So here I am, blogging. My About Me page tells you, unsurprisingly, about me so I will dispense with that and go right to posting some lines of thought I’ve been having since last night. Bear with me, I’m going to have to venture into some unpleasant subject matter, but I will try not to stay to long.
Last night, via my beloved Netflix Instant Viewing, I watched a somewhat disturbing movie called Deadgirl. I then went onto IMDB (as I often do) and read various discussions about the movie. The discussions and what they discuss and how I feel they bear on storytelling is mainly what I want to talk about here, but for reference and context, a brief bit about the movie.
Two high school boys go exploring in an abandoned mental asylum. After being attacked by a mysterious black dog, they find a nude women covered in plastic strapped to a gurney. At first it seems to be a corpse, but then the woman moves, though she seems unable to speak. One of the guys essentially suggests they “take advantage” of the women, the other wants none of it and leaves. Later the first one comes back to him and persuades him to go back down to the basement where he sees the woman survive three gunshots to the chest more or less unharmed. The other guy has also strangled her and broken her neck to no effect. She can’t, apparently, be killed. Before the end, several guys end up “taking advantage” of the woman, and its found that he condition is potentially communicable.
Also, throughout all of this, there’s no parental involvement and only one half-hearted attempt to get any authorities involved in the increasingly bad goings on.
So the comments. Various people had a variety of problems with the movie. Some felt there was insufficient backstory given about the woman…how she got there, what she is, how whatever condition she has works etc. Many did not feel that 4 or 5 average teenagers would engage in the behaviour that these did. Many felt that it was unrealistic that everything that went on (including a guy getting infected with the deadgirl’s condition and nearly dying, and two guys assaulting a woman at a gas station in order to infect her and make another deadgirl and the main character calling 911 then hanging up) didn’t lead to any sort of police or parental involvement.
On the other hand, some folks saw the movie as primarily metaphorical or allegorical in nature. These people felt the obvious plot holes and unrealistic aspects of the movie and the lack of exposition or explanation about the deadgirl were unimportant as the whole movie was a vehicle for allegory about male sexuality, objectification of women etc etc. Essentially they felt that it wasn’t meant to be a realistic narrative with suspension of disbelief in the traditional sense, but rather a medium wherein one simply experiences and accepts it emotionally, that the movie and its events were only to provide a framework for exploration of these ideas.
So we have two groups of issues here. One is about exposition. A fantastical element was presented, but not, to some, sufficiently explained, interfering with suspension of disbelief. But for some, no suspension of disbelief was deemed necessary, because they never felt it was to be taken literally, rather that the fantastical element existed as a metaphor or to facilitate a metaphor.
Likewise, people behaved in deplorable ways both in the sense of immoral/disgusting acts, and also in terms of foolishness. And there is a lack of action, a lack of the results one would expect to the events depicted in the real world which again for some damaged suspension of disbelief. But again, some felt it didn’t matter because the whole thing was not to be taken at realistic face value, but rather to be seen simply as a framework.
This got me thinking about storytelling in general. It showed a dichotomy I’d been aware of but never thought of in such concrete terms before. You have your straightforward narrative stories wherein either the story is inherently realistic or if it contains fantastic elements they are explained to make sense within the context of the world of the story. On the other hand, some stories exist for a specific single purpose, to represent, present, or comment upon something as a metaphor. Or perhaps simply to create a certain feeling or mood. These stories whether written, filmed or whatever don’t tend to concern themselves as much with realism or suspension of disbelief, but rather assume that you go into them with the realization that they are (probably) not meant to be taken literally, rather just to be experienced.
And of course, many straddle the line. Plenty of straightforward fantasy or science fiction narratives contain heavy speculative elements that they never come out and explain-the reader must learn and experience them, and choose to suspend disbelief in them or not as they go along. Likewise, while some many say a character who does something they know to be ill-advised is “too stupid to live” and thus breaks their suspension of disbelief, others may see a fully realistic portrayal of the lengths a person will go to to get what they want (or avoid what they don’t want, or whatever.)
As a writer, I see where I’ve written stories falling into all three of these categories, especially the first and the last. My one published story, for instance, is very straightforward modern fantasy that presents many fantastical elements but gives them context and explanation. One of my personal favorites of my stories hinges on the main character making an ill-advised decision. Some have seen this as the breaking of the story, its only main flaw, whereas some have felt it was a very realistic portrayal of a situation people often find themselves in. I’m not sure I’ve ever written a story that was pure metaphor, but I believe I have come close with at least one, which also received polarized responses from those that read it.
The thing I found most interesting about the comments on the movie however was that so many people watched the same movie but some saw a minor allegorical gem whereas others saw, in the same film, nothing but a poorly plotted B-grade horror flick. As they say, theres no accounting for taste.