Rated C, for Confusing

Posted on June 4, 2010

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Inspired by several entertaining posts on Big Happy Nothing, I recently wrote of my fondness for the movie Moonstruck, as well as my inability to understand the film’s ending. To the rescue came Charles Paolino with a clear and concise explanation. I thanked Mr. Paolino, rewarding his insight by inviting him to come live with my wife and me so he could explain the plot twists of at least twenty other movies, and so he could act as trailblazer on my behalf, preventing any future cinematic puzzlement. He wisely ignored the invitation. But I’ve been thinking ever since about this problem I have with getting lost in a storyline. If IQ tests included watching and explaining the climaxes of films, they would probably have to name the lower part of the scale after me.

What frustrates me the most is that I can usually follow most of a movie’s plot. But then, about three-quarters of the way in, just when the last tumbler seems to fall gently into place in the minds of the rest of the audience, I find myself thinking, “What in the world is going on? Why are they chasing him? She just realized something really important! I wonder what it was.” In a crowded theater, I can sense that everyone else seems to be getting it. There’s this sudden flash of enlightenment. They are, as one, struck by an understanding of what’s happening and why, and where it’s all going. Apparently, at this crucial juncture, I’m fumbling in the dark, trying to find some popcorn that has fallen between my legs or an M&M that has disappeared down my shirt. When I look back at the screen, the moment has passed. I hear my wife murmur, “It was him all along!” and I can only wonder, “Who? All along what?” I sometimes wish they would put one of those little people down in the corner of the screen to explain what’s happening to the denser members of the audience. Then we could follow along as though our IQs were much higher.

Part of the problem, I know, is that my mind tends to wander. When I watch The Wizard of Oz, for example, I find myself asking logical questions that have no place in a film about Munchkins and talking apple trees. When Glinda tells Dorothy that she had the power to go home all along, but that she wouldn’t have believed it, I think “Really? She wouldn’t have given it a shot? She would have preferred to deal with wicked witches and flying monkeys and a giant wizard head that bellows and smokes? She would have chosen to go through all that rather than clicking her heels together?” And then that scene where Dorothy is saying goodbye to everybody and she tells the Scarecrow that she’ll miss him most of all. I guess it’s supposed to be a touching moment, but I always feel bad for the Tin Man and the Lion. I think, couldn’t she have just pulled him aside and whispered it, or gotten his mailing address and sent him a nice note?

The Lord of the Rings trilogy was especially challenging. It wasn’t just that they were unbelievably long, and filled with strange names like Aldor and Eomor and Mordor and Gondor. What puzzled me the most were the frequent scenes in which a mass of people would be setting off to do something (and from what I could gather, something really important), but I had no idea what. Had they explained it while I was again tidying up my seat? Was it just self-evident? My mind would drift off for minutes at a time, and when it returned there was yet another mob of soldiers, dressed in full body armor and riding on horseback over an endless range of mountains. The  scene was always dark, filled with thick, gray, foreboding clouds. Where was everyone going? And did it never occur to any of these men that there was a thunderstorm brewing and it might not be a good idea to go out wearing all that metal?

There are entire genres of movies I avoid now, complete aisles in the video store I never venture down. Spy movies, stories about the CIA or drug lords, anything that’s labeled “psychological thriller” or that promises to “keep you in suspense!” I don’t have to go looking for suspense. I still can’t figure out who framed Roger Rabbit. Maybe I’ll just stick with movies like Seabiscuit. The horse is trying to win the race. I get it. Or even Moonstruck, one of my favorites. He loves her and wants her to marry him. I understand a movie like that. Even the ending.

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