Friday, August 31, 2012

A meditation on screenwriting

Just caught the first disc of the first season of Homeland. This meditation is the result.

Smart writing. But it stretches the suspension of disbelief to the point I wanna scream, "Uncle." Stuff happens that wouldn't happens; characters do things they wouldn't do. It bugs me.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not pushing for literal-minded realism. As Anthony Burgess once pointed out, realism is an incredibly slow way of telling a story. Not to mention dull. I get it. He was defending the ridiculous coincidences in A Clockwork Orange -- but I happen to agree with him.

Fiction -- any kind of fiction -- has a certain amount of necessary bullshit. So be it.

But Homeland is full of unnecessary bullshit.

For example?

Uh, let's start with the basic core premise. Nicholas Brody, a Special Forces sniper, has been an AQ POW for eight years and is miraculously rescued. Homeland teases us with a Manchurian Candidate possibility. AQ may have brainwashed Nick and turned him into a sleeper terrorist. That'd be bad, but let's back up a second.

Nick's been beaten and tortured and held in a freaking hole for eight years. If that happens to anybody in the 21st-century United States military, it's SOP to give them a psychological evaluation these days. Forget the Manchurian Candidate angle. Such a POW -- whatever their strength of character -- is likely to suffer PTSD, survivor's guilt, and a range of other inner torments. The American military's smart enough to know that now. In real life, Nick would be tested, Nick would be evaluated, Nick would be plugged into a support system of counseling.

But that would interfere with the story points in the outline.

The writers wanna get from A to B.

That's what it says on the 3x5 cards, right?

A: Nick is rescued. The brass wants to make him a hero. They ignore his possible compromise.
B: Our plucky female protagonist is left on her own to prove Nick might be a sleeper terrorist.

Psychological counseling sessions would get in the way.

So they just don't happen.

This is gratuitous bullshit, because the possibility of counseling doesn't have to kill the premise of this show. In fact, it would've made it more interesting. AQ would have anticipated the military shrinks. They would have given Nick the appropriate responses to show he was legitimately damaged -- but still trustworthy. AQ would have coached him. He'd have answers to the counselors' questions. Heart-rending answers that made Nick sympathetic to the infidel shrinks.

An interesting layer, no?

But it slows the domino's fall from A to B.

So they skipped it. It's not bad writing. It's lazy writing.

It's fiction. Fine. I understand that. Lie to me. Fine. But make an effort. Try to fool me.

And there the unnecessary bullshit lies.

That's my gut reaction. But it's not good enough. Necessary, unnecessary. Come on. Where do I draw the line? On what basis? How can I swallow The Bride taking her samurai sword on a plane in Kill Bill -- but get bent out of shape at trivial stuff like the lack of psychological counseling sessions in Homeland?

I think it's like this ...

Film is artifice. I get it. But some movies are tall tales.

Kill Bill, for example. A million plot holes. Obviously not a documentary. But great fun.

Others movies are like good lies.

Good lies feel like truth -- which is what makes them good. So, all film is artifice. But some artifice pretends not to be artifice. I gravitate towards movies like that.

So, I can watch Moulin Rouge maybe once. But I can watch Scorsese's Mean Streets again and again. I believe in those characters, believe in their world. The movie feels real, like a voyeuristic glimpse of real life. That makes me feel for the character inside that reality. I believe, therefore I feel.

Any obvious cheat kills that identification.

Homeland isn't a tall tale. It's a gritty story that could really happen, yattayatta.

Thus, I hold it to a higher bullshit standard.