December 31st, 2011 / 3:17 pm

I Hate Reality

Here is the outline for my novel: there is a complication! but it’s okay because there is a nonsensical invention to solve it! but it breaks! but it’s okay because there was no complication in the first place! I’m a writer!

I hated Mission Impossible: 4 but Chris Toll told me I was wrong but I’m not wrong and here is why.

Take a look at the scene where the mask-making doohickey malfunctions when they are at the hotel to make the deal with the French assassin and the henchman. Here we have some technology that is ridiculously advanced, capable of laser etching into some polymer substance, and also portable and also capable of paint mixing and spraying the paint (albeit not flawlessly, as the machine breaks down). OK, no problem; I don’t care about the probability of that. I’m happy to accept that they have such a device.

(It bothers me a little, though, that they are somehow able to effortlessly move it into this hotel room, along with new designer suits for everyone as well as other bizarrely advanced technology like Dremel tools that can cut a new door number into a hotel room door really fast. And glass cutters and sticky gloves. And a briefcase that wirelessly prints whatever a special contact lens blinks at. OK, they had bellhops to assist, no problem.)

I will suspend my disbelief, though I will also start to think that No Mission Is Impossible (4) When Screenwriters Can Invent Solutions Indiscriminately.

Here’s the real thing that bothered me while thinking about it in the bathtub at 4am this morning: it didn’t matter that the mask-making doodad busted; the French assassin and the henchman did not know who they were waiting for. Here they had the codes to start WW3 (like, really, a Cold War movie in 2011? Neat!) and millions of dollars worth of diamonds, but it hadn’t occurred to them to IMdB the people they were going to do business with? It’s not the wild unreality that ruins movies like this, it’s humorless writing.

Cuz what’s more — what’s more — is that me having a problem with this based on it being unrealistic somehow makes me a bad audience member! That’s nuts! I’m not wrong because I can’t go along for a ride that is supposed to be simple fun. Because it isn’t fun! It’s humorless to have a solution that fits perfectly into a problem. Can’t get into the server room through the hallway? No sweat, we just happen to have cool gloves to scale the building. Why not use plungers?

It reminds me of this old riddle: you’re trapped in a room with no doors and windows. All you have is a mirror and a table. How do you get out? Give up? You look in the mirror, see what you saw, take out the saw, saw the table in half, two halves make a whole, put the hole up against the wall, climb through.

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  1. I Hate Reality | Publishing Genius Press

      […] from HTMLGIANT) Here is the outline for my novel: there is a complication! but it’s okay because there is a […]

  2. Roxane

      MI:4 was ridiculous. I wrote about it at length on my blog. This movie was basically MI:3, with some slight casting variations. I am able to enjoy stupidity so I was amused by the movie but when Tom Cruise just happened to have magic suction gloves to mountain climb the exterior of the building from one impossibly high floor to another, I was reminded of how much Hollywood hates us.

  3. Helen

      I would love it if the film used that last example. If the film you are writing is almost entirely absurd, why not own it, go all the way?

      Tom Cruise eating, shooting and leaving, but, you know, with pieces of bamboo.

      Hmm, slightly unpleasant memories of eXistenZ.

  4. deadgod

      the knight of faith wears a batbelt

  5. NLY

      I used to get bored with HTML writers writing about writing all the time, but I sure like it better than when they write about movies, I’m learning.

  6. karltaro

      movies like mission impossible 4 have absolutely nothing to do with me.

  7. Mike Meginnis

      I want this movie to be good because Brad Bird directed it. Sigh. :(

  8. Mallskank

      last night i dreamt the fish in your avatar broke into 4 chunks + a tail b/c  u took such bad care of it

  9. Mallskank

      keep your trap shut & feed yr fish

  10. Jonathan Safran Foer

      Guys – go watch EXTREMELY LOUD and INCREDIBLY CLOSE 

  11. Bobby Dixon

      I think I am jaded, but w/out feeling jaded, which kind of sucks. I thought this was going to be a horrible movie, even though I liked MI – MI:3. 

      I don’t think Hollywood hates us. I think Hollywood, is for the most part, indifferent, towards their audience. They lull us w/ good trailers, not good movies — I kind of hate myself for trying to sound “pithy.” Hollywood wants people to get excited, for buzz to spread. There are whole industries that create legal buzzes — as opposed to like, illegal drug buzzes — about things like this, and who are we to stop them? 

      And, duh, Hollywood really likes to milk their franchises and have sequel after sequel, or same Adam Sandler movie after same Adam Sandler movie, or another cross-dressing movie after another cross-dressing movie, etc. because people will see what they are “used” to seeing, or people want to “continue” the story, to find closure (gross) because they may have some personal emotional issues and the idea of “closure” is maybe kind of comforting (I am an insensitive asshole). 

      Perhaps, most people that would see this movie are very busy/productive people; people w/ “real” jobs, like doctors and lawyers and ladies who make nachos w/ ground beef who don’t care what a synecdoche, simile and fucking hyperbole are. And maybe these “real” people just want to see some FX and familiar faces w/ out caring about plot holes. Or maybe they want to find plot holes so that they can feel superior to a multi-million dollar movie. I try very hard to avoid patronizing these people. I try so fucking hard.  

      I guess I am interested in the specific shame of commercial cinema, which I suppose I am just now realizing. The next time I see my doctor, I am going to ask him the last movie he saw. I hope he says, “Sister Act 4: Who Let the Nuns Out.” I will ask him if I can fart into his stethoscope. I will accept a hug in the fart’s place. I feel better.

  12. William Owen

      I so monumentally hated eXistenZ

  13. deadgod

      get smart

      or get george smiley

      MI old and ‘new’ (and 007, many techno ‘thrillers’) traffics a fairy-tale motif:  the magic bag, out of which is pulled whathaveyou

      genie in a bottle, chest of treasures, maybe book of spells

      how much of reality is machine and how much mess

      is every priority a macguffin

      I think care is an emotionally reasonable meta-priority

      you could make a lot of movies with that much dough

  14. mimi

      let’s face it, life is full of plot holes      
      anyway, i’m willing to suspend disbelief for tommy cruise  

  15. Renato Guerreiro

      That last bit is pretty darn surreal. I think I like it.

  16. shaun gannon


  17. Ken Baumann

      I want you to write about movies more often. 

  18. Cvan

      I just can’t imagine taking the time to go watch junk like MI:4.  How can you stand having your intelligence continually assaulted?  The good thing is that movie tickets are down and so are network tv ratings.  Enough people are no longer interested (and this is growing) in smart people making dumb movies/tv.  The better cable shows have provided a viewing alternative, and their ratings are on the rise. 

  19. Douglas

      DISSENT! ahem, sorry. I enjoyed MI4. Though I saw it with family over the holidays and as always when most of your party is having a blast it tends to rub off. it was the movie most of us agreed upon. This is probably how 75% of the audience arrives at the idea of seeing it. democracy in action or something.

      It sounds like a shitty cop-out but I didn’t let myself get hung up on plotty stuff. My wife asked me ‘How come they don’t just get back in the elevator and take it to the floor just below the server room? And only use the magic gloves to climb a single floor instead of 20 or whatever? Also, didn’t anyone see Tom spidermanning past their hotel room?

      Visual spectacle shouldn’t be enough to satisfy but for some reason this worked for me. The fight on the vertical car-park was pretty cool.

      Also, the sound effect they used for Cruise hitting something metal very hard (a digital surround sound ‘ka-PUNG!’ was terrific. My ears were sufficiently bruised.

  20. Jonathan Safran Foer

      COME ON

  21. Roxane

      I can’t imagine not taking the time. I love movies. I love Sleeping Beauty as much as I love a piece of shit like In Time.  That’s how I roll.

  22. Adam Robinson

      It’s not about taking the time, it’s about taking the time off.

  23. JW

      Sometimes it’s just good to watch a relatively mindless movie, suspend all disbelief and not spend time overanalyzing it.

  24. alanrossi

      yep.  we have a problem with the sticky gloves?  then why even go to such a movie?  how could one not know that this is what is going to happen in a mission impossible movie?  how?  it’s like going to see bond film 19 and planning on complaining about Q’s character because he just couldn’t possibly invent that shit.  

      not that i think MI4 is a great film.  it’s not.  but MI4 didn’t try to be anything other than what it was.  which is fine.  it was fairly stupid and fairly fun, but so was inception and people believed that was like the rebirth of film or something.  i mean, we’ve gotten to a point where we believe that Drive is an amazing film.  it’s not.  it’s entertaining and stylish but what does one really take away from Drive?  i forgot that movie the moment i left the theatre.  beyond it’s technicalities, what is really there?   

      here’s the thing: the problems in MI4 are forgiveable because the movie knows it is supposed to be lighthearted and fun, for the most part.

      the rape scene in the girl with the dragon tattoo on the other hand (both versions), i find really problematic.  that rape scene and that entire sequence  and all the sex stuff leading up to that is pure plot device to show something about the character.  because it’s a device meant to convey something about the character, it’s not, it can’t be, treated honestly; the rape doesn’t just feel like a device, it is a device.  rather than a happening.  rather than simply an event, however terrible, that occurs.  and that, to me, is a really ugly and mindless and insensitive thing.  the rape becomes merely this conveyance, this characterization point, showing something to the audience about our beloved heroine, and frankly, that’s really really stupid.  even more stupid than anything in MI4.

  25. mimi
  26. Adam Robinson

      I didn’t have a problem with the sticky gloves. The problem is that those devices weren’t a solution to a problem in the story, they were just tacked on. I like inane shit best when it fits into a framework. That’s cleverness. But it’s not clever, and it’s not entertaining, when writers fit a framework around inane shit. That’s the difference.


      If we consider a Zizekian reading, pop culture – especially in the form of movies – offers a glimpse into a social unconscious similar to Freud’s work on jokes.

      With regards to Robinson’s post, we could ask: what are the ideological underpinnings of futuristic equipment used in an absurd way? Is it not that the utilization of such equipment in dramatic, rather than practical, ways is the embodiment of the American psyche? MI:4 then speaks on an unconscious level about America’s inability to manipulate its own ever progressing technology for more practical, progressive forms. Rather, there is too much interest in technology’s use for the purpose of symbolizing an infinite macho libido that even we cannot fully manipulate.

  28. deadgod

      [A couple of details revealed.]  Let me defend the (first) rape scene (especially in the Swedish, but also the international (?), version): 

      The first rape shows Salander’s vulnerability (as well as her wiliness and technical skilz) and the rottenness of the Swedish state, and sources the disc that proves Salander’s predicament (to the journalist and, in the third installment, no spoiler.)  The Swedish version, I didn’t find Penthouse-ing of the rape; it is shown quickly and without lingering on her body or his pleasure (the Fincher version is a bit more salacious, but still, to me, disturbing).

      This first rape scene also ‘rhymes’ (and conflicts) narratively with the confinement of the journalist at the end of the (first) movie.

      Most important is the connection between this rape and Salander’s revenge rape of the shrink/ward.  Is Salander ‘crazy’?  Is sex ‘crazy’–or is romantic love?  Is violence ever rational?  Salander’s problems with other people and with herself–that’s the story of the story, no?

      It’s a socially grounded what’s-wrong-with-the-world-today story . . . well, ‘the powerful comfortably devouring the weak’ is, here, a mostly dramatic (as opposed to mostly didactic) answer.

      Every part of a plot is also a “conveyance” of it.  I thought this scene was more than mere “device” – namely, a cohering part of the whole.

  29. alanrossi

      sure, i see how the movie links up well with the reporter guy.  and i see how the scene shows her vulnerability, but that’s the entire problem for me: it’s in there to show that vulnerability.  that’s the point of the rape, to show her vulnerability.  instead of the vulnerability simply developing, instead of her being vulnerable.  thus, the rape becomes something it isn’t, a device to show something. the plot elements you seem to be liking i thought of as terribly contrived.  the rape, to me, felt like a contrivance in order to show two things about salander: 1 her vulnerability and eventually 2 her strength/insanity. 

      also, a digression: the question is violence ever rational: i don’t think so, that’s why it’s violence.  it’s violent, passionate, impulsive, even when thought out.  just because something is thought out doesn’t make it rational. 
      in any case, i don’t really think the scene with salander getting her revenge was all that powerful, either; in fact, i found it a little dull (rapist pig on his chest, etc), and i don’t know, it just rang so false to me.  and the entire purpose?: the audience gets to think (because this is exactly what the movie wants the audience to think), “Yes, Got him back, Hooray!”  please.  just so so so stupid (i will add, i thought it much cooler, much more interesting that salander blackmails the guy; really, this type of thing could have been done without having to go all over the top with anal rape and handcuffs and anal-rape-revenge and rape-tattoos and etc). 

      the bigger problem: the rape and revenge both seem like neat little formulas, as you’ve outlined:

      forced blowjob/rape to show salander’s vulnerability.

      revenage-rape to show salander’s strength/insanity(instability).

      too often the movie just felt like a paint by number to me, emotionally.  the construction of salander’s problems just felt too predictable and for me, not complicated enough (though i think the actress in the swedish version makes the role more complicated than the somewhat too stoic and sometimes too rehearsed rooney mara).

      anyway, of course salander has sex with blomqvist.  he’s nice!  and she doesn’t know how to be close to someone unless it’s through sex.  more vulnerability!  her confusions revealed! 

      it just seemed, as Darth Vader would say, all too easy. 

      the reason i don’t have a problem with the stupid contrivances in MI4 is because we’re not dealing with serious emotional issues, etc.  the entire problem with dragon tattoo for me is that it believes it is being emotionally profound when it is actually being emotionally contrived.

  30. alanrossi
  31. Cvan

      I love movies and some lightness also, but you’re pretty smart.  Don’t you feel insulted when watching a movie like MI: 4.  I guess I consider light entertainment any of the cable shows (Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire, etc.), but couldn’t even stand watching something like Big Momma’s House or any of the Adam Sandler movies, for example. 

  32. Cvan

      Zizek?  Does anyone read him on college campuses?  Seriously, your comment is more interesting to me than the movie ever could be.  Thank you for distilling an hour and a half of a popcorn film into something far more cogent than the director and star can likely imagine.  Your take resonates strongly, particularly the point about technology’s moving into certain strains (that seem limited to commercialism and surveillance) rather than anything progressive-minded.

  33. Cvan

      To paraphrase Morrissey:  “The films that they constantly make say nothing to me about my life.  Hang Hollywood.”

  34. Cvan

      Well, actually “Lost” was full of plot holes, but that isn’t life, just poor writing.

  35. deadgod

      [Plot details alert.]  Cool, though we continue to disagree.  As I indicated, I think the first rape actually does a lot more narratively than just show Salander’s position, though it does that with some economy.

      I don’t think any “plot” element can survive your criticism of this rape!  Sticking with the superior Swedish version:  Why is the journalist a journalist?  Just to show his job.  –instead of his life simply developing.  Why do we see the interactions between him and the magazine team?  Just to show the workings of a journalistic investigation.  –instead of an investigation simply developing.  Why are some of the Vangers ‘former’ Nazis?  Just to show their pasts.  –instead of their pasts simply developing.  . . .

      Everything in a plot is a “device”, a “contrivance”–that these terms per se are reprobative would be a rejection of the plottedness of every plot.

      I think your real criticism (here) is with the book (which I haven’t read), not the movies.  The writer (and filmmakers) chose to tell a story that includes a serial killer and a National-Socialist industrial-giant family – and a police-connected shrink who’s a rapist and a woman with a willingness to act on her anger at men.  Well, those things happen, and one “honest” way to tell a story in which they happen is to show them.  No?

      That there’s neatness . . . well, yes.  I think the Swedish movie version is pretty good at showing that, despite the triumph for the journalist and computer expert, there’s no real resolution between them or, especially, for her.  Not great, but pretty good.

  36. deadgod

      I think Stevens gets it right with this phrasing:  “[Fincher] remade the workmanlike Swedish adaptation as a slick and somber […] entertainment[.]”

      I don’t think she’s (?) right about “efficient”, though–I was irritated by things like “There will be blood.” (oh brother, I almost said aloud), followed by a shot of the hallway with . . . was that blood puddled on the floor? which got there from the torture room how??  (Maybe I just misunderstood the shot?)  The Swedish tattooing was less, eh, stylish, more direct.  I was brought up short several times in the Fincher version by an extra little push (including, generally, the intrusively directional music).

      I agree with you that Rapace was better than Mara–rage more effective from that perspective than sullen remoteness (at least as they separately acted the role), and I think the “workmanlike” telling works better both to avoid manipulative sensationalizing (your basic beef, I think) and in a procedural generally.

      Let me let Stevens tell you why I find the review oppressively pat:

      The moral outrage at the center of Stevens’s review — villainous villains and heroic heroes?  We’re agin it! — feels facile and inessential.

  37. mimi

      i was willing to suspend disbelief for matty fox, joshy holloway and evangie lilly for a coupla seasons, but then i bailed – there can come a point when one must change course and avoid plot hole time sink 
      ah, but real life, the plot holes can be fascinating, compelling, heart-breaking or hilarious – and i’m in it for the long haul

  38. alanrossi

      here’s the difference: with the journalist being a journalist, say the scene after court where he sadly hangs with his journalist crew, we learn things like: yes, he has a job, he’s apparently at a big magazine, he’s attacked the wrong guy, he’s having an affair with another journalist, he’s beaten down, he cares about his job, he’s good at his job, yet has made a mistake, he’s conflicted yet cares enough about the magazine let it be some, he’s both loving and cruel, etc – see, it feels like all these different things are conveyed in a couple scenes.  again, with the rape and all the rape stuff, only two things, two sides of salander come through, and they are both perfect abstractions: vulnerability on one hand (rape itself), maybe something like strength or intelligence pared with instability (revenge-rape) on the other.  that’s what is too pat to me.  and frankly, it doesn’t seem to deal with what rape is in an intelligent or thoughtful manner; it’s too clean, too neat and while salanders emotions are extreme and fucked up, none of feels as complicated as it should (the swedish version is somewhat better). 

      the difference with the journalist shit at the beginning is the movie (and you’re right, my beef is with the book and/or the screenwriters), is that we get to follow something develop and watch all the little, somewhat subtle complications related to it, instead of watching an equation being showed off. 

  39. deadgod

      I don’t want to leave things without responding, (possibly) communicating uninterest in or rote dismissal of what you’re saying, but likewise I don’t want a disagreement over the movie(s) to be taken for a personal disagreement.

      I don’t see the “difference” you’ve outlined; the journalism stuff and the sexual stuff are used, in their own ways, with similar, what, legitimacy (in my view) as real-world ‘theaters’ in which integrity and corruption are played out as action.  The Swedish version, especially, didn’t mellow or trivialize either sexual attack (or the murderer), any more than it gave the magazine crew too much of a band-of-warriors-in-the-trenches treatment.

      I’m pretty sure I understand what you’re saying:  any depiction of sexual violence is going to be “sensational” in the sense of ‘causing alarm’–whether the disturbance caused by the scene is contextualized or is exploited for prurient or sentimental value in a way detached from suffering or consequences.  With a rape compared to, say, poring over candid photographs of a parade, the effect of being cavalier or exploitative in the depiction is magnified greatly, because the actual springs and consequences of the act feel immediately that much more momentous.

      Well, sometimes stories about, say, journalists and corporate corruption end up being also tangled with sexual-violence narratives.  (I’d bet all the money I have or will ever see that a thorough personalized investigation of the sub-prime mortgage/CDO ‘boom’ would expose malicious sexual tastes among some of the Goldman Sachs crowd.  Permission sets demons free, no?)

      The strands of Dragon Tattoo are tightly – even patly – tied into a bow, but, truly, I didn’t feel abusively manipulated by any one thread in its spaghetti origami.

  40. alanrossi

      never taken as a personal disagreement, deadgod.  i rarely write here, but when i do, i enjoy talking/’typing’ with you.  in any case, merely a difference of, perhaps, point of view, or perception, marred by our own suchness and personalities and, well, tastes maybe.  the more i think about the swedish version, the more i like it (comparably); the more i think about the Fincher version, the less i like it, so maybe something there.