Movies that work without making any damn sense


PACIFIC RIM: the story of a talented but troubled pianist searching for love.

At least, that’s what I told my son it was about when I told him we were all going to see it. He’s old enough to to tell when I’m joking most of the time, but I kept telling him it was part of music appreciation and homeschooling, so he eventually just flat out admitted “I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or serious.”

Note to self: teach son meaning of “sarcastic.”

Anyway, once he saw the poster outside the theater, he knew there would be zero piano players. He bought his usual treat of a small popcorn with extra butter, but when the movie ended it was completely untouched. He’d been so engrossed in the film that he’d forgotten all about it.

A big question for me is: WHY? He wasn’t half a block away before he started picking nits. Why did the pilots have to be inside the robots? being the big one. My wife and are were also laughing about how ludicrous the whole thing was: Our Hero has a jaeger that is analog, not digital, because it’s nuclear powered? I guess that mind-meld technology runs on diskettes.

Anyway, the whole thing is deliberately absurd, but also powerfully affecting. When we got home, there was a Netflix disc in the mailbox. It was THE MATRIX, another movie that worked like gangbusters despite the fact that it made no damn sense at all.

So why do they work? It’s not the spectacle. There are plenty of dull movies full of spectacle. (We just watched 2012, so that’s fresh in my mind.)

The real secret is that the relationships between the characters, and the way the characters change, is what draws us in. Yeah, there’s a visceral thrill from the sight of claws, teeth, and roaring. Yeah, the music gooses your emotions.

But all of it falls flat if the emotions don’t work.

The funny thing is that I spent years trying to understand narrative structure, and so much of that time was spent on plot mechanics and exposition. It wasn’t until I began using the structure to focus the characters’ emotions and relationships that I began to have any success at all.

Stories are better if the plot makes sense, but if the characters don’t appeal no clockwork plot in the world will make it worth the audience’s time.