05 April 2011

Internal Consistency

There have some good movies out recently in the speculative fiction genre. I must admit, I'm a bit of a movie geek and can tell you more than you want to know about movies like Blade Runner. One thing I loved about Blade Runner, and another Philip-K.-Dick-inspired movie Total Recall, was the ambiguity at the end. What really happened? My friends and I enjoyed debating the issue at length. We had similar debates about Inception. (What do you think happened at the end?) When I saw Limitless I was really struck by how much it reminded me of the classic science fiction story "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes. This, in turn made me ponder the similarities and differences of short fiction and movies...

Ambiguity at the end of movies can be very good. Ambiguity at the end of short stories I am more ambivalent about; I would have to take that on a case-by-case basis. One thing that absolutely does not work in movies or short fiction is internal inconsistency. Sadly, some recent movies may not be internally consistent. While enjoyable, The Adjustment Bureau (also influenced by Philip K. Dick's 1954 "Adjustment Team"!) doesn't seem entirely consistent. Do people have free will or are they controlled by The Adjustment Bureau's plan? I don't want to give anything away but if this plot was submitted to ElectricSpec, I'm not sure it would succeed.

A more serious consistency issue may be associated with The Source Code. Again, I don't want to give anything away because this apocalyptic Groundhog Day is enjoyable. But it's unclear if activating the source code brings the protagonist in the past to an alterate reality and/or an alternate timeline and what reality/timeline the source code affects. If there are different timelines/realities how can they interact and affect one another? As you may guess from my remarks, this one's a real mind-bender. I would have to say I would've rejected this plot if we'd gotten it in the slush. (If anyone understood the movie, I welcome your comments.)

My advice to ElectricSpec writers is: Make sure your stories are internally-consistent!


Ed Robertson said...

Spoilers (major ones) for Source Code:

My understanding of it is that the scientist believes they're not going back in time at all, they're just sending Gyllenhaal back to a sort of interactive mental movie with no connection or repercussions to the timeline.

But Gyllenhaal thinks they're wrong. In the end, he proves that what he does when he's under can alter the past, implying he is being sent back in time rather to that closed-loop memory-space.

What's unclear to me is what would happen afterwards.. if Vera Farmiga turns him off, does he die and cease to exist everywhere? Or does he go on somehow occupying his host body? Either way, what happens to that guy? Presumably Gyllenhaal dies, the guy whose body he's been occupying regains control of himself, etc., but that's far from spelled out.

lesleylsmith said...

Thanks, Ed!
I think you're right about what the scientist thinks: it's some kind of closed-loop memory-space.
I agree, too, that Gyllenhaal's character thinks they're wrong.

The ending is confusing on many levels, IMHO. Did Farmiga's character turn him off? In what timeline? And, yes, what the heck happened to the poor host body guy!!!! I think the movie-makers were trying to imply that Gyllenhaal's character does live and get some kind of happy ending.

Trisha said...

Blade Runner is one of my all-time fave films! I also wrote about it for some essays/my thesis at uni :D

A.L. Sirois said...

What Ed said. My wife, Grace, and I saw Source Code this week and really enjoyed it. I don't mind a big of ambiguity... for one thing, it is thought-provoking. Now, Grace is no lover of sf, even though she can write it quite well -- as our co-authored story A Delivery of Cheesesteaks on Flash Fiction Online shows... though the story idea was mine, most of the cool sf stuff in it is hers! (It's an excerpt from a book we are working on.)

For one thing, Source Code is wonderfully well constructed and if nothing else, an aspiring writer can learn a great deal about how to put together a story from it.