Monday, January 1, 2007


What do I mean when I say "floating"?

Sometimes when we are watching a movie or TV show, we are not precisely sure who's who. Floating is the act of just going with the flow and hoping or assuming that one of several things will happen:

1) eventually the character in doubt will say or do something that makes it clear who it is.
2) you'll never know who that is, but it won't matter to the plot.
3) context will make it clear.

This often works out well. For instance, let's pretend there's a new live-action version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Snow White is talking to Doc, and there's a short individual next to them who isn't saying anything. The shortness makes it pretty clear, that's another dwarf. But which one???

Take a deep breath. For "floating" to be effective, you can't be anxiously worrying about it, or you'll forget to pay attention and miss something. So just stay calm (after all, it's just a movie!) and wait.

Soon context helps you out. Finishing up their conversation, Doc says, "Sneezy will show you to your room!" Then Snow White leaves with that unnamed dwarf -- it must be Sneezy. So that's sorted. But wait, lurking behind the kitchen wall is a jealous-looking dwarf. Who is it? Context tells you it's not Doc or Sneezy, as they're elsewhere, and besides, this one is wearing different clothes. Suddenly, the dwarf has a narcoleptic moment and falls to the floor, snoring. So, signs point to Sleepy.

Now another dwarf working in the kitchen rushes to help Sleepy get to bed! Who was that!?! You don't know, and you don't get any context clues to help you. But precisely which dwarf helped Sleepy to bed never ends up mattering to the plot. So if later in the movie you happen to figure it out, so much the better, but if you don't, oh well.

I'm not explaining all this as an instruction manual; I'm sure you already do this. What I'm trying to say is that if you can allow the movie to be ambiguous and let yourself figure it out, or not, without stressing about it, the movie can be fun despite its being hard to understand. But if you realize that you've stumbled into a movie that's hard for FB people to figure out and you then panic, you're not going to have any fun at all.

This sort of ambiguity resolution can take a lot of mental effort. I was exhausted after floating through Dreamgirls. But some movies have just one or two pairs of "twins" and allowing yourself to float through a movie like that, figuring things out where you can and not worrying a lot where you can't, could let you enjoy a show you otherwise wouldn't have.

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