When Movies Are Great

My favourite scene in Prometheus is when the Rafe Spall and Sean Harris’ space helmets bump into each other unintentionally. NO, THIS ISN’T GOING TO BE A POST ABOUT PROMETHEUS (though I can’t promise there won’t be one in the future).

The reason I like it is because one of the things I most enjoy in films and television is when people bump into things. Tables, chairs, poles, animals, even other people.  That might sound weird (rest assured, it is), but allow me to explain:

Movies and TV shows – good movies and shows, at least – are designed to be self-contained and create a world for the audience to delve into for whatever their runtime is. But sometimes these worlds end up isolating themselves from us by seeming like too much is going well; no-one ever runs out of gas, no-one’s ever short of a buck and hardly anyone mumbles incoherently or trips over by accident (with the glorious exception of Buffy and Angel‘s Wesley Wyndam-Price, who turned pratfalling into something of an artform). I find myself losing sympathy with the characters if I can’t relate to how the characters are going about things, even if the world they’re living in is supposed to be my own.

Yes, I do get that fiction isn’t supposed to be reality and if it were every movie would be four hours long and everyone would be extremely bored of them by now. But still: A flavour of reality now and then really grounds me in the story and reminds me (or at least once more tricks me into thinking) that these are actual, vulnerable people who can make the same clumsy mistakes that I do at least twelve times a day.

Which is why bumping into things is a good thing. In Prometheus (I promise this’ll be brief), the story is one so far-fetched and infamously full of holes that I found it hard to really get involved in the whole Man vs. Gods-type thing that was going down, instead settling for cooing at the space porn on show and wondering if my man-crush on Michael Fassbender was indicative of an attraction to robots. The helmet-bumping, when it came, made me consider the people onscreen once more.

‘They did something by accident! They’re not all lifeless automatons serving the whim of a wayward screenplay after all!’

Unfortunately, that epiphany was only brief. But you get my meaning.

A better example occurred when I began watching teh first season ofThe West Wing last night. I know very little about politics in general and US politics in particular, so I found the fast-paced dialogue and White House banter a little hard to swallow for the first 35 minutes. Then Martin Sheen came in, was eminently courageous, crotchety and sweet all at the same time and it all sort of made sense, but it still felt like I was viewing a world I couldn’t fully understand or be a part of.

Then, in the very last shot, President Sheen walked around his desk in the Oval Office so that he could get down to some President-y business, and on his way his head brushed a fern that wasn’t near enought to the wall for him to avoid it.

‘THE PRESIDENT BUMPED INTO A FERN. He’s just like me!’

Then I totally got it, even if no-one in the crew or cast intended me to get it that way. (I’m sure Aaron Sorkin would rather I got it from the breakneck dialogue, but hey.) The Prez is a guy, just like any of us. He has the burden of making the hard decisions, sure, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t bump into some plantlife every now and then. In fact, most of the first episode revolves around the fallout of President Sheen crashing his bike into a tree, so I guess it probably was what Sorkin intended. Maybe.

So yeah. Bumping into things. Love it.

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