Saturday, August 03, 2013

Hooks vs. Explanations

"Hey, did you see what I did there?"

 I've just seen both Pacific Rim and The Wolverine. Both are popcorn movies and not meant to be particularly deep. Both had obvious and less obvious elements included in their construction. Some of those included details may have been meant to support other parts that ended up on the cutting room floor, but I'd like to think that sometimes an artist/writer/director/actor includes some detail on the sly because the story-word demands it, even if very few people will notice what they've done.

 I also think that including open hooks instead of set explanations makes for richer writing and better stories. People think more when you don't do all of their thinking for them or demand that their "take" is the same as you, the creator, intended.

 I don't intend to "spoil" either of the movies, but if you're worried about it you'd probably better not read the rest.




 The first example... in Pacific Rim the pilot crews of the giant robots are made up of two people who share the neural load (a right brain and a left brain) and end up in each other's heads. Now, there is a great deal of action while ginormous alien monsters battle equally ginormous robots and consequently not a whole lot of dialog. Later in the show someone has to substitute for one half of an Australian pilot duo. I can't rewind or check if I imagined this or not, but I suddenly thought... wait, did he just acquire an Australian accent?

Assuming the actor did change his accent after his character started sharing a brain with an Australian pilot, well, that's a pretty cool detail. It could have just been the actor's idea or it may have been a greater part of the plot and description of the process that they just ran out of time for in favor of another battle. But it doesn't have to be explained, I think. Maybe it's even better if it's not explained.

 A person comes away from Pacific Rim with little understanding of the technology, little understanding of the political climate, and little understanding of the monsters. Enough hints are given that you feel that the technology is complex and flawed, the politics are complex and flawed, and the monsters are complex and flawed. It's nearly all open ended.

 The Wolverine (and this is no spoiler) can't die. He regenerates and so is stuck for centuries at the age of Hugh Jackman. That's his special power. Another character in the show has the special power of seeing the moment of a person's death. She doesn't end up being the "love interest" but she does go off with Wolverine at the end of the movie. Nothing is said about why she would do that. She says, "consider me your bodyguard," but he no longer needs a bodyguard. The real reason is never given.

 Still... if your special power is to see the moment of a person's death, who would you rather travel the world with than someone who can't die?

 The motivation of the villain is clear enough. The villain is complex and what weakness it is that tips him from heroic to evil is never insisted upon. Was he always weak? There are hints of it but it's just a hook, not an explanation of his motivation. There are a couple of other possible hooks, too, but it's up to you to decide which parts of human nature and custom you will hang on them.

 Neither movie is ever confusing, but you aren't led through them by the nose either. No one has decided that there is a message you must understand in the correct manner or who is going to scold you for getting it wrong. Each movie itself is altered by what you bring with you to the theater.

 As it should be.

 What are some of your favorite non-prescriptive moments in movies? Do you think movies are better when the audience isn't forced down a path to a particular message? Or do you like message movies the best?

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