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But I Knew That! Or Brazenly Rocking the Suspension Bridge of Disbelief

 
I ain't crossin' that rickety shit... ok just for a bit.
 
In my most recent week of television and film viewing, I've been witness to a certain synchronicity that was too much to bear without discussing with you. It's a phenomenon that made me both frown and smile at the same time. For those of you who've not seen Volver, be warned, I entirely spoil it... though you could skip the second paragraph to avoid said spoiler.
 
Can't say I get that title though...
Can't say I get that title though...
 
"Human Giant" is a sketch comedy show that stars Aziz Ansari, Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer. Hilarious stuff. One sketch in "Human Giant" Season 1 (2007) involves a surveillance team luring a child molester into a trap. While the team is off confronting the predator in question, a boy, played by Azizin a sissy blue outfit with a giant lollipop knocks on the van door and is hastily invited in by one of the surveillants. The rest of the comedy is obvious until the sketch turns the story around, revealing that the surveillant was actually the one being lured by the decoys in the house. The boy takes off his sissy hat and tells his predator that he's under arrest, adding, "I've got a full BEARD, man!" Sketch comedy, especially all-male-cast sketch comedy, by nature, routinely casts men in drag and doesn't involve much in the way of elaborate costumes. When we see the actor dressed as a child, we use our suspension of disbelief to erase the beard. For a scene to then point out that it was there the whole time, well that adds an surprising element of comedy, and in my case, one that was well received. Not so with Volver (2006).
 
But ghosts don't... DO HAIR?Volver is, in essence, a ghost story. After the death of their mother, Irene, a family tries to cope and go on with life, but rumours abound in the small village that Irene is still haunting the place. Eventually we do meet the mother, and as a ghost she breaks all the rules. She is corporeal 24 hours a day, she even joins her daughter as a roommate, 'living' in the guest room and helping her daughter with her in-home hairdressing business. The idea is that she has 'unfinished business'. It's a point integral to the plot, but as I watched, I wondered why Amoldovar so brazenly broke the convention of the ghost, but whatever, just give it some suspension of disbelief and we're good right? Go with it. When the final act brings to light its big reveal, it's that the woman was never dead, she's not a ghost at all. The film takes all this time declaring to the audience that this is a ghost story, only to turn around and go, "Psych! Fooled you!" I liked the movie fine, it works enough, the whole 'superstitious village' thing, but I still call bullshit. My original thought of "what an interesting twist" was replaced with "why was I so completely  manipulated?" There was so much build-up and proof that this woman was a ghost and it repeatedly forced me to suspend a disbelief I couldn't reasonably shake in the first place. It's nearly offensive, going beyond the realm of David Fincher twists and Fourth Wall shattering moments like the one found in Funny Games.
 
Then he goes back into his trunk
Then he goes back into his trunk

 
Sitting somewhere in the middle of the two is a perfect play between the suspension of disbelief and a couple of Fourth Walls - Rubber (2010). The opening lines of the film are spoken directly into the camera's lens by a lawman who just climbed out of a car trunk in the middle of the desert, "In the Steven Spielberg movie E.T., why is the alien brown? No reason... In the excellent Chainsaw Massacre by Toby Hooper, why don't we ever see the characters go to the bathroom or wash their hands like people do in real life? Absolutely no reason... all great films, without exception, contain an important element of no reason. And you know why? Because life, itself, is filled with no reason... Ladies and gentlemen, the film you are about to see today is an homage to the no reason - that most powerful element of style." We turn 180 degrees to reveal that there is, in fact an audience and they are given binoculars to watch said film off in the distance.
 
Then we see a car tire come to life and start killing people, but not the people watching, but the lawman is actually in the movie the spectators are watching, but he's entirely self-aware of his role and even proves to other policemen than everything is fake, but something goes wrong and he has to take it all back, and the movie is constantly playing with our sense of reality. The Fourth Wall / Suspension of disbelief physics of Rubber are deep into the avant-garde, and knowing that made it fun. Second-guessing myself made the film enjoyable on a deeper level. It created assumptions, tore them down early on, created new ones, tore those down, and we, the (second) audience were left with a meta-philosophical outlook on the existence of a murdering tire.
Oh my LORD there was a wall there, right in the direction we were talking!
 
So, where Rubber makes wonderful use of the thin line between spectator and screen, where "Human Giant" makes comedy by pointing out that the disbelief shouldn't have been suspended, and where Volver failed by forcing too great a paradigm shift, it's clear that there's a vast realm of play with our audience available to filmmakers in the game of suspension of disbelief, be it as simple as Ferris Bueller talking directly to us or as vague as Blade Runner narration.

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