Thoughts on Fiction

Message Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed
Not all messages are displayed: show all messages (266 of them)

These last Avengers films surpass anything I could've hoped for as a child. The true impact that they will be having on kids right now.. I think its pretty interesting.

Human experience is a vast and mysterious thing, and we only have our own to go by. So I struggle with criticisms of how people engage with stories. I think its deeply interesting but so hard to really account for or know about - at least past a certain point.

I had a boss who's favorite film was Transformers 2. I thought that was kind of awesome.

Sam G, Monday, 6 May 2019 14:52 (three years ago) link

You can only make educated guesses about other's experiences, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth trying. Isn't that what makes stories resonate with us in the first place?

I loved Colossal recently. Kaiju as a metaphor for abusive relationships. It spoke to me about the challenge of getting another person to empathize, and the ways that empathy can be used against us.

One of the saddest things I've ever watched is the clubroom scene in the middle of the Haruhi film, when Yuki offers a club membership to Kyon after he terrorizes and borderline-assaults her. In that moment I felt the depth of the character's loneliness. It stopped being the stock anime trope of the quiet girl and became something much more unsettling. I felt like the movie was an attack on reducing women to a pitiful state for the sake of male wish fulfillment.

Blair Gilbreath, Monday, 6 May 2019 18:44 (three years ago) link

My ten year old boy, like his classmates, all talk about the Avengers movies in detail. I try not to spoil the fun for him- he's 10.
Myself, I hope the impact will not matter for long.
It's a huge tide to resist, but mediocrity can't become normalized.

Peter Chung, Monday, 6 May 2019 19:10 (three years ago) link

That makes sense. At least with cineaste parents he'll get to be exposed to a wider range of pop culture.

Maybe something like Gegege no Kitaro would be age-appropriate? I've been following the new series, and liking it. It's definitely been tweaked to appeal to modern audiences, but I can see Shigeru Mizuki's heart in it.

(holy shit, Shigeru Mizuki... I could ramble on and on about his work. Instead I'll just tell everyone to go read Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths)

Blair Gilbreath, Monday, 6 May 2019 19:32 (three years ago) link

BTW, Peter, next time I'm in Tokyo I'll try to snag some volumes of Be Free!, since you and Adam Warren have spoken highly of it.

Blair Gilbreath, Monday, 6 May 2019 19:42 (three years ago) link

I grew up reading Marvel comics. Thor, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Hulk.
I return to the opening post of this thread. Do the lives of fictional characters matter?
A fictional character exists in order to enable the experience of the story.
If they decide they'll kill off this one or that one this time, it can't be done in such an arbitrary way.
A character's fate must be intrinsic to the story's structure, because the narratives' meaning makes it necessary.
Watching Endgame is like watching a fantasy football match. This side wins this time, but it could just as easily have been the other team. Either way means nothing. Just a chance to cheer for your team.

Peter Chung, Monday, 6 May 2019 20:01 (three years ago) link

The old Marvel comics were great.

The last superhero movie I tried watching was Guardians Of The Galaxy, and it nearly put me to sleep. Maybe it was the arbitrariness you mention. I still don't know what the point of that film was. AFAICT, it seemed to be an appeal to nostalgia for something I've never experienced.

Blair Gilbreath, Monday, 6 May 2019 21:52 (three years ago) link

I've never been able to mourn the deaths of film characters, as in grieving for the loss of that person's life.
I can, however, think of two instances when the death of a character made me cry real tears.
These are both old works, but mild spoilers.
Osamu Dezaki's Dear Brother and the Stanley Donen/ Lerner-Loewe film of The Little Prince. In both cases, the tragedy consists of the precise context of the event.
I feel nothing at the end of Endgame when a major hero dies, just as I felt nothing at the end of Infinity War.
These aren't real people, and I don't understand why their "passing" is sad. It's a charade of unearned emotion.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 7 May 2019 17:45 (three years ago) link

The character isn't dying so much as the actor is dying. (contract termination as a kind of mortality)
We'll probably see all these characters again but not with that particular actor in it.

I haven't seen The Little Prince since childhood but what I remember is that Gene Wilder was in it and I don't think I could watch it the same way in that he was alive when I watched it last and now he's not.

I can't imagine any academic instruction doing it, but can you think of any that would broach how to deal with or control such extradiegetic resonances?

Philip Nunez, Tuesday, 7 May 2019 19:01 (three years ago) link

I suppose there could be an academic treatise or some cultural aesthetic theory on the topic, but like many academic pursuits, would serve only to be another useless PHD thesis from which no one will derive any real world value. Some subjective phenomena are better left to be dealt with in a spontaneous, imaginative way by the individual. The fact that Donen died recently is far more resonant with me, though I don't let that affect the experience of appreciating his work.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 9 May 2019 14:52 (three years ago) link

The thing about action movies, to me, is that they're kind of like a thrill ride or rock music even. Whether its The Matrix or Transformers 2, if your able to plug in to it, you can be elevated to a kind of ecstatic experience. Or you can find yourself unable to go along with it.

I still resonate deeply with the heroes journey, so that helps me plug in to an extent. Kung fu movies, Ninja Turtles movies.. I still feel the impact of these films from my childhood. They helped send me down a path that I am still very much engaged with. When films come along that manage to speak to me at this level its an awesome thing.

For better or worse it seems lots of people are still very much hopped up on the heroes journey. But that's a whole other discussion I guess.

Blair, my point was more about the problem of judging peoples levels of meaningful engagement with stories when we lack access to their experience.

Sam G, Saturday, 11 May 2019 18:06 (three years ago) link

Sam, I agree entirely with you on the point of sometimes wanting simply to be swept away by a well done traditional heroes journey.
Aquaman worked for me. It reinforces my view that it is not the story that is as important as the sensory experience of a movie. One sometimes finds deeper and unintended resonances in the most escapist films. Also I prefer Speed Racer to The Matrix. They both tell a similar story, but the lack of pretension in Speed Racer makes it feel more pure and sincere.

My favorite movies are often called pretentious by general audiences. But it is wrong to call a work pretentious that has lofty ambitions and succeeds in delivering them. To be pretentious means to make unwarranted claims.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 11 May 2019 20:42 (three years ago) link

one year passes...

I recently discovered this thread and I've been thinking a lot about it. I've noticed as I watch more anime that a lot of them have the same issue as Ghost In The Shell: they're directed in a confusing way to create an illusion of depth.
The recent anime short, Rick and Morty vs. Genocider, does this too. I was surprised to find fans generally like it, even though they've been struggling to figure out the plot. After a few watches, I think I understand what happened, but I had no emotional response to it except confusion.

Kelpie, Wednesday, 5 August 2020 16:42 (one year ago) link

Also, I agree that the concept of a purely objective morality, independent of the subjective experiences of the human condition, is nonsensical. If we had no subjective experiences like happiness and suffering, we could have no concept of good and evil. Even if we ground morality in God, we still ground them in God's subjective feelings, like love for mankind (we're assuming God's feelings are similar to our own.)

Kelpie, Wednesday, 5 August 2020 20:57 (one year ago) link

I disagree with that, but how do you see that having any negative implications on a narrative?
wouldn't an objective morality be much more interesting to contrast with our subjective one as a narrative conflict if we presume it exists?

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 5 August 2020 22:31 (one year ago) link

I'm not sure I follow. I think moral judgements involve both subjective and objective factors. Actually, all judgements do. Even math and science require a subjective human desire to know the truth. It doesn't necessarily make a difference in how moral decisions are handled in narratives, or in everyday life.

Kelpie, Wednesday, 5 August 2020 23:10 (one year ago) link

if you presume that all morality is subjective, then that eliminates a profound amount of tension in many kinds of stories.

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 5 August 2020 23:31 (one year ago) link

I think moral judgements involve both subjective and objective factors. "Objective morality vs. subjective morality" is a false dichotomy to begin with.

Kelpie, Thursday, 6 August 2020 11:45 (one year ago) link

four weeks pass...

So, I've been reading about moral philosophy and I've found some people who seem to reject the objective vs. subjective dichotomy. The ones I really like are Iris Murdoch and Philippa Foot. Their view of morality is like this: Morality is our term for the rational pursuit of happiness, in accordance with the particulars of psychology. As a human being, this is what you're constructed to do. You have no choice about your moral nature, only whether you perform it well or poorly. Human opinion does not determine moral principles, but human psychology does.

Kelpie, Saturday, 5 September 2020 01:06 (one year ago) link

"You have no choice about your moral nature, only whether you perform it well or poorly."
The problem with debates about morality is the that the term "morality" is being used to describe a vast range of factors and conflicting interests.
Your statement's meaning is ambiguous to the point where it could be saying too many different things.
I know that I've changed my moral position on a number of issues during my life. As you become more informed and more wise, your moral compass will shift.
One could argue that your moral nature is independent of how much you know, but you could just as well define moral nature as that which emerges in a way entirely dependent on what you know. A child with little life experience is not held to the same standard of morality as an adult.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 9 September 2020 20:50 (one year ago) link

Moral philosophy is the project of generalizing approaches to decision making with the purpose of maximizing the chances of optimal outcomes. It is a system of measuring the desirability of actions in the same way that the metric system is a tool for measuring physical properties. It is essentially a practical tool for everyday decision making. The problem arises when these guiding principles (generalizations) start to be viewed as having some innate value, as if they are cosmic rules that exist outside of human opinion. They do not. They exist because they are helpful and practical. That is all morals are.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 10 September 2020 10:12 (one year ago) link

It's possible to use rhetoric to justify any moral stance. Internal consistency is used as a standard for judging the validity of a moral position.
The "rational pursuit of happiness" sounds like a baseline value, but everyone's idea of what makes them happy is so varied that I wonder if it's really useful.

I've come to conclude that moral principles are, in fact, entirely explained as nothing more and nothing less than opinions. We decide what we want to call good and bad. We then use rhetoric to justify these opinions because we are taught to discount personal opinion as a sufficient basis for judgment.
It would be better to be honest and own up to the idea that people hold their opinions with high regard. The act of voting in a democratic election is driven by opinion. We accord opinion with the highest value when it comes to politics. Supreme court decisions are opinions.

Opinions can change. Philosophy exists to serve our opinions, not the other way around. Our opinions are primary.

It becomes a complex exercise because it quickly becomes meta. We hold the opinion that we want rational ideas of fairness to guide our moral decisions. But that desire for rationality is itself an opinion.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 10 September 2020 10:46 (one year ago) link

eleven months pass...

OK wow, it's been a long time since I posted here.

I agree that morality and the desire for rationality are opinions, but they're darn near inescapable ones. If you ask, "Why be rational?" you've already accepted the validity of rationality. If you ask, "Why should I be moral?" you've already accepted that there exist some good things which you should do and some bad things which you should not do. The questions "Why be rational?" and "Why be moral?" are empty of substance.

I also agree that there aren't "carved in stone" moral principles that apply to every situation without exception. Even Jesus pointed out that obeying the commandment of resting on the Sabbath is stupid if you have to save a life on the Sabbath.

Actually, though, the reason I came here is because of the latest Rick and Morty episode. The one where they fill in Rick's backstory with BirdPerson. I was pretty lukewarm towards it, but the fandom is going nuts about "finally getting some plot." I really think there's a generational divide here. I'm almost 40, and I can't imagine being this much more excited about backstory than about a well-written episode.

Kelpie, Monday, 16 August 2021 19:32 (nine months ago) link

Look at this fan-made graphic. I cannot imagine getting this excited about plot minutiae.

https://i.redd.it/jqotysk8fqh71.jpg

Kelpie, Monday, 16 August 2021 19:36 (nine months ago) link

My pet theory is that over the last few decades the world has gotten so unbelievably ridiculous, and the traditional institutions (religion, nations) that used to provide an anchoring salve of an explanatory coping narrative have gotten so inept at it, that people will look for a comforting lore and tradition wherever they can get it, and if that means Rick & Morty backstories are more comforting and stabilizing than say Catholicism or national politics, why wouldn't the kids latch onto it?

But I disagree that this is a generational divide -- the Trump-aged Q-anon nuts probably have flowcharts, too!

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 18 August 2021 02:00 (nine months ago) link

I agree that Rick and Morty backstory is more inspiring than Catholicism or American politics. I remember when the sauce craze broke out, someone commented that social aspirations seem meaningless, so people might as well aspire to get Rick and Morty sauce instead.

Kelpie, Wednesday, 18 August 2021 17:07 (nine months ago) link

three weeks pass...

They're going even more nuts for the finale episodes, even though all of the backstory revealed is stuff the fandom had figured out already. One fan said, "I don't care if there's no jokes, just give me the information!"

Kelpie, Thursday, 9 September 2021 22:23 (eight months ago) link

It occurs to me that you could be very lazy and rake in a ton of money by scrolling fan forums and stealing theories. Fans love it when their theories turn out to be canon. I wonder how many writers are doing exactly that.

Kelpie, Sunday, 12 September 2021 19:10 (eight months ago) link

two months pass...

Since Denis Villeneuve has been the subject of a number of posts here, I'm adding my impressions of Dune 2021.
I have never read the Frank Herbert novels. My only knowledge of the story comes from the David Lynch movie, which I adore.

So my impression of Villeneuve's film is.... WTF?

It's just a more austere and slower-paced redo of Lynch's film. I don't get it. If this is an accurate adaptation of the novel, then the novel's narrative is terrible.
The Harkonnen are simply evil in this telling, without even the driver of gleeful decadence. The Atreides clan go to Arrakis because they are ordered to go by the emperor. It's not their choice, they have no motive, everyone is just acting out their assigned role. Paul's arc is to follow magical dreams and fulfill prophecy. It's Lord of the Rings-level awful.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 2 December 2021 07:09 (five months ago) link

If the DV version casts Paul as the literal chosen one, that's a shame. It's very much not the intent of the novels.

https://www.brightwalldarkroom.com/2021/11/30/a-self-fulfilling-prophecy/

Blair Gilbreath, Friday, 3 December 2021 03:36 (five months ago) link

When the Duke dies, Paul is forced to take on the burden of becoming the new leader. In terms of drama, a moment like that is a rich opportunity for a hero to tackle the unsettling mix of emotions anyone would face. It is both a tragedy that the father is dead, but also the culmination point of the heir who has been groomed to rise to replace him. There's no sense of anything changing in Paul's attitude. I can't help but think of Orson Welles' Chimes at Midnight, when the boy becomes king and the sense of loss felt by Falstaff. There needed to be some sense that Paul had other interests which he has to sacrifice because the moment arrives too soon for him. There was none of that.

He is drawn to Chani because he saw her in his dreams. That's it. How about giving us some sense of her being an interesting person in her own right?

Peter Chung, Friday, 3 December 2021 05:36 (five months ago) link

When telling a story like this, if the viewer can't imagine things happening in a way other than what we see happening, everything feels preordained.

Here's a tip: to write a good story, the way the events unfold should be one of many imaginable paths, and ideally not the best one. In this movie, it's hard to think of how things could have unfolded in a way other than they did. The sudden attack doesn't feel like a tragedy or a crime because there really was no agenda the viewer was hoping to see carried out that the attack prevented.

Peter Chung, Friday, 3 December 2021 05:50 (five months ago) link

Thanks for posting the review. I was amused by the the writer's citing her love of Lord of the Rings as a way of understanding her attraction to the novel Dune.
As it relates to the topic of this thread, the love of lore is alien to me. I can't understand the idea of reading the sequel to a novel to find out what happened in the lives of fictional characters.

Peter Chung, Friday, 3 December 2021 06:29 (five months ago) link

I went into it expecting to dislike it (as I disliked BR2049 on two viewings, and thought Arrival was fun at first but dropped quickly as I had time away from it) but I loved it. I have read the book but also disliked that - it was 12 years ago, I remember nothing, and don't think I got any of the intended meaning about it being a deconstruction of white savior narratives or whatever.

Because of reading recently about Herbert's supposed intentions, I had a far more interesting perception of the events of the film. The Atreides are scumbag imperialists just like the Harkonnen. Paul I read as beginning to embrace the messiah thing because of the ego high this would naturally give to anyone. There are subtleties in Chalomet's performance that I believe indicate this, as well as little hints such as him supposedly "knowing their ways" - he knows their ways because he's been studying film strips in his room a lot, not because of an innate destiny. The people on Arrakis have been primed over centuries to expect a messiah, so they're ready to believe.

So to me it's more Lawrence of Arabia, which is about an egomaniac who acts like a god (with some skills and strategic/tactical knowledge to back it up), rather than a straightforward fantasy story. If it was the latter I'd lean towards agreeing with you on a lot of things.

The aesthetic also did work for me very well and I was sorry I didn't see it in IMAX.

J.P. McDevitt, Friday, 3 December 2021 08:08 (five months ago) link

three months pass...

A superb thread, with a lot of interesting discussion. It almost feels like we got the USC class for free.

Peter, when you say "art's function is to exercise the mind's capacity to find meaning" what's meant by "meaning"? A traffic light gives meaning but we don't call it art. Is there a specific sense of the word?

(My view is that art must be created with the intent to be art. Maybe that's tautological, but I don't believe that art can be "found", or is something that naturally exists. A person can drop LSD and gain deep cosmic realizations by staring at a plate of mashed potato. So what? It's not enough for something to have meaning - there has to be an active creative process for it to qualify as art.)

Coagulopath, Tuesday, 29 March 2022 21:22 (one month ago) link

re: Dune.

The books actually share some ideas with AF. "Okay, you're free. Now what?" It's about a person who becomes the chosen one, completes his Hero Quest(tm) and then has all the walls collapse in on him anyway. Paul's rise and fall in Dune Messiah has the air of a Shakespearian tragedy.

I haven't read them since I was 15. They're quite old and some of what they do (like lengthy expository monologues from inside the hero's head) certainly isn't in vogue these days. I think Dune was published within a couple years of Lord of the Rings.

The movie was good. Some great shots etc. Just relieved to see a SF movie that tries for a tone and doesn't ruin it with SNL comedian improv and "dialog" consisting of quips and one-liners.

Coagulopath, Tuesday, 29 March 2022 21:51 (one month ago) link


You must be logged in to post. Please either login here, or if you are not registered, you may register here.