Movies and Realism? Are you kidding me?

Some days ago James added a comment to my review of Pixar’s Up. Well, normally I wouldn’t reply to a comment via a post but by a comment myself but I think that James raised an interesting point about which I never really wrote about: movies and realism. Basically James called my criticism of Up uncalled-for because Up is not meant for realism (or written realistic) but more about the feelings of the main characters.

Okay. I get his point but he also totally misses my point because…

Since when did I ever care about realism in a movie?

I don’t know if I ever truly wrote it on this blog, but to me a movie is per se not realistic. It cannot be.  It’s impossible. Period. Therefore I say: realism in every movie is a fake. Realism cannot be in a movie. Realism is impossible to achieve.

If you head over to Wikipedia it states that realism in the arts is the depiction of subjects as they appear in everyday life without interpretation. Basically you could call a movie realistic if its characters appear normal and don’t sprout wings or believe they can walk in a straight line.

This definition is quite good and almost reaches the point I am for some years now when it comes to movies and realism. Basically my take is this: even if the characters or the story appear realistic it isn’t because a writer wrote it, a director directed it and so on. To me, on a practical level, a movie ceases being realistic with the first cut since a cut changes either position or time or both.

Of course, there are too many faults in my theory about realism and movies to count. If you like you can gladly point them out in the comments.

But you know what?

Thanks to this take of mine, I really don’t give a shit if a movie is realistic or not because to me it cannot be. As a result I care about only one thing: can a movie make me smile about what I am watching? Can a movie surprise me? Or in other words: can a movie entertain me? Realism is not important, it’s the impression or impact.

In all those years of watching hundreds if not thousands of movies I came to this obvious but basic conclusion with my own formulated theory you read above.

And you know what? With this take I am someone you can basically throw anything at.

I gladly take it.

I am someone who is a genius at the thing called “suspension of disbelief”. But don’t dare to throw at me the same shit I watched thousands of times already. And don’t dare to throw at me a shitty story that makes no sense.

What’s important here is the strict distinction of the words “realism” and “sense”. With a story making “sense” I basically mean sense in the context of the universe the writer/movie established and fleshed out. For example: a movie can play on a planet without gravity. If the story is great I love this crazy idea. But if at one moment the people start walking it’s a moment where the story officially starts to make no sense anymore. Okay, the example is way beyond bad…

Let me go back to Pixar’s Up to give you a better example. The first twenty or thirty minutes Up established a rather normal universe, you could say Up strived for serious realism. I even wrote about this fact in my review. Up is one of Pixar’s most serious movies to date in which you can see an old man struggle against the harsh realities of life including lawyers.

I also mentioned in my review that they could have made the take off of Carl’s house one of the most poetic moments in the history of cinema since this is some kind of outbreak/outburst in an otherwise lifeless and harsh universe. As you can see, I didn’t care about realism here at all. (Ok, you could say realism was still at work here, since it’s not totally impossible to fly a house with balloons (Mythbusters, your take), but I in this context I go for the “everyday life” of said definition) I totally accepted this idea and wanted the movie even go farther than it did.

But the dogs? Way different story here. The dogs were and still are one of the major faults of Up to me. They simply don’t fit in (neither did this crazy bird). To me, this would have been something completely different if they did one simple thing: establish it early on. At one moment in Up they showed a documentary about the hero of Carl. In this segment they could have added the talking dogs or at least have established the point that the guy was a genius in any way possible who claimed to have succeeded in letting dogs talk. You know, something like that. But they didn’t. And hence, the talking dogs jumped out of nowhere. It’s like watching a comedy in which suddenly Michael Myers jumps out of the bushes. It doesn’t fit. The tones don’t fit. To me this was the point the movie officially began to fall apart.

My criticism has nothing to do with realism. It completely has to do with consistency.

I could continue to write on, also in regard to James’ comment in my review, but the post is long enough already.  Well, I hope I at least could shed some light on my take on moves and the way I see them and my take on the word “realism”.

Do you think there is some truth in my take or is this complete nonsense? Let us know!


  • What? No, When I think of realism I think of non-professional (not in all cases) actors chosen from areas or generations that the storyline is about or set in. I think of ad-libbing lines and improvisation for a natural feel. Less use of props and shooting on location as opposed to using props, CGI and shooting in a studio. You see how more films can be more realistic than others? That’s realism. You are taking it to the extreme. You seem to be taking it black and white and too literally.

    • Gunther Heinrich

      You are absolutely right, of course I take it too literally. That’s the whole point of the post I wanted to make: you cannot achieve true realism in a movie because it’s – in my eyes and put to the extreme – technically impossible. Therefore I am someone you can throw anything at. If it’s good,, I don’t care about realism or similar stuff like realistic physics.

      Movies can be more realistic than others, that’s a given. But a movie can never be absolutely realistic or achieve true realism in my opinion. Therefore my point is that a movie shouldn’t try to achieve it too hard. In a way you even prove my point, because you describe a more realistic movie using non-professional actors and less props. So a normal scene doesn’t have a normal person talking but an actor acting.

      A totally realistic movie in the end only is a fake that feels realistic or more realistic than other fakes. Let’s take another example: even if a scene feels realistic you can be sure that they filmed it several times and the editor used the best version of them.

      Of course, you can call those movies realistic as they’re depicting objects as they appear in real life. But as I’ve written above, I’ve went some steps further than that during the years.

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