Aaron Smith’s Response Journal


Sincerity in Fantasy Narratives

JJ had an interesting response to last week’s screening, raising the question, “what makes a successful fantasy story?” In terms of fantasies, Lost and Simple Men are at opposite ends of the spectrum. While Lost is about ordinary people who are placed in extraordinary circumstances, Simple Men is about extraordinary people within a painfully ordinary world. Put another way, Lost’s fantasy stems from external forces (a mysterious island) whereas Simple Men’s fantastical elements lie in the characters’ exaggerated expressions of their internal struggles, their over the top existentialism and wacky interactions.

The viewer’s emotional and cognitive involvement is much different in each of these cases. As JJ points out, Lost ‘craves the ‘what if’ scenario,’ primarily focusing on the secrets of the mythology. Certainly, the show is quite manipulative in how it tells the story, utilizing formal play and cliffhangers. But what I find so appealing is how many times I must re-conceptualize the storyworld. The question suddenly goes from “what if I were stranded on an island” to “what if I was stranded on an island where a paralyzed person could now walk?” In Lost, after learning new story information, the audience must reevaluate their mental construction of the world and consequently form a new one. As a result, because the rules of Lost change so drastically and frequently, the world is always in flux; we never fully understand it.

Conversely, the world of Simple Men is well defined from the very beginning with its strange characters and purposely bad dialogue. (granted Lost is a TV show) The narrative of Simple Men seems to be less concerned with “what will happen next?” as it is with “what will the character do/say next?” And here’s where the film disengages me: In a fantasy story, I don’t want to be merely an observer who examines odd characters; I want that sensation of being taken to another place.

In Delicatessen, I could accept the eccentric characters because I attributed their oddities as a product of the fantastical external forces. That is, the world was so different from the one I knew that I was able to justify any strange or abnormal activity. Simple Men provided me no explanation as to why the characters were so bizarre. (I’m guessing that’s why many people like it) So once I recognized what made each character weird, there was nothing left for me to do except just watch them.

Anyway, JJ makes a great point when she says, “I’m just into the concept of constructing a storyworld and owning its insincerity. That’s the only way it ultimately becomes sincere.” This is an important issue because narrative is, by definition, an insincere process. An author organizes the plot in a certain way, manipulating the story for a desired effect. Simple Men deals with this deception by calling attention to the constructed storyworld. (favoring diegesis.) Conversely, Lost seems to embrace narrative trickery as a means to increase immersion, or at least engagement. Either way, I think what matters most is the desired effect, what you get out of the narrative. And if I’m satisfied with that answer, I guess I don’t mind insincerity at all.




  1. Julia
    September 29th, 2008 | 5:39 pm


    Good follow up. I think the reasons for our opposing opinions and tastes help to clarify some underlying preference when it comes to fantasy. For me, I guess its more in the process, and for you its in the outcome. The fact that the fantasy is sufficiently constructed and has the ability to suck you in is completely valid, and something I appreciate when its really outlandish or mixed with realism- like, for example, the Neverending Story or The Dark Knight. But its not as important for me to be transported, maybe just shown my own reality in a fantastical way. But again, I don’t mind taking a ride on Falcor’s back to see the childlike empress, its just that I also like the hoaky 80s special effects. The scenery showing through is a key part for me, whereas I think you’d prefer it to remain, effectively, where it usually is; in the background.

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