Failing to Suspend Your Disbelief

As fans of Sci-Fi and fantasy stories, we have all developed the skill of suspending our disbelief in some of the more fantastical elements of the stories we enjoy. We read a fantasy story and don't ask why the spell works when you say funny words. When we read a Sci-Fi story, we don't ask how a ship can be powered by a black hole. For some TV shows, we don't ask why people want to live in a town that has an enormous fatality rate (R.E. Sunnydale, Eureka, or any place that Jessica Fletcher lives.) We either accept or intentionally overlook these strange elements so that we can enjoy the stories.

But there comes a time, even in the the best of our favorite stories, where some event or explanation smacks your suspension of disbelief into a wall and you are hit with an "OH, COME ON! What are you thinking?" moment (I'll call it the "OCO!" moment to save space). The moment can take you out of the scene and turn a serious story into a parody. In the worst cases, it is called "Nuking the Fridge".

This moment hit me recently on an episode of Eureka. I am okay with a small town populated with geniuses, where the town mayor is a former Shuttle engineer, astrophysist, biologist, coroner, and has enough free time to make electronic, invisible biomasks for dozens of people. I'm okay with a computer that was created 20 years before being smart enough make a living clone computer from the stray cells of one of the people who created a ship that can travel near the speed of light. But my "OCO!" came in an episode when people were drowning in strange places. The reason? "Artificial Water." OCO! Water, the molecule that is made of two Hydrogen and one Oxygen atom can have an artificial source? You can mix Hydrogen and Oxygen gases and add a spark, and you'll get "Artificial" water. And guess what? IT'S STILL WATER. If what you have isn't H2O, then it isn't water! It won't act like water, it won't contract with special radiation, it isn't water.

Excuse me, I have to enter my quiet place for a moment to calm down and de-rant.

I'm better now.

Anyway, it got me thinking, what is it that will take a person out of the story and give then an "OCO!" moment? It is something that will be different for each person. Based on our experiences and backgrounds, each of us will look at the same story with different eyes. We respond to the story elements we know are wrong or are logically inconsistent. Most doctors can spot problems in medical shows, most military people can spot problems with how military personnel act, and you will probably find that many professionals don't care for shows that supposedly are about their profession. Sometime these "OCO!" moments are due to the writers' lack of familiarity with the subject (even if there are technical advisers on the show). Other times it's just something about us. But that doesn't mean that everyone else can't enjoy the show, and many people do. Even when you can spot serious problems with a story, you can still suspend your disbelief to enjoy the rest of the show. And sometimes we laugh at those moments, and that makes the show more fun. A friend of mine reads and watches a lot of Sci-Fi and Fantasy stories. With all of that, he hates the movies Excaliber and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. He says that he can't buy anything about those stories; they're too weird for him. But I love both of those movies and I can't pin down what is weirder about those stories compared to the other stories that he reads.

So, take a moment and share your favorite "OCO!" moment and why it broke the story for youย in the talkback.

10 Responses to "Failing to Suspend Your Disbelief"
  1. mymatedave says:

    Well for one, the fourth Die Hard movie, it ended up completely rediculous.

    To go slightly off topic though, there’s also movies that start from the position of having nuked the fridge. Ones that don’t pretend to make sense and are there simply to entertain action junkies.

    Crank with Jason Statham and Shoot ‘Em Up with Clive are two of them. There’s no higher meaning to them than to entertain.

  2. Casilda says:

    I know that the fridge bit in the most recent Indiana Jones movie bothered most everyone (I was OK with it), but a few other things really bothered me, no, almost angered me. Mariachi music is from Mexico. Cuzco is in Peru. They are not the same place! They were not part of the same precolombian civilizations! Admittedly, this falls under the “my profession” rationale of non suspension of disbelief, but really, it’s like assuming “Africa” is totally the same everywhere. It’s not. That kind of cultural inaccuracies are rampant in most American productions that deal with other parts of the world, and the error-riddled cultural tourism/exploitation really bothers me.

    Re: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon – I loved that movie and had no issues with suspension of disbelief, but my partner at the time absolutely hated it. I recall a really unpleasant fight about it, too…

  3. Sean says:

    Mine happens with most episodes of CSI. David Caruso stares, brooding, at an image and says, “Can you enhance the image? Zoom in on the reflection of the glasses please.”

    Enhance WHAT?! It’s a 320×240 bank camera, there’s nothing to enhance! What, do you want to see those 4 pixels bigger on the screen? Yeah I’ll have that “enhanced” for ya in a jiffy.

    [Clear blue sky, clear blue sky]

    Ok, better now.

  4. SirCastor says:

    A common misconception people have is this idea of “image compression”. All cameras everywhere shoot in 3000px^2, and that image quality is maintained throughout the life and distribution of the image. It’s only revealed if needed by investigative forces. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Audra says:


    One of my favorites recently was in National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets, where they find Olmec artifacts underground in…..wait for it…. South Dakota! ๐Ÿ˜‰ That’s like finding Navajo artifacts in Haiti.

    Anyway, I often don’t mind over the top stuff if it’s intended to be that way (and I didn’t have a problem with CT, HD – in fact, I thought it was awesome). Sometimes it’s just funny, like in Blues Brothers in the classic car-chase-through-the-mall scene, and the Bluesmobile comes flying through the air at a 45-degree angle and lands without a scratch. It’s only when the movie has the air of one taking itself seriously – then I tend to hold it to task.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Bringing dead people back who were ATOMIZED TO ITTY BITTY BITS usually does it to me. Darla on Angel and Aeryn and John and fetus on Farscape–’nuff said.

  7. ATGreat says:

    Audra reminded me of an OCO! moment I had with ‘National Treasure’. (Besides having a massive underground vault in the middle of Mahattan Island.) The main character is playing around with the funny glasses and sees a clue. Later in the movie, he goes back to the document, plays with the glasses again and sees ANOTHER clue! What was he doing wrong the first time that he didn’t see the clue before?!?!?

  8. Audra says:

    topgun: Ha, ha. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    ATGreat: If I remember correctly, one time he looked through the colored lenses individually, one at a time, and the other through some different combination of colors that revealed the second clue.

  9. Stroogie says:

    Sean: The worst thing about those OCO moments in CSI is that they’re being created by special effects artists who work with digital images for a living and ought to know better. It’s like a doctor telling a writer on a medical show: “Swap his heart out with a chicken’s? Sure, we do it all the time!”

  10. Armando says:

    I don’t mind the digital images problems on CSI: Miami because that whole show seems to be done for camp value (“Tell you what I’m gonna do.”) It’s when the device is used in otherwise serious shows (say, CSI:New York or Bones, which has that 3-D imaging spectroscope or whatever they call it which is either beyond any technology available to man at the moment or a breach of national security to include it on that show). Frankly, I have a hard time with mysteries that rely too much on techie solutions. I’m more of a fan of the Law and Order shows and that ilk, where it’s good detective work that catches the crook, not some fancy machine.

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