Highly Illogical, Jim

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2019-08-06 12:00:00 No comments

I need to think about something other than mass shootings or melting glaciers, and I suspect you do too, so here goes.

Articles dissecting the illogic of blockbuster films are a dime a dozen, so here's a dime for you — an analysis of all the logical inconsistencies of Avengers: Endgame. What I liked best was not the article itself, but this comment: "In all honesty, this is a world where a boy mutates to a spiderlike creature, a god is playing Fortnite and grows a beer belly and racoons have an amazing sense of humour so I’m certainly not going to fuss about some illogical stuff."

This provokes a useful question: Where in such a story is it safe to call certain things illogical and other things not? Where's the logic and illogic coming from in the first place?

One of the things harped on in the article (warning: spoilers) is how the Avengers are being such thoughtless clods by bringing back the half of the world's population that vanished in the Snap. Wouldn't that destabilize things? Wouldn't that throw off a badly needed equilibrium? Or was it that Tony Stark was too hot in the biscuit to not lose his new family that he concocted this particular plan? Etc.

There's a few ways a story with fantastic elements can go wrong and be "illogical". The first and easiest is when the story doesn't adhere to its own internal logic — when it cheats, or when it's constructed sloppily or inattentively and leaves continuity details on the floor. That's writing-workshop level stuff.

Second is when a story's logic doesn't square with what we know about human nature. Anything that requires us to suspend our disbelief about what people are like — and not suspend just a little, but hang it over the Grand Canyon from a helicopter with mile-long guy wires — will fall apart. Maybe not all at once, but once the façade caves, the rest follows in short order.

Third, and toughest, is some version of what's discussed above: something that's not so much a problem with logic or verisimilitude, but a problem with unasked and unanswered questions provoked by the material. Any story that raises questions but never confronts them looks awkward in retrospect.

One of the arguments made with the above-linked article is that if the movie had spent more time trying to address the complexities of bringing everyone back five years later (how to reintegrate them into society? how to deal with legally dead people? how to deal with culture shock, etc.), it would have been a better film.

I haven't yet seen Endgame, although I know how it unfolds. I have sympathy for the stated argument, but I suspect the resulting film would have been too far removed from the MCU as we know it to be a workable proposition. They had to make the movie that complemented what they were already doing, one that was more hero-focused than society-focused.

But it sounds to me all this leads to a fourth way things can go wrong as well: You can in theory build your story around any part of it that you like, but that's going to have consequences. Those consequences may be more manageable based on the audience for the work (as they largely seem to have been in this case — most people wanted to see a story about the few returned heroes rather than the many returned but anonymous billions), but they aren't ever going to completely disappear. And they might be large enough, again depending on the audience, that your original intentions for the work get shoved out of the way.

I could envision a whole new story constructed around that premise alone. Imagine a catastrophe that robs the world of a significant slice of its population, and then imagine that it turns out to be reversible. Would we want that? If some of us wanted it badly enough to go against the rest of the world to get it, what would happen? Whose sympathies would we embrace? (Who wants to write that story? Line forms to the left.)

Anyway, my point is this: nothing's stopping you from constructing a story that consciously shelves aspects of it that other people are likely to bring up and use as a point of criticism. But beyond a certain degree, that's a hint you may be trying to tell the wrong story. (And if you don't have the creative liberty to tell the right story, that's another issue.)

So what doesn't constitute a break in a story's logic? That's a subject I'm going to have to save for another installment.

Tags: entertainment fiction storytelling