A few days ago I decided to make a list of my favorite movies, around a hundred in all. This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment deal, I’d made a list several years ago, but I put it on some older type of media, like a 3 1/2 or 5 1/4 inch disk, or perhaps a Zip disk, and now the computer I’m using won’t read any of that media, so it’s essentially out of reach. That means I had to make another list and generate it all over again from scratch. I’ve got about 60 titles so far.
If you looked at the title of today’s blog, you might just assume that “It’s a Wonderful Life” is on the list, maybe even at the top. Well, it’s not. Either place. Were I to make a second list of the movies that didn’t make my top 100, that movie might be on it. The reason it’s not in my top 100 is because there’s one thing I’ve never been entirely satisfied with in that movie. After Clarence (the angel sent to Earth to help George Bailey with his troubles) takes George into an alternate reality in which George has never been born, George runs around trying to make sense of it all, never believing that Clarence really had the power to make it happen. George never believes it. Personally, I’ve always found this section of the movie a little unbelievable.
But not that Clarence couldn’t do it; I can accept the premise of the movie that Clarence has the power to make that kind of transition, I just never accepted George’s insistence on not believing it. I can understand his reluctance to believe it at first, but after a few hours of being confronted with the fact that no one in the town of Bedford Falls knows him, remembers him, or cares about him, and everything, including the town name, has been changed, his insistence on continuing to not believe it seems dreadfully unlikely. Were I in George’s position, I’m sure I’d come to the eventual conclusion that something has really happened, and then I’d probably play along with Clarence and at least act like I believed it.
Recently I’ve seen some of the old Twilight Zone episodes from the 1950s and 1960s (yes, I know how long ago that was–the episodes are in black-and-white) where a character has been transformed in some way, and so often the writers of the episode push–like George Bailey–believability to the limits and force the character into more and more unrealistic situations. It seems to me the average person will begin to realize he’s been ripped from his usual life and forced into something else reasonably soon after it happens. At that point, he’d stop and try to figure out how to get back, or if that isn’t possible, how to live within the new situation instead of continuing to fight it like good ol’ George.
Believability is important in a work of fiction; even events and people in science fiction have to have a ring of authenticity to them. The reader has to be immersed in a consistent, credible plot line in order for the story to work in his brain, alternate reality or not. On the other hand, if a character does act weird, there’d better be a damn good explanation.