Monday, January 8, 2018

A trope I wish I could switch off

The thing I'm going to discuss today is something I've seen in a hundred, maybe a thousand, movies before.

Because I saw it twice in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, then Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri gets dinged for it.

It's that moment where a character sees a news broadcast about themselves or some topic in which they are intimately invested ... and stops watching it before the broadcast is over. They don't just walk away, they turn off the TV altogether. (Usually perfectly at the end of a sentence, of course.)

Now I don't want to say I'm like Donald Trump in any way except us both being male, white and American. But I am like him in the fact that if there were a news telecast about me -- any news telecast, saying anything -- I'd be obsessed by what it had to say. Never in a million years would I dream of turning it off. I might even wait through a few commercial breaks to see if they happened to return to the subject of me.

So it's obviously nothing but a screenwriting convenience that the characters in movies, who are presumably not that much less obsessive than Donald Trump is or than I am, would be actively averse to hearing the entirety of the news report about them.

Straining credibility even further is that the characters watching these news reports are often wanted by the police, or something similarly urgent that might necessitate an entire viewing of the piece in question. Are the police hot on your trail? Do they have any leads? Is the woman you killed still dead? You'd want to know these things. You wouldn't want to turn off the TV.

The stakes aren't quite as high for the characters in Three Billboards. The person the police are pursuing, or not pursuing, in this movie is not one of the characters. But three different characters do, at one point or another, watch a news report about themselves: Frances McDormand's Mildred Hayes, Woody Harrelson's Sheriff Bill Willoughby and Sam Rockwell's Officer Jason Dixon. Quaint, the idea that so many people still watch the local news.

Anyway, if memory serves, the only one of these three who does not turn the TV off is Dixon, the racist hick who lives with his mother and believes in intimidating suspects. The other two "more enlightened" characters (though each have their flaws) are content to silence the talking box and slip into ponderous thought.

Donald Trump and Jason Dixon. Great guys to have character traits in common with, Vance.

No comments: