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Eschatological Implausibility


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#1 du Garbandier

du Garbandier

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Posted 06 August 2009 - 10:36 PM

It occurs to me that many of the sorts of discrepancies mentioned in the Idiot Plot thread also fall into a separate category of narrative elements that become implausible only upon a second viewing. That is, as we are encountering them on the first viewing we might accept them or not object to them because we just don't know how it will all turn out in the end. (Or perhaps we just don't notice them.) But when we return to the story and evaluate these elements in light of the ending, their implausibility becomes apparent. They don't measure up in terms of inner logic. It becomes clear that the writer has cheated in some respect for one reason or other, usually in order to advance the narrative, achieve a joke, increase drama, etc. The element itself is thus drained of something of its organic vitality.

I find it rather distressing how so many narrative works, whether cinematic or literary, show clear evidence of not being meant to bear evaluation-in-light-of-the-ending. (Leaving genres like mysteries aside, which usually hinge on the movement from ignorance to discovery involved in a first reading/viewing.) It seems to compromise a work's ability to stand the test of time. I am also troubled by how many literate people around me seem to have no interest in rereading narratives. They simply do not see the point in rereading a novel; after all, you already know what happens--why read it again? You have already consumed the juicy part. Yet they do not seem to consider that unless they reread the story in light of the end, they might not know what happens, not really and truly. And they miss out on a reading experience that can be far fresher and more different and richer than the first reading than they might imagine.

To give an example of eschatological implausibility, consider something that happens in the pilot episode of Firefly. The Jayne character is offered a bribe, and for much of the episode the question is left open as to whether he accepts it or not. Later in the show the Firefly crew is meeting with a notorious criminal and her gang (or something like that), and beforehand the Jayne character is sent up into the hills with a sniper rifle to pick off possible snipers. At one point we are viewing the meeting down below from the perspective of Jayne looking through his sniper scope. We are looking through his scope. For several crucial, tense moments Jayne lingers with the crosshairs hovering directly over the Captain (I think it was him).

So at this point the dramatic intensity comes from the intimation that Jayne may have taken the bribe and is now apparently on the verge of a murderous betrayal. It is a very dramatic moment. As it turns out, he does not shoot the Captain, and eventually he reveals that he did not take the bribe, nor did he ever even remotely consider it. He had no intentions of betrayal whatsoever. (Or so I recall.)

But then what was all this crosshair sniper business? Why does he linger so much with the crosshairs, and why are we being made to linger with him? At the time of a first viewing these point-of-view shots nicely frame the open question of betrayal. But since subsequent events not only answer that question in the negative but show that it was negative at the time, it appears to me that those POV shots are but a transparent means of heightening emotional tension. They become senseless on the level of character in relation to the story as a whole.

It seems to me that from a Christian perspective we can read the present in the light of eternity. We know how the story ends, even though the details and even the broad motions of history escape us. Thus, stories in which characters, elements, or events have value only in the present unfolding of narrative details, and are not shaped and considered in light of the end, are not what they could be. To me they are not altogether satisfying.

(Of course television shows provide a particular problem for the would-be eschatological rereader. After all, with a few exceptions these shows are produced with no ultimate end in mind other than their own perpetual survival. Thus, implausibilities of the sort I have described are perhaps to be expected.)

Edited by du Garbandier, 07 August 2009 - 12:48 AM.


#2 MattPage

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Posted 07 August 2009 - 03:43 AM

To busy to say much, but interesting thoughts.

Thanks for posting them.

Matt