!” because it follows the rules the world has set. Batman doesn’t want to endanger anyone else, or even risk endangering them, so he runs away from anyone walking towards him when he tries to dispose of the explosive. Yes, to humorous results, but the ’66 Batman was a comedy after all. There is a consistent through line and I don’t find myself asking why he’s acting the way he is.

That’s one of the things that will always pull me right out of a movie, if the actions of someone make no damn sense. If I find myself asking “Why did you do that?” or “Why would anyone ever do that? Like, ever?” then I am pulled out of the movie and my enjoyment tends to suffer. I can get to a point where I’ll just start shouting my questions at the screen, which annoys some people because they’re enjoying the movie and annoys others because they hadn’t seen the problem until I mention it. I’ve ruined Batman Begins for at least two people I know because I pointed out all the problems I had with the movie and now when they try and watch it, all those problems leap out at them. For all Batman Begins did right, it’s loaded with “Why did you do that?” moments and they piled up so high it killed any enjoyment I had from the movie.

This can become a real problem for something that moves slowly, like Game of Thrones, where I’ve been informed that some of my “How does that work?” questions are answered. The problem is those problems are going to be addressed in book/season 4. Sadly, I am not willing to wait the 5 years it’s going to take HBO to get to that point. One assumes it will take as long to get to their 4th season as they did with Deadwood and The Sopranos.

Now there are ways around this issue. One of them is through simple lamp shading. In Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Tom Cruise is trapped in a car that’s upside down in a river with guys shooting machine guns at him for reasons too complicated to go into here. In order to escape, he grabs a corpse, lights a road flare and sticks it in the sleeve of the dead man, shoving him down river. The soldiers shooting see the light of the red flare and start shooting at it allowing Cruise and Jeremy Renner to escape. Now, watching this I was saying to myself “How the hell does that work?” and about three seconds later, Jeremy Renner turns to Tom Cruise and in the first lines anyone has spoken since the flare incident says “How the did that work?” which leads to a conversation of all the questions someone might ask and Tom Cruise blowing it off saying he played a hunch that it might attract their attention long enough for them to get away. I laughed at the end of that scene because it was just after I had asked those questions that the movie addressed it. Ghost Protocol was great for that by the way, a smart movie that didn’t have to devolve into stupid exposition and plot movement based on questionable logic.

The other way is to deal with the issue simply and easily by having something not work and having the character say something like “Well, that didn’t work” or “Seemed like a good idea at the time.” which isn’t perfect in all situations, but it can help. Sometimes, it’s interesting mistakes made in the heat of the moment that can drive a story towards an unexpected conclusion. Just so long as it makes sense that it’s a heat of the moment mistake, or a logical idea, or something that could possibly be planned. Bat-Shark Repellent only works in a comedy where the joke is “Yeah, right, he has Bat-Shark Repellent in the helicopter for just such an occasion.” Anywhere else, and you’re left asking “Am I really supposed to believe that Q knew damn well Bond would need an inflating jacket or a buzz-saw wristwatch?” Bond is rarely questioned as all the gadgets get used and as such lead to the answer “Well, he needed them.” Except we do question it later, at least in some small way.

Not everyone notices these things, some people never see the problems I do until I point them out. If that helps them enjoy a movie/book more, I shouldn’t complain, but sometimes it really bugs me. I keep wanting to demand why they didn’t notice the problem, why it doesn’t affect their enjoyment, how can they just let so much crap slide. Of course, the answer is that people are bothered by different things at different times. Lots of people don’t get how I can enjoy the Batman TV show, particularly given its incredible flaws in logic. I’ll only state that A) The flaws in logic are sometimes the point of the joke and B) Those do bug me, but I forgive a joke that fails when there are henchmen doing Brooklyn accents so badly that you wonder if they actually know that Brooklyn is a real place and not some made up shit like Narnia or Belgium.

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