Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Plots that cycle without resolution

Posted by lea at 3:23 PM
I just finished re-reading Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (it's been a few years since my first read so I didn't remember the ending when I picked it up again), and it reminded me, for some reason, of the George Clooney movie Up in the Air.

I enjoyed both stories, and the characters and plot trajectories are similar insofar as the main protagonists are comfortable in the somewhat semi-detached rut of their lives, and then something comes along to disturb that equilibrium, and they suddenly realise there's so much they're missing out on in life. Their characters awaken to the possibilities of new relationships and then just as they're about to make the inevitable life-changing decision, the situations reverse on them and suddenly they're back to where they started, but just that little bit worse off because now they're aware of what they're missing out on.

Both storytellers (Paul Torday, author of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and Jason Reitman, writer and director of Up in the Air) do a great job of setting up the story and developing the characters, but it's such a shame that just as you're ready to see them off in the next phase of their journeys, there's a sudden stall and they go nowhere. It's disappointing because you enjoy the ride so far, and you want to see them make the leap, but through no fault of their own, the climax they've been building up to suddenly implodes. Then the story ends, and where does that leave us readers/viewers?

I know this is more true to life sometimes than we might want to admit, but that's why we watch movies. I want resolution. I want the baddie to be caught, the good guy freed, the stuck-in-a-rut hero to be liberated. I want character growth. I want a happy ending (if it's appropriate). I want a good story. Don't build my hopes only to dash them. I can't make head or tail then as to whether I really like the movie/book or not.

I'm not asking for a Cinderella resolution to every story, but I hate getting emotionally invested only to see that investment go nowhere. Do plots without resolution bother you? Or is it just me that wants the tidy finish?

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