Movies have cool things like magic and secret societies because that stuff is mysterious, exciting, and a great way to disguise lazy writing. Sometimes in the pursuit of a neat setpiece or a flashy effect, a movie will accidentally toss out an Earth-shaking revelation that makes the actual plot look like a Goop post guest-written by Jaden Smith. For example ...
In Liar Liar, Fletcher Reede finds that he's suddenly unable to lie, so he answers all questions by blurting out the most offensive version of the truth -- you know, the only possible alternative. Eventually, he finds out that this is all because he disappointed his son, Max. When the notoriously flaky Fletcher fails to show up for Max's birthday party -- after promising him he would -- his son's only birthday wish is for his father to stop lying. And it works.
This is not some alternate universe in which it's normal for birthday wishes to come true. Sure, 1997 Los Angeles was magical in its own right, but more in the "heroin and frosted tips" sense than "legitimate sorcery." And yet when Fletcher finds out he's been birthday-cursed, he doesn't react by questioning all he's ever believed in and fearing the god he has apparently birthed into the world; he merely gets the kid a new cake and asks him to reverse the wish. Like it's all normal, vexing kid stuff. Some children color on the walls, some control minds.
But the counter-wish doesn't take, and the movie makes it clear that the reason for this is that Max's heart isn't in it. Remember, it's not his birthday anymore, and that means Max can grant himself wishes at will, as long as he really means it. It's not only Fletcher who blithely ignores the implications of the magic wish kid -- at Max's next birthday party, the lights go out, and when they come back on, Fletcher's making out with his ex-wife, to their mutual surprise. They ask him if he used a wish to force them back together, with nary a trace of the "kid who sends adults to the cornfield" terror that should accompany such a question.
In Stranger Than Fiction, Will Ferrell plays Harold Crick, an IRS auditor who wakes up one day to find his entire life narrated by the disembodied voice of a British woman. After a while, Harold realizes that he's starring in a novel that's currently being written, and that the author intends to kill him. Harold is understandably upset, so he teams up with Dustin Hoffman to track down the author and persuade her to pardon him.
Spoiler: She does, though she still runs him over with a bus. Happy enough ending, right?
Not if you're any of her other characters. The whole reason Harold suspects he's going to die in the first place is that this author has killed every single main character she's ever written about. Were those people real too? Did something go wrong with Harold, or did those people also have free will and the capacity to experience terror in the face of death?
There's more. Harold doesn't notice his life is being narrated until he's in his 40s. Does the author conjure her characters into existence with implanted memories like a replicant, or does she simply hijack real people's lives? Neither possibility is good, just a different flavor of monstrous. Did she breathe life into these people, only to disembowel them in a Wendy's bathroom somewhere? Or did she witness a mother of four crossing the street and force her to jump off an office building later? Everybody in the film should really be more worried about this woman's ungodly power to create and destroy human life whenever she feels like. Maybe there's a metaphor in there somewhere, but until they figure out what's going on, they should at least avoid public transportation.
In Pleasantville, the main characters accidentally transport themselves into a wholesome '50s sitcom, assuming the identities of the family's teenage children and literally bringing color to the world through the power of '90s fashion and basic human rights.
They and their world are so real that Reese Witherspoon decides to stay in Pleasantville, while Tobey Maguire returns to our world, presumably with some heavy new concerns. Are all the people on TV real? Are the plots really happening to them? It's not like "person lives a normal, nice life" is a popular television premise. Does he not have some sort of ethical responsibility to find a way to hop into every Law & Order series and save those people?
New Line Cinema
Are there alternate or parallel realities where the dragons and unnecessarily naked witches of Game Of Thrones exist, and if so, why isn't he trying to go there instead? Is it all the murder and genital mutilation? It's probably all the murder and genital mutilation.
Live And Let Die is the James Bond film wherein 007 combats the massive conspiracy involving like, every black person in North America, who are all working together to get the white man hooked on heroin. Needless to say, the film did not age well. Also needless to say: This was a Roger Moore joint.
But the weirdest thing in this very weird collection of things is that two of the evil Dr. Kanaga's henchmen are quite clearly magical, and nobody seems to care.
Solitaire has 100 percent perfect clairvoyance through the use of tarot cards, and her power is also directly hereditary, passed down from mother to daughter (they only lose it if they also lose their virginities, which is roughly 40 percent of what Bond is there to do). Naturally, Bond puts any interest MI6 might have in a legitimate psychic below the interests of his penis.
Then there's voodoo priest Baron Samedi. The character pretends to be a simple entertainer, but the dude can't die. Even after Bond throws him in a box filled with snakes, he comes straight back to life and hitches a ride on Bond's train. Even by Bond standards, it's a ridiculous ability, and it's never addressed again in the whole franchise.
Bond managed to find incontrovertible proof that witchcraft exists, yet in the 16 movies that follow, we never see anything even remotely supernatural, Daniel Craig's smoldering eyes notwithstanding.
Over the course of three thrilling adventure films (and one CGI cutscene involving a Disney star), Indiana Jones has always been focused on one thing: getting priceless historical artifacts to museums. What he should have been focusing on was his true greatest discovery: religion is real. All of it.
Jewish artifacts can melt Nazi faces, Hindu death wizards can perform real magic, and divinely contaminated water from the Holy Grail can heal the sick. By all rights, Dr. Jones should be out telling the world that every god is real, thus ending religious conflict forever and bringing peace on Earth. Alas, he's an archaeologist (ish) first and foremost, so his only priority is shoving all of this stuff in display cases so grade-schoolers can cough on it. Gods can wait -- there are children to be bored!
Riley Black didn't want a Twitter account, but a birthday wish forced him to get one. Jordan Breeding also writes for Paste Magazine, the Twitter, himself, and with the desire to conjure people into thin air only to hit them with a bus. Nathan Kamal lives in Oregon and writes. He co-founded Asymmetry Fiction for all your fiction needs.
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