• Gina Denny

Fidelity vs. Reality

I was dragged to a movie the other night.

(Sidebar: the movie started at 10:30. AT NIGHT.) (Double sidebar: Yes, I’m that old, and please tell me you get that reference.)

The movie we went to see was Jack Reacher. I was interested in seeing it, it looked entertaining, and it came highly recommended. The couple we went with had actually already seen it in the theaters, and were willing to pay to see it in the theaters again.

The only movie I’ve done this with in the last decade is Les Miserables. So that’s a big deal in my book.

The movie was… meh. Some weird photography decisions (all the close ups! on all the things!), some melodramatic acting, only two female characters in the whole movie, and some really bad one liners. The fight scenes were entertaining, there was some funny stuff, and the twists were not too shabby.

My problem was with the fidelity of the story.

Within the world the story was set in (which happened to be modern day Pittsburgh, a place I can identify with, even if I’ve never lived there) there were certain rules set, and the story did not play by those rules. For example:

– A cop asks after a guy who “could kill a girl with one punch.” The answer? Tom Cruise’s character. To clarify: when asked who in the area was capable of killing a young woman with his bare hands, the person figured a fifty-year-old, five-foot-seven, clean cut, well dressed, well mannered guy was the killer.

– In Pittsburgh (metro area population: 2.4 million), there is ONE auto parts store that everyone thinks of first. When we arrive at that one, single, solitary auto parts store in the middle of the day, there is nobody shopping there. In a big city, there is ALWAYS a customer in your store. If you’re the only store in town, then there would be a LOT of customers in the store.

– A woman was raised by the District Attorney, but becomes a pacifist, idealist, criminal defense attorney. That is a contradiction. I can believe contradictions.


– That woman also drives an expensive Mercedes convertible and wears designer suits.

So which is it? Is she fighting against the man, or is she working for money? The likelihood of all of these being the same person is… slim. And while it might be possible, it makes me not believe in the character. It takes me out of the story.

– Most (and I do mean most, as in, a majority) of the dialog in this movie was made up of catchphrases, cliches, and one liners. People just don’t speak to each other that way. Was it funny? Sometimes. Was it true to the world they were operating in? Not even a little bit. 

After the movie was over, we debriefed. The other couple was really, really, really upset at me pointing out these flaws. Their response?

“Oh, you can watch Harry Potter with the magic and the unicorns, but you can’t believe this???”

And that’s where people get lost: the difference between FIDELITY and REALITY.

I can suspend belief and enjoy things that are obviously NOT REAL. Harry Potter, World War Z, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Avengers… really, this list goes on and on. Even in the absence of reality, these stories still have fidelity. Within the world that was built by the creator – the author, the comic book writers, the screenwriters, whatever – there are certain rules. So long as the story plays by those rules it has fidelity.

You can be UNREAL and still have FIDELITY.  Even in fantasy stories, there are times the storyteller unveils a critical piece of information far too late in the game (Harry Potter treads the line here), or adds a twist, or has a character do something that doesn’t make sense. Even within these fantastical worlds, people still interact in expected ways. Teenaged boys are awkward around pretty girls, people fight for things that matter to them, sometimes people are cowardly or clumsy or just plain stupid. We expect those things and we relate to them because they are grounded in reality, and they are consistent with the way people really act.

I know there are a million examples of movies, books, and TV shows that do not have fidelity (on Friends, did anybody wonder how Rachel-the-waitress or Phoebe-the-often-unemployed afforded designer clothes and big, gorgeous apartments?).

What are some of the worst examples you’ve seen?

Do you agree that fidelity and reality are two separable concepts?

Can you believe a story, despite it not having fidelity? 


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