Elysium
Elysium, courtesy Tri-Star Pictures.

I recently managed to get out to see Elysium in the theater.  This much-hyped movie garnered high expectations, especially as images from the movie were released and it became clear how much beautiful work had gone into its production.  However, once the movie premiered it became clear that the story itself hadn’t gotten as thorough a treatment as the sets and effects, creating a movie with innumerable logic inconsistencies and downright dumb plot points, clearly designed to get the hero from Predetermined Action Point A to Predetermined Action Point B, no matter how contrived that journey might be.

To be sure, Elysium is not the only movie guilty of these transgressions; they are quite common in action-adventure movies of every type.  It’s as if a “logic pass” is being bestowed, an unofficial declaration that these momentary lapses in logic and sense are “unimportant” as long as they further the basic narrative (“basic” being defined here as hero fights and wins).   But why are movies getting this “logic pass”?

Take this scene in Elysium, where the hero, Max, is confronted by law enforcement droids while waiting in line for a bus.  The droids identify him as a parolee (he used to boost cars), and when they ask him what’s in the bag, Max replies: “Hair products.”  (He’s bald.)  He tries to add, “Hey, I’m just going to work—”, but apparently the droids have zero sense of humor, because they knock him down and bust his arm as they rifle through his bag.

You’d think an identified ex-con who probably had had plenty of experience with and around humorless (and powerful) law enforcement droids would know better than to mouth off at one, wouldn’t you?  The scene is clearly intended to depict Max as being harried in life.  Yet he’s harried because he’s a moron; and this is the guy we’re supposed to root for and expect to win the day.  But that’s okay, because the scene got his arm busted, which moves him to the next scene, meeting his ex-girlfriend in a hospital.  Here’s your logic pass.

I’m not going to go on listing logic pass moments in multiple movies… we’d be here for months, and I’m sure you can think of a few such moments on your own.  My point is, in most other media such moments are not acceptable.  In books especially, characters and actions don’t generally get logic passes; if they don’t make sense, the reader dumps the book, the critics highlight the “grievous error,” and the world marks the author as damaged goods.  So why do movies get to hand out logic passes like novelty playing cards?

Movies are a particular form of storytelling, with rules and styles all their own… not even television uses all the same narrative or even visual forms as movies.  Movies are unique because they are encapsulated into a brief period of time (anywhere between 1-1/2 and 3 hours, generally), and so much take certain shortcuts in order to frame a narrative or carry out an action.  These shortcuts often take the form of an extended conversation or lengthy infodump being edited down to a sentence or two, possibly a character’s brief action, or even being cut altogether, in order to give precious time to the narrative elsewhere.

The problem is, many of today’s movies make no effort to create shortcuts that make narrative sense, instead providing a stoopid bridge from Point A to Point B, and hoping no one notices or cares.  Studios, in the interest of making the biggest buck, have decided to trade logic for spectacle: Why have a logical story that results in a man escaping his captors, when a story can ignore the logic and result in the man getting ahold of heavy weaponry, shooting dozens of his captors, stopping to engage one with his Kung-Fu moves and simultaneously free the basement full of white slave captives before blowing up the entire building with mushroom cloud megatonnage?  And apparently, they’re right: People still go to these movies, even after the logical fallacies are identified, acknowledged and discussed ad nauseam.  In other words, logical fallacies don’t cause an action movie to lose any profit at the box office.  So why bother?

Times are a-changin’; intelligent movies are increasingly being watched on television or the web, not so much in the megaplex theaters.  Movie producers, understanding this, are leaning back onto the original point of Hollywood movies in the first place: To sell tickets, by any means possible.  They are largely surrendering intelligent content to other mediums, and throwing all their eggs into the turned-up-to-11, logic-passes-fly-like-locusts super-spectacle basket.  Unless the prognostication of Spielberg and Lucas come true, and the blockbuster movie format collapses (while somehow failing to collapse the theater industry along with it), I can’t see producers changing their tunes.

And what about the audiences… after all, we’re ultimately the ones who end up with these logic passes in our pockets, right alongside our fake-butter-stained ticket stubs.  Why aren’t we saying anything to the producers?  Why are we bitching and moaning the dearth of intelligence in movies… then turning around and buying tickets to Transformers 6-7/8?

Because, despite the wealth of media choices, movie-going is still part of our shared society and culture; try as we might, we really don’t want to give it up.  We want them to get better, sure… but not enough to boycott them until they improve.  We go, knowing we will most likely remember nothing about how we spent the past two hours other than the fact that we paid $9 for popcorn with fake butter, and wasn’t that building blowing up totally awesome?  We’re blockbuster junkies, and as long as we’re willing to stick our hands deep into the beehive to get our fix, we can’t expect anything to change.

So, clearly there’s no point in decrying the motion picture logic pass; it will be with us for quite some time, because movies.  If you don’t like it, go set up a home theater in your basement and queue up Lawrence of Arabia from your DVD collection.

Or watch Citizen Kane on your TV…

Or watch The Great Escape on your computer…

Or watch Gone With the Wind on your tablet…

Or watch The Great Race on your phone…

‘Cause it’s not like you have a choice in the matter.  Really.


Not satisfied with the story in Elysium?  Check out another story about an orbital habitat, to see how it’s done: Verdant Skies, on my site.

cover of Verdant Skies

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