Sunday, August 05, 2007

Suspension of disbelief

On Friday evening, D. came over and we watched Kate & Leopold, grâce au my parents' sweet sweet PVR. Totally non-spoiler-y synopsis: Liev Schreiber, a struggling, um...physicist goes back in time, and when he returns he accidentally brings forward Leopold, the Duke of Albany.

Liev Schreiber, a.k.a. Stuart

Of course, there's a week until the next portal opens up, and the Duke ends up meeting Stuart's ex-girlfriend (who lives in the apartment below him--how awkward yet convenient!), played by Meg Ryan, and yadda yadda, you can figure out the rest.

Hollywood Leopold, Duke of Albany

a.k.a. Hugh Jackman

Real, and much more tragic,

Leopold, Duke of Albany

Anyway, at one point in the movie, Leo makes Meg Ryan a formal meal. I blurted out: "Oh right, like a Duke from the 19th century could cook."
D. just looked at me and cracked up. I got the joke and continued to deadpan "Because that is where this movie diverges from reality."*
But it's true that we will suspend our disbelief to a certain--possibly quite distant--point, and then no farther. I think it has a lot to do with internal consistency.
Another perfect example: CSI. This Wikipedia article has a summary of some of the criticisms, including, hilariously, that it isn't realistic. This Australian article also takes it to task. The number one complaint I get from friends and acquaintances who don't like it is that it's illogical, because:
  • it's always dark
  • the criminalists seem to carry out the whole investigation, including interrogations
  • the science is improbably fast and perfect

But seriously, folks, it's a TV show. I enjoy CSI; that doesn't mean I think criminalistics works like that. They need to have the core characters doing everything because otherwise they'd have a cast of thousands. They need the visuals to be flashy and compelling 'cause otherwise their rating would tank. And, they need the science to work quickly because otherwise every episode would last hours if not days.

And let's be fair about that, too. They use the time-honoured TV traditional montage to show the passage of time (i.e., they make an effort to convey how long things like this take). They also include what I suspect are realistic flaws in the science: detectives harassing criminalists to prioritize their results, random unexpected effects from experiments, scientists mis-designing experiments because of their own assumptions, the tension between what the forensic evidence says and what everything else says. Mistakes are made. Hell, when the lab blew up (dramatic as that was), it was (a) really only one room, and (b) the result of human error and incomplete safety precautions.

The bottom line, however, is probably this: who looks for realism in RomComs or on Prime Time? No one--well, no one sane. Nevertheless, I think we all have a border to our imaginations where we will not cross.

* Actually, they went out of their way to establish that the Duke was eccentric in the period sequences. They could easily have dropped something in there about cooking...

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