3 July, 2010
Characterizing Lost

The climax of the movie Jaws involves Roy Scheider shooting a compressed air tank in the shark's mouth with a rifle. This causes the tank to explode, killing the shark. This is incredibly unrealistic, and the novel's author, Peter Benchley, complained bitterly to the film's director, Steve Spielberg about it. Spielberg said that nobody would care, and he turned out to be right.

It's true. People don't care overly much about logic. They just want a good ride. You can get away with the most unrealistic shit, as long as people enjoy the ride. Just look at the novels of Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov. You can't say they didn't know their shit. Doesn't mean their novels aren't speculation. Doesn't mean we don't know if all of it would actually work. So, accepting the situation presented by the book or movie is an important part of enjoying the ride.

Now, here is the thing. Just because you can get away with incredibly unrealistic shit like a compressed air tank exploding rather violently when hit by a single bullet doesn't necessarily mean you should. It is an incredibly lazy way to go about one's craft. Couldn't think of another way? Explosives can't have water resistant fuses? I'm pretty sure a cherry bomb will still blow the fuck out of your pipes after you flush it down the toilet, dowsing the fuse in water, but my knowledge of water resistant explosives is limited. Just one example, anyway.

Taking the cheap and easy way isn't limited to poor applications of science and physics in movies. It applies to plot. It applies to story. It applies to character.

Yes, I'm talking about Lost.

As I understand it, the basic response from the producers of the television show Lost to any question regarding the fact the show didn't make any goddamn sense is fuck you. Show was about the characters. If you're only interested in story, plot, physics, science or logic, fuck you. You are a heartless bastard who doesn't care a thing about another human being. I spit upon your empty, soulless, comic book guy based existence.

I'm exaggerating for humorous effect, of course, but you get the idea.

So, okay, the show was about the characters. Not about plot. Not about story. Not about logic. Character.

Please understand that I don't need answers. I don't need every little thing explained to me. In fact, I like mystery. I like ambiguity. I also like science. Logical consequence. Cause and effect. In other words, I want the fucking plot to make sense. I want point B to be a logical consequence of point A. Doesn't have to all be explained. I just want to be able to think that okay this guy did something because of whatever happened over there. That guy is going to do something similar should similar events present themselves.

The producers and writers of the television show Lost made the conscious decision to put character above all. They have said as much. They didn't care about plot. They didn't care about logic or story. If that air tank needed to explode for absolutely no plausible reason because it served character, then it was going to be a mighty big explosion. Doesn't make any logical sense? Doesn't follow from anything that happened in any previous episode? Won't be mentioned—not once—ever again? Fuck you, this is about character.

Yes, you can do this. You can make the decision to focus on one aspect of the show. You can choose to be intellectually lazy with regard to plot or logic or continuity, but that is the thing. It is lazy. It is easy. It is insulting.

A story is balance. It is the blending of plot and character into a whole. By making the intellectually lazy decision to ignore plot and logical consequences and focus exclusively on character, you are taking the easy way out. The cheap way out. The slacker's path. Your story is unbalanced and will be remembered as much for angering people by insulting their intelligence as for charming people with the humanity of the characters.

copyright © 2010 by keith d. jones – all rights reserved
home | books | music | fiction | spoken word | comics | journal | news