March 8, 2010
I like stories which ask, “What would life be like if the rules of natural law were stretched?”
Some plots break physical laws but don’t offer the how. For example, the film Big (1988—Tom Hanks and Elizabeth Perkins) didn’t explain how a boy woke up as an adult, but I suspended my disbelief because the story drew me in and reminded me how much I once envied the freedom of grown ups. Groundhog Day (1993—Bill Murray and Andi McDowell) showed what it would be like to live the same day over and over—and finally get it right. Déjà Vu (2006—Denzel Washington) explored the consequences of going back in time to try to change things, which inevitably involves circular reasoning. In Stranger Than Fiction (2006—Will Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal), a guy hears a voice in his head narrating his everyday actions, not because he’s schizophrenic but because his very existence is different from what he had assumed. (I’m not sure how to categorize these stories—magical realism?)
Other plots try to explain the how, such as stories which ask, “What will happen if our technology gets out of hand?”
Short Circuit (1986—Ally Sheedy) showed us a robot who had a will of his own as well as an insatiable thirst for input. At least two films, The Matrix (1999—Keanu Reeves), which depicted a foreboding world taken over by machines, and The Truman Show (1998—Jim Carrey), warned us that technology could produce a false reality. During the rise of cell phone cameras, The Final Cut (2004—Robin Williams) showed the dangers of our obsession with capturing every moment of life in pictures and video. The film Surrogates (2009—Bruce Willis) took our growing addiction to virtual reality games to the extreme, where people lived vicariously through androids.*
The plot possibilities are unlimited, which brings hope to budding writers like me who want to come up with original stories. Let’s go for it!
* Talk about a coincidence: on February 3rd, when my husband and I rented the film Surrogates, we saw half the film and took a break to watch Jeopardy! during its normal timeslot. A clue in the “Graphic Novel” category described a Bruce Willis film about androids. In unison, we called out, “What is Surrogates?”