Why Do Characters Keep Forgetting What Movie They're In?
Fantasy and sci-fi universes often include one outsider character who exists specifically so other characters can explain things to them. Neo is new to the Matrix, Luke is from a backwater planet, futuristic movies often feature a protagonist who wakes up from hibernation, usually muscular and nude (Altered Carbon, Demolition Man). When movies or shows don't do this, it often introduces a particularly weird problem: characters who are constantly blindsided by things that are new to the audience, but which should be everyday reality to them. For instance ...
Characters Often Forget Basics Of Everyday Life In Their Worlds
An all-time classic example of this comes up in the very first few minutes of Star Wars. The instigating event of the entire series comes when Princess Leia hides the stolen plans for the Death Star inside R2-D2's mouth, and then he and C-3PO are jettisoned in an escape pod. Some Imperial officers are about to shoot it down, when one says not to bother. After all, there are no lifeforms onboard.
In other words, the entire plot hangs on these guys suddenly forgetting that ubiquitous sentient droids are a thing. It'd be like a friend neglecting to tell you that a killer is heading toward your house because he forgot phones exist and didn't think a letter would get there in time. For fuck's sake, the guy who decided to let the pod go later reports it to Vader, who himself is like 75 percent machine and probably doesn't always register on lifeform scans.
But this kind of thing happens all the time. In The Matrix, the agents seem genuinely surprised when Keanu shows up with an arsenal to rescue Morpheus ... even though they live in a simulated universe in which any weapon can be spontaneously manufactured at zero cost. Hell, he could have made himself a digital version of one of those mech suits they use in Revolutions.
Then we have the strange case of Netflix's Bright, a (poor) allegory for racism full of elves, humans, and orcs. Those races have always been there. Yet when a human suspect starts speaking in the orc language to Will Smith's orc partner, Smith acts incredulous. "Is that Orcish? How in the hell do you know how to speak Orcish?" I don't know, maybe he ... learned it? Because orcs and their culture are everywhere? Later, when the pair of cops rescue a female elf, she speaks Elvish and both are helpless to understand her. Elves are the dominant race in that universe! You didn't pick up any of their language? Even some simple phrases to help you do cop stuff?
When a character talks about elf terrorists trying to resurrect an ancient dark lord, the feds call it a "fairy tale." That's in a world full of fairies, as well as centaurs and wands that can literally make anything happen, including resurrecting the dead. Outright dismissing it is like cops in our world laughing off the idea of terrorists sabotaging a nuclear power plant. Maybe that exact thing has never happened, but it definitely could.
My favorite (that is, dumbest) example of this might be in the fourth Transformers movie, Age Of Extinction. At one point, another robot asks Optimus Prime, "You think you were born? No, you were built." So ... wait, Opie didn't know how he was born? It never occurred to him to ask where Transformers come from? If that's the case, then the movie confirmed that Optimus Prime is a virgin who's clueless about the robo-birds and the robo-bees (drones and RC helicopters?). That's a ... very surprising revelation, especially from Michael Bay.
In Fact, They're Constantly Getting Blindsided By This Sort Of Thing
In the theme park of Westworld, the entire draw is its sophisticated robots that are absolutely human in every single way -- appearance, behavior, texture, smell (if you haven't seen the show, yes, the tourists have sex with them nonstop). They are so perfectly lifelike that -- spoiler alert -- it turns out the park's chief engineer was secretly a robot this whole time, and not only did none of his co-workers know, but he didn't know. And yet no one in that universe, at any point, considers that the person they're talking to might secretly be a robot. They're shocked to their very core every time they find out otherwise, as if the very concepts of deception or identity theft don't exist in that society.
Probably twice as weird is the world of Harry Potter, in which there is something called the Polyjuice Potion, which is a magical brew that allows you to transform into any person you wish if you have a piece of their body (a single hair, etc), which an insane psychopath at one point uses to pose as a teacher and infiltrate Hogwarts for an entire year before anybody notices. It is completely undetectable, absolutely anyone can do it (a bunch of kids pull it off at one point), and yet, again, no one is ever paranoid about this happening. There appear to be no routine security measures to verify identity, even in the halls of government.
If you lived in that universe, you'd be checking for this constantly. People would be calling the magic cops the second they noticed someone having magic tuna salad for magic lunch instead of the usual magic egg salad WHICH IS SO UNLIKE THEM. Scammers could show up looking like cops, or your best friend, or mother. Every woman would have to wonder whether she's with her boyfriend or some jealous creep wearing his skin to try to get in her pants. A serial killer would have great success disguising himself as a lost crying toddler in the park -- hell, he could always simply assume the identity of his last victim. And what form of ID would be convincing in a world in which goddamned magic is a thing? Remember, they're mimicking these people right down to their fingerprints. It would be terrifying!
But levels of social trust in these worlds would be positively healthy compared to the X-Men universe, in which not only can at least one mutant perfectly imitate anyone they wish, but mutations come in every flavor, from "basically a god" to "is really good with languages."
Forget about the government harassment that you see in the movies, how has this society not torn itself apart yet? Imagine, say, a baseball player suddenly hitting five home runs in one game. There would be calls to test, ban, and possibly kill him for being a mutant before he even reaches home plate on the last one. A kid comes out of nowhere to win a gold medal or a regional spelling bee? Clearly a mutant! Whoa, look at this asshole who just won 50 grand in roulette -- yeah, nice telekinesis powers you've got there, pal! Come into the back room, let's see how well your powers work while you've got your dick in a vice.
Now imagine the blame game that would ensue whenever there was any kind of cataclysm. Was this massive industrial explosion an accident or the work of a teleporting mutant with eye lasers? Is this horrific flood a natural event or one of those weather-influencing mutants holding a grudge? The first time an anti-mutant politician dies of cancer at age 86, there would be witch hunts claiming it was a hit job by some unknown tumor-slinging mutant. Only "witch hunt" is probably the wrong phrase, considering that the thing they're hunting does actually exist. How would you ever talk the angry mob out of it?
Even In Dark, Crapsack Worlds, Everyone Lets Their Guard Down
Sometimes, characters do find themselves in a society in which social trust is nonexistent and the world is all but lawless. They can be betrayed at any time and know that their betrayer will escape consequences. Then they immediately forget that.
Take Ned Stark, the Ned Flanders of Game Of Thrones. In Season 1, he comes off as a noble hero willing to fight for what is right, and we respect him for it. But why would being noble involve forgetting that other people aren't? Hell, the man himself took credit for defeating the greatest swordsman in Westeros, when in reality his friend stabbed the dude in the back. He knows that self-serving lies are a thing!
Yet he still signs his own death warrant by warning the queen that he knows she committed incest, and then he puts his trust in Littlefinger, a man whose only personality trait is being sleazy. It's an environment in which Ned knows there is no greater authority he can appeal to for justice. He has lived and functioned in that system his whole life, and he knows that imprisoning/killing him solves the bad guys' problem.
Then you have the even stranger case of Roose Bolton, a villainous character who broke his sacred vows and murdered his King ... but didn't anticipate his own clearly psychopathic son stabbing him in the gut when he announced that said son may no longer be his rightful heir. Again, this is a universe in which murder is a great way to solve problems, but one character after another expresses total shock and surprise the moment they feel the blade enter their liver.
It's not only a GOT thing, though. I cannot feel sorry for Selina Kyle in Batman Returns, who confronts her boss (Christopher Walken) about all the illegal shit he's done. Alone, without any witnesses. Christ, she all but threw herself out of that window. She lives in the world of Tim Burton's Batman, for God's sake, which is essentially what happens when a homeless clown has PCP-induced nightmares in an abandoned comic book shop.
Then there are the worlds of Elysium and Equilibrium -- equally dark, oppressive dystopias where hope is but a half-remembered drunken memory. And yet in both movies, you have scenes of the villains taunting trained killers, calling them dumb and somehow expecting them to ... not murder them in the face? Spoiler alert (but not really): They totally do.
Come on, people. You live in a terrifying universe in which nothing you see or say can be trusted. You don't see us forgetting that shit, do you?
Jeez, it's not like this is the kind of stuff you have to write down in a day planner.
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For more forgetful characters, check out 6 Things Movie Characters Always Seem to Forget and 6 Characters Who Forget They Have Powers That Solve The Plot.
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