Willing suspension of disbelief

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"I'm not having anyone staring in disbelief at my willy suspension" - Edmund Blackadder, Blackadder Goes Forth

When entering a cinema, we do not need a Brechtian Alienation Device in order for us to be aware that we are going to see a piece of filmed entertainment. As an audience, we will overlook certain narrative contrivances, necessary tropes, genre conventions and even plot holes, as long as the overall result fulfils its aim of thrilling us, or scaring us, or making us laugh. This is willing suspension of disbelief, and you need to take it with you to the movies. If not, you can find yourself forgetting that it's a fable! and you may even end up exclaiming that "that wouldn't happen."

Nevertheless, there are rules. And the occasions when these rules are broken can absolutely annihilate the willing suspension of disbelief. Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo have, on occasion, extensively discussed films in which disbelief is no longer willingly suspended - indeed, disbelief comes crashing down all over the place and the whole thing collapses.

For example: Ocean's 12. Fourth wall breaking is all very well, but when the action is taking place in the modern-day real world but involves famous actors, you're in a world where no-one has heard of those actual actors. If they have it all collapses, and you get the Ocean's 12 Problem - because if everyone thinks the character Julia Roberts is playing looks exactly like Julia Roberts, why don't they think that George Clooney's character looks exactly like George Clooney, or that MATT DAMON's character looks exactly like MATT DAMON, or questioning why there is a film crew following them around?

Or look at Bee Movie. Here, it is the rules around anthropomorphism that are foolishly disregarded. The film starts out in hive in which the bees are all communicating with each other, driving cars, working elaborate honey-manufacturing machinery - which is fine, because we're in bee world. But when one of the bees starts talking to a human - who understands them (rather than just hearing buzzing, which is how this would normally work), the whole movie falls apart, because if we're now saying that we're in the genuine human world and bees can talk and we just haven't known about it, it doesn't work, since bees don't actually wear jumpers or fight legal cases or, indeed, operate elaborate honey-making machinery.

As one listener pointed out, even the otherwise brilliant Finding Nemo suffered with this, when it turned out Dory can read an address. The moment that happens, the fish stop being in fish-world and actually have a cross-over into human world - and it raises so many difficult questions that the viewer is taken out of the story altogether.

Also, how can King Kong ice skate?

Cars, however, doesn't break the rules, because it is in a world where humans don't exist.

Sometimes a film nevertheless does invoke a Brechtian Alienation Device, which deliberately smashes your willing suspension of disbelief to bits by having the actors tell you that you are watching a film - for example in JCVD, when Jean Claude Van Damme elevates in his chair into the lighting rig of the movie's set to deliver a monologue about how hard it is being Jean Claude Van Damme. Mark has very little tolerance for Brechtian Alienation Devices, pointing out that he knows that he is watching a film, as he came into a building that said CINEMA on it and paid £10 in order to see the damn thing. (Simon deliberately refuses to understand what a Brechtian Alienation Device is, so his opinion on it is not worth noting).

At the time of Bee Movie's release on 14 December 2007, when all this came up for discussion, Simon demanded of Mark, "where are these rules written down?" Well, now, they are written down here.