Willful Suspension of Disbelief: The temporary acceptance as believable of events or characters that would ordinarily be seen as incredible. This is usually to allow an audience to appreciate works of literature or drama that are exploring unusual ideas.
Let’s face it. Books and movies would be complete and utter snoozefests were it not for this handy little creative device. We’ve grown so accustomed to it in fact, that much of the time we don’t even realize we’re doing it. It begins when we’re children and books ripe with fire-breathing Dragons, wicked queens, sleeping princesses and frogs that turn into princes fill our bookshelves and imaginations. We come to accept early on that it is completely possible and even probable that a hungry monster actually lives beneath the bed or inhabits the closet.
As we grow and develop the ability to reason, we learn that these characters were simply the tenants of fairytales, recounted to us for the sole purposes of entertainment and moral direction. For the most part, we accept that our parents and teachers lied to us for years about talking animals and humans with supernatural powers. However, armed with this new and heartbreaking wisdom, we also realize that life just isn’t quite as fun without the world of imagination.
Therefore, we begin to exercise a willful acceptance of many things that are unlikely, unrealistic or downright impossible. Vampires creeping through our windows at night, space aliens attempting to invade earth or the notion that Tom Cruise really CAN act all become quite plausible if we want badly enough for them to be so. But as stated at the beginning of this post, oftentimes we exercise the willful suspension of disbelief with such regularity, we have a tendency to forget when we’re actually doing it.
Take the movie Ted for example. For those unfamiliar, Ted is a 2012 American comedy about a young boy, John Bennett, who wanted nothing more than for his beloved teddy bear, Ted, to come to life. Incredibly, his wish is granted. But once John is all grown up, his boyhood dream becomes a nightmarish nuisance.
OK… so cute premise, right? I thought so. And I bugged Lee about going to see it forever. He eventually agreed and off we went to the theater to settle in for a couple of hours of (hopefully) laughter at the ridiculously implausible story of an all-grown-up talking teddy bear. Except that about 30 minutes in I realized that something was really bothering me about this movie and thus interfering with my enjoyment of it.
It is revealed that John—who lives in Boston—is employed at a rental car facility and barely scraping by on his meager $38,000 a year salary and yet, has an amazing apartment right downtown. I found myself agonizing over the “realism” of Ted’s owner affording such a beautiful brownstone (did I mention that it was in Boston?) decorated with the latest trends from Ethan Allen and Pier One.
It bugged me so much, in fact, that I decided when the movie was over, to complain to Lee about how unrealistic I felt that particular part of the story was. To which he slowly and calmly replied: “Yes, Joanna, I agree. That is an unsettling and unrealistic aspect of the movie… <LONG PAUSE FOR EFFECT> … because the idea of a real, live talking teddy bear is totally realistic.”