Messing with Reality

Some time ago, I believe I had a little rant about a miniseries called Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, which chronicled the displacement of Native Americans during the white settlements. Specifically, the rant was about the glossing over or direct alteration of historical facts occurring in the miniseries, which was defended by an HBO VP as “[w]hen we look at historical accuracy, we look at history as it plays in the service of a narrative”. I took issue with that and would link to the post, as well, but have only the vaguest notion that it might have been part of one of my monthly Random posts. Besides, I'd rather use my energy on today's rant.

Which is about filmmakers (and authors and TV) and their propensity to mess with reality “as it plays in service of a narrative", rather than making the narrative serve reality. And maybe it's having those blasted university degrees that makes this such a hot button for me, as during those many years of schooling, professors beat into me over and over and over again that you don't make the facts fit your theory. But I digress.

The first time I remember having an apoplexy over Hollywood messing with the facts, was when I watched Disney's The Little Mermaid. I'm pretty sure I've talked about this before, as well, but will re-rant (is too a word) briefly. The Little Mermaid has been my favourite fairy tale for as long as I can remember and the ending was what made it perfect (for the full text, with original ending click here). The story was about the transformative powers of love, about a love so deep that you would rather sacrifice yourself than to hurt your beloved. It is a deeply spiritual, profound story and the rat bastards made it into a happy ending. For quite some time I opinionated about altering art, about how nobody makes the Mona Lisa a blonde because they don't like the brunette and I’m not even getting into the North American propensity for bubble wrapping their children. I believe wholeheartedly that children should be exposed to reality, including stories of illness and death, in age-appropriate doses while having the safety net of their parents to guide them through it because otherwise, how will you grow capable adults? If they have never learned what to do when things get hard, how will they cope when they are required to? But I digress again.

I rented a couple of movies over the weekend and being in the mood to see something not infused with testosterone (hence still not getting on with the Six Degrees thing), I got Juno and Untraceablee. Watched the latter first - I'm a geek, like a good thriller and it looked interesting. I lasted 40 minutes and only the fact that it was a rental and therefore not my property, kept me from hurling it into trafiic where it could be mashed to pieces under the wheels of SUVs. One of the things that irked me was how the main character is a computer specialist in the FBI cyber crimes division, but all of a sudden she's part of the SWAT team that's breaking down doors in a house suspected to contain the bad guy. Okay, so I assume that if you're an FBI agent, you're required to learn how to use a gun, but if you spend all your worktime trawling the Internet, looking for scumbags, why am I supposed to believe that you will be included in the SWAT team? Seriously?

Fiction requires a suspension of disbelief and if your basic audience member has a big red flag in the back of their head saying "hang on, this wouldn't happen in real life", then maybe you should do a rewrite. And sure, most of us don't know much about the intricacies of most law enforcement agencies, but it doesn't take many viewings of a couple of crime shows to realize the basics. Also, a smattering of logic helps.

One of the quotes on the box said that this movie is the Silence of the Lambs for the Internet age and yes, I know that they get those lines from the weirdest sources, often quoted completely out of context, but I'm having one of those "I knew Jack Kennedy and Sir, you are no Jack Kennedy" moments. The Silence of the Lambs had class, suspense and was genuinely thrilling (still scares me every time I watch it despite having seen it so many times, I know exactly what happens). One of the reasons that it was genuinely thrilling was that Jonathan Demme (the director) didn't lovingly linger on hideous dismemberment – he understood that less is more and that horror works much better with a suggestion, because we can take it further in our minds that anyone can go on the screen. In Untraceable - and I'm about to ruin part of the plot, but only up until 40 minutes into the movie - the killer puts his victims on the Internet and the more hits the site gets, the faster the victim dies. The first one dies by an IV drip of an anticoagulant speeding up, causing bleeding from all orifices (orificii?) and the second victim is slowly roasted to death as increasing hits on the site turn on an increasing amount of heat lamps. And the filmmaker, whose name I will not bother to look up, lingers and lingers and lingers on the bleeding and the blistering and after 40 minutes, not only was I so pissed off with the facts being made to fit the narrative in a way impossible to ignore, but felt my eyeballs and soul so polluted by the violence porn that I had to turn it off. There is a horror and then there is horror. And this bears all the hallmarks of a bunch of guys sitting around in a room egging each other on to come out with increasingly "cool" ways of killing people. And yet again, one of my personal mottos fits the situation: Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

And I think is possible that I digressed again from my original point about messing with reality, but I'm pretty sure the segue worked?

p.s. Juno was really good.