Choosing to Disbelieve

Choosing to Disbelieve

Fiction of any sort – be it a poem, a song, a movie or a book – requires its audience to be flexible. To silence the inevitable voices in their minds telling them that dragons do not exist, that magic is, well, just that. Space ships don’t shoot lasers, and one man armed with a single pistol can’t take on squad after squad of killer mercenaries and come out alive.

The term bandied about for this flexibility is suspension of disbelief, or the ability for the audience to stop themselves from questioning whatever’s going on in front of them. Lovers of fiction, especially of the wackier varieties, have to hone this skill (and it is a skill) in order to take the exceptionally fantastic tales for a spin and still absorb the impact those tales attempt to deliver, an impact that can often be stronger, and more straightforward than a real-world scenario could provide (just look at fairy tales).

And now the sharp turn towards Avengers: Infinity War, a movie that, is a miracle to even exist. Its primary villain is, more or less, an almighty purple thumb. Its protagonists include a talking raccoon, the Norse god of thunder, a kid who’s been bitten by a radioactive spider, and, uh, a robot brought to life by a magical stone.

To say this story requires a lot of its audience is an understatement.

Which is why it’s rough, and I’m striving to avoid spoilers here, that so many gave it and are now bitter or frustrated by the ending, even though neither of those emotions come from (I think) the film itself. They come from, instead, the realities of the world outside the fiction – namely, the world in which future film schedules and expiring contracts contrive to sap the emotion from the story being told.

In short, when the audience can’t suspend their disbelief because of the circumstances around the story, it seems unfair to blame that story for it. At the same time, it’s nigh impossible not to consider everything we experience through the lens of the lives we lead. Some of us is going to bleed into what we watch, read, or listen to.

Still, if you can, I would challenge you to take the next movie you watch, the next comic you page through, or the next tale you hear told as its own thing. Try to avoid questioning its choices, spotting typos or plot holes. Sink into the world being crafted in front of you and embrace the punches it throws.

Do that well, and you’ll get the experience what the creators are hoping for. And, who knows, you’ll probably have more fun.

A couple things:

  1. I did actually enjoy Infinity War. There’s definitely a “part one of two” element there, which is always a little unsatisfying, but I think that’s lessened here because Marvel has conditioned us to expect a continuing story after all of their movies. And it’s still a blast to watch these heroes and villains crack wise and smash stuff on screen.
  2. I’m reading Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn right now (it’s a trilogy), and I’m realizing how long its been since I’ve dug into a true Epic Fantasy novel. In the book world, an epic fantasy that you fall in love with provides a unique experience – they’re so large, the worlds created are often so detailed, with large casts of characters, that, if you let yourself get sucked in, it’s awesome.

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