Friday, January 29, 2010

Suspension Strength Speculation

In my previous post about Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, I mentioned I wanted to bring up another topic related to it.

Let me start by saying that I do not have an answer or a decision on this issue. (Which is kind of funny, given what it’s about.) I’m just bringing it up for discussion, as it were. I’d love to be able to figure it out, but alas, I have not yet been able to do so. Any theories you’d like to present would be great.

I don’t mean to be picking on this movie. As I have said, I enjoyed it as a fun flick. It’s just that this issue came to me once again while watching it, so I’ll be using it as an example.

The problem, in a nutshell, is exposition. Or in another term: explanation.

It would rather appear that Mr. Magorium is a magical entity. He says to another character (Henry Weston [Jason Bateman]): I've been inventing toys since the 1770's. Weston then calculates: You know, that would make you at least 240 years old, sir. Besides his longevity, Magorium seems to have other magical powers at his disposal - or at least is surrounded by magic: objects (toys) and doors/rooms of the shop. It’s quite delightful - except for one bit. I’d like to know the wherefore of it all.

Now, it certainly could be (and probably is) just me. For I asked Bart (who also enjoyed it but didn’t deem it stellar either) and he said that he didn’t mind not knowing about Mr. Magorium. He took him at face value, as some sort of magical being, and that’s that. That’s fine, it can (and for some) does work as such. But not for me. At least…not here.

What’s interesting is that there have been similar cases in other stories where not having some sort of explanation of a character’s attributes or abilities didn’t bother me at all. A very good example is Willy Wonka. He’s got a “magical thing” going on - as well as the longevity factor. I never wanted to question it - he’s Willy Wonka, damnit. You’ll also find a post in which I say that in Burton’s version of it I am put off by the addition of an explanation of sorts (i.e. a backstory.) I even got into a discussion about it with someone in the commentary. I should state, however, that Burton’s “past” for Wonka doesn’t give an explanation of his magical qualities. So that bewonderment is intact.

So the question is: Why am I readily able to accept Willy Wonka’s oddity but not Mr. Magorium’s?

One explanation (HA!) might be that I first viewed Willy Wonka as kid. Had I been less discriminating as a child? A good theory, but I don’t think that’s it. For I’d been the type of kid who found the plot holes. I still am. [Incidentally, I wrote a novel based on a particular fairy tale, spawned out of the plot holes I wanted to fix as a kid.] And yet… sometimes, it just doesn’t concern me. Take for instance, the beloved character with whom I am all too familiar: Peter Pan. As a kid I’d been fascinated by and accepting of the nonsensical in it. I’m STILL willing to suspend my disbelief (rather interesting choice of words for that story) however - it should be obvious at this point that I’m also “concerned” about it. After all, I’m writing a novel that helps explain some of its mysteries. By the same token, I am not trying to eliminate the mysterious either. I’m working within the boundaries of what’s established by Barrie to do it. A betwixt-and-between of rational and irrational elements.

I also recently posted about Disney’s Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. I talk about how she’s just a bad egg, inherently evil for the sake of it - and somehow… somehow this is okay in that particular story. Usually when a character is evil “just because” it does not make for a good tale. Villains are “people,” too… and in general we need to know what makes them tick. How is Maleficent so charming and perfect just the way she is without having to know why?

Back to Mr. Magorium. As I also mentioned in the first post, the movie is written and directed by Zach Helm. Now, in another of his works [also mentioned prior], Stranger Than Fiction, we are expected to swallow the idea that a character and author are linked in the real world. Inexplicably. And yet… I not only swallow it, I eat it up with a spoon. Okay, this one might be able to be chalked up to the fact that I often tell people I “talk” to characters. But even so, it’s a fancilfully written story, and it works, sans explanation. Case in point, I found a “hole” in that story that readily has a self-contained solution. I’d been bothered by that hole until I figured out how it’s not one at all… but still, there remains no reason given why the aforementioned “link” occurs. It just does. And I’m fine with it. Interesting, since both of these stories are written by the same man.

So I put forth: When and why does “it just is” work? What makes an explanation moot? Is it the quality of the rest of the tale? Is it a compelling enough characterization? What’s the tensile strength of disbelief when stretched?

Does anyone else fall victim to this sometime-curiosity?


Anon said...

I do. In fact, I actually found myself wondering at who and what Peter Pan really was--granted I first knew of him through the Disney cartoon, and so I was partly looking at his appearance (you know, pointy ears and all.... :P), but still I did wonder. (Where does the name "Pan" come from, for example?)

To a lesser extent I also wondered about Mary Poppins--after seeing her in the clouds, and her Uncle Albert, and knowing that Bert knows her from sometime in the past, it made me wonder why we never learned any of that backstory.

On the other hand, that wasn't always the case--I never asked questions about Maleficent, and I don't THINK I ever did about Willy Wonka either....

I really don't know, I suppose it's an individual question requiring an individual answer.

Peter said...

Mary Poppins - another good example. I accepted without question, too. And the truth is, I don't recall ever seeing ALL of Disney's movie straight through as a kid. (It could have happened, I'm not sure.) But having seen the film many times since then - and having read the first book - I didn't find myself needing any explanation for her.

It's definitely "individual" (both per audience person and per character) but I can't help but wonder if it's something also inherent in the way it's told... hence this post. :)

Anon said...

You mean, as an explanation for why an individual would ask questions of one character but completely buy into another? That I really don't know....

I guess for me anyway, the fact that you and I didn't feel the same way about the same characters suggested there was no "rhyme or reason" to it and I left it at that. Which is interesting because you didn't.

Meta, anyone...? ;)