Ted and The Willful Suspension of Disbelief

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.”


29 thoughts on “Ted and The Willful Suspension of Disbelief

  1. But wasn’t the guy living together with his girlfriend. Maybe she makes an amazing amount of money 😉

    As for the movie I was slightly disappointed by it. There just weren’t enough jokes…

    • Yes, I think he did move in with her (though they don’t show him doing it) and now that you mention it… she had the REALLY amazing job and apartment but I remember he lived in a brownstone too and it bugged me that he could never afford that on his salary. What a stupid thing to get hung up on! 😉

      We actually were enjoying it but a freak wind storm came along that day across Ohio and parts of the northeast, knocking out power for days. We ended up missing half the movie and we still haven’t finished it. The vouchers for a free movie are still hanging on the bulletin board in the kitchen! So my opinon of the overall movie has not yet been solidified. Waiting for it to come on HBO now 😛

  2. Ha! It’s a shame the older we get the harder it is to suspend our realism simply for the sake of enjoying a movie or a book. I wanted to see Ted in theaters, but I never had the chance. I’ll have to wait until it comes out on DVD or something.

    • Yes, wait for the DVD. I am waiting for it to come on HBO b/c we actually didn’t make it through the entire movie. Not because it sucked or anything… but b/c we had a freakish windstorm that day that knocked out the power during the movie. And it was out for well over a week! We still have the vouchers at home.

  3. I’m totally with you. Way I see it, if wilful suspension of disbelief applies to the big things you need some basic plausibility to the rest of it, attention to the details, otherwise it gets a bit jarring and looks like the film-makers weren’t paying attention/were just a bit thick. And if they don’t care, why should you?

    It’s probably the single most irritating thing about films like Prometheus – we’re asked to swallow that ‘god’ is essentially Jason Statham (bald, grunts a lot, likes hitting people) but also a lot of inconsistent, implausible junk, clear mistakes and general unmitigated bullshit, which the Lost writer and Scott will pretend were deliberate all along come tedious sequel time.

    To be fair, whatever else people might say about the lad, Tom Cruise is a pretty gifted actor with a decent range – his turn in Magnolia, Collateral? Not the best film in the world – HI! I’m Tom, I’m a shadowy assassin who depends on anonymity for my livelihood, of course I’ll open fire in a crowded nightclub full of CCTV cameras, that’s TOTALLY in keeping with my character and job description. Hey, it’s your point about WSD again.

    Good piece by the way, I liked it.

    • Thank you Dr. Frood! I’m glad you enjoyed it! And yes, to be fair… he has made some interesting and entertaining movies. But it is usually the movie or screenplay itself (in my opinion) that is the interesting premise. I always wonder (while watching a “good” movie with TC in it) whether or not I’d like it more if someone else were playing his part.

  4. When I saw that movie, there was a guy there who had brought his, I don’t know, 10-year-old kid? He was right next to us and every time there was offensive language (constantly) he would get more and more uncomfortable and you’d hear him muttering, “Your mother’s going to kill me.”

    I notice that thing about real estate in movies and TV all the time. Think for a second about Monica and Rachel’s apartment in Friends. It was huge and apparently close to Central Park and Rachel was a waitress and Monica was an intermitently employed caterer/chef?

  5. Just watched this movie with your dad and did the same thing…I thought something was a slip-up and your dad thought the whole movie was just that. And why was I concerned about one little thing. But it can be distracting and then you lose interest in the whole story.

  6. Donald Miller says:

    It’s funny that you mention Tom Cruise. Although I think he has done some fine acting at times Rain Man, for instance), he’s also been in some absolute rip-offs. I remember going to Mission Impossible II with someone. It got off to an outstanding start. There’s thins long-distance shot of a man scaling the side of a monolith’s cliff in Arizona. In fact there were twin monoliths. Anyway, as they zoom in closer, I’m actually squirming in my seat. It’s truly a scary sight. I’m buying it one hundred percent. THEN for no reason whatsoever, he (Tom Cruise) leaps to the other cliff and begins doing various and sundry gymnastic fetes between the two monoliths. So, of course now, I realize that I’m just watching some jackass actor with a bluescreen behind him, making as ass of himself. I sat there and smoldered through the remainder of that awful movie.

  7. Donald Miller says:

    This Ted guy comes along at just the right time for me. I have the beginnings of a site called “My Alternate Reality”. It is of course based upon Calvin and his stuffed bear Hobbes. Unlike most comedy shows and other attempts on TV and in the movies to copy Calvin & Hobbes, must producers don’t have the courage to swing for the fences. It’s a cute idea — little kid with a real “imaginary” tiger. But Calvin ain’t no ordinary kid: he’s bright, imaginative, creative, and at some fundamental level, deeply disturbed. In other words one cannot stereotype Calvin, for he is one of a kind. He’s likable, but he done’t have all of the listings that the producers like to see. He can be selfish (like what six year old, except the ones in “Peanuts” (besides Lucy) arent’. Calvin can be mean, and he can be vindictive. But he also shows signs of Dimensia Precox. One day he’s taking great care in making little characters from TV. His mom starts complimenting him and then she lets out an “Ewwww, You sewed their MouthS toGETher!!”

    Well, that a “Profile” of Calvin. I use him as my alter ego on a site I call My Alternate Reality. I love that comic strip. It is brilliant, and it can be cute and all warm and fuzzy.

    So, I was dithering over whether I should go for it or not, and now I’m thinking, maybe I should. The site that this links goes to is under construction, though its first post has been published. It’s called Learner: Open Course Scholar. Learner for short. Along the right hand side of the screen down just a little ways ids the link to My Alternate Reality, also under construction.

  8. Yeah, but the idea of the talking teddy bear was given to the viewer as teh one crazy thing you had to believe. And you coudl believe it because some kid made a wish and oh, wishes really can come true. But they didn’t mention anything about the kid’s wish also covering the expense of a really expensive place when the guy makes no money. So it’s a pretty decent criticism of the movie!

  9. JT says:

    I haven’t seen the movie and don’t plan on it. But you have to admit that it is somewhat bizarre to watch a movie or television for that matter and then try to pick and choose what parts are believable. I have to admit I rarely watch TV or movies but on occasion when I do it is a foregone conclusion that my brain will turn off during the experience to the point that if you ask me about the movie 2 weeks later most of the time I struggle to remember if I even saw it! (this drives my wife crazy 🙂 )

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