Realism isn’t the only accepted way to write a novel, so why are movies so scared to play with form? In novels, you can have your narrator wake up a cockroach; you can have leave entire pages blank, or write in gibberish, or have the writer as a character in his own work. In novels, absolutely anything goes. But if, let’s say, director Edgar Wright makes a movie called Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (which tells a love story in the form of a video game): there’s uproar. No realism! Impossible karate moves! People bursting into showers of coins! “It’s ridiculous,” people cry. But what’s more ridiculous? Making one movie inspired by video game culture, or saying no movie can ever be made this way, because only realism must prevail?
I have no idea who’s talking to Joaquin Phoenix in this trailer, but I like what he’s saying… That’s you: drops of water. And you’re on top of the mountain; a success. But one day you start sliding down the mountain. You think: “Wait a minute. I’m a mountain top water drop. I don’t belong in this valley, this river, this low dark ocean with all these drops of water.” Then one day it gets hot, and you slowly evaporate into air; way up, higher than any mountain top; all the way to the heavens. And then you understand that it was at your lowest that you were closest to God. Life’s a journey that goes round and round, and the end is closest to the beginning. So if it’s change you need, relish the journey.
Suspension of disbelief is crucial in movies. You can’t walk into an action movie thinking one-against-twenty equals impossible odds. One-against-twenty is even. Take Angelina Jolie in her new movie, Salt. Judging by her appearance, she couldn’t beat a drum. And yet, here she is: pounding Secret Service agents into jelly. This, despite the fact she could wear a wedding ring round her wrist. Despite the fact her coat has more muscles than she does. In Salt, she’s made of bricks. It’s up to the audience to decide if this is okay. “Plausible” doesn’t come into it. After all, you’re not invited to believe in her actions; you’re invited to enjoy watching them.
Tom Cruise doesn’t mean us harm. He just wants to be a movie star. Unlike Brad, or George, Tom doesn’t mind living on another planet. He’s comfortable being seen as some kind of ambition-fuelled android who exists to sign autographs. In the 80s, before the internet and 24-hour news, stars were more like spokespersons. Tom was good at this. He could get out there – glad-hand it with the best of them – and sell the movie. No-one asked Tom Cruise about Tom Cruise. In his new movie, Knight and Day, you can see Tom trying to give account of himself the best way he knows how (after the Oprah debacle): by starring. He shouldn’t have to exist outside movies.