Where does your ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ stop?

Reading the ‘https://boards.straightdope.com/t/so-which-fictional-vigilante-hero-would-be-plausible/945462’ got me thinking in the other direction— what plot elements make you say no, uh uh, not gonna do it, and take you out of a TV show or movie?

For an example of what I can suspend my disbelief for, Iron Man was mentioned early on in the vigilante thread. I enjoyed the Iron Man movies and the character in general. If I really wanted to, I could find weaknesses in his ‘plot armor’. For example, if Tony Stark is thrown against a building or his feet rockets fail and he falls hundreds of feet to the ground, his armor is not going to stop his brain from sloshing against the inside of his skull like jello. But heck, I don’t know, maybe Tony build some inertial damping technology into the suit. In any case, I can deal with Iron Man.

Bu to take another Marvel movie as the opposite example, I could not watch all of the second Thor movie. It involved Thor fighting all manner of creatures and weird foes in Asgard using magic. I seem to remember a lot of colorful energy beams and such. No thanks. Magic (or magick? Real magic as opposed to tricks), I can’t deal with. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. So no sword and sorcery for me. The sword part is fine. I could tolerate ‘Game of Thrones’ only because it had much more of the former than the latter.

Another thing I can’t stand is the “something terrible or weird happens to a main character but it turns out to be just a bad dream” trope. And not just because it’s badly overused, especially in horror movies, but because nobody dreams they are watching themselves. They experience a dream in first person mode, as they would normally. At least, I always do, and I imagine most people do as well. Maybe that’s just a weird quirk of mine, but I can’t stand the ‘just a dream’ trope for that reason.

I’m not bothered by anything that can be explained away by futuristic technology or magic. It’s ridiculous coincidences that get my eyes rolling. Writers don’t work hard enough to plausibly explain how all of the elements of their story converge on a particular place or time. For the lazy writer it is simply happenstance.

In all honesty I feel almost opposite to you in a way. I find magic to more believable than when science fiction/superhero movies use overly verbose technobabble to try to scientifically explain superpowers–which usually raise more questions when you try reconcile what they are saying with real-word physics.

For example the Force in Star Wars I found more mystifying and believable in the original films than when they try techno-babble in the prequels with the Midi-Chlorian stuff. I think it made the Star Wars film lose a little in the mystique when they tried to explain it away.

The Matrix sequels had the same problem–they tried way to hard to explain everything. I think the original film–The Matrix– would be a cult classic if it was a standalone film.

How about fantasy based on “hard magic systems” where the rules about how the magic works are clearly laid out and adhered to?

Actually I totally agree with you about not over-explaining everything. Per your example of the Force in Star Wars, I was fine with the Force being a thing without what it is being spelled out. That way it can be whatever you want or believe it to be. Maybe the Force has some sort of scientific explanation, maybe it’s magic if you like magic.

I don’t know, maybe if there was some kind of logic and internal plot consistency applied to the magic. But honestly I had trouble getting through the couple Wikipedia paragraphs about “Sanderson’s Laws of Magic” without my eyes glazing over.

The feet rockets (and similar things) are a breaking point for me. Rockets need fuel and reaction mass.

Yeah, I know. And even if you buy the feet rockets, how does he achieve controlled flight? Planes have wings and rudders and ailerons and all that for a reason. Still, Iron Man isn’t a suspension of disbelief breaking point for me.

The Lord of the Rings film trilogy did so well mixing the metaphysical magic world with the flesh and blood real world for the most part. Spirts seemed to have to possess some type of physical object or life form to interact with the world. Wizards used short bursts of energy to break the laws of physics or disrupt their natural surroundings.
So I was really disappointed in the whole “ghost army” at the end of ROTK. Apparently ghosts need some form of transportation across water? They can’t deal damage with ghost limbs but can with ghost weapons? They have legs but wash over their enemies like waves?
I was kind of over it by that point which was a shame after investing hours into the films.

If you set up rules for your world, and then follow them, I’ll suspend my disbelief for just about anything. It’s when the fantastical stuff works one way in one scene, and then a completely different way in another scene, that it tends to lose me.

Also, as already mentioned by @dorvann and @solost, the less a work tries to explain the hows and whys, the easier it usually is for me to suspend disbelief. As long as the basic rules are clear and consistent, I don’t need anything more than “space magic” or “arc reactor”. And I usually don’t want anything more than that. A work that tries to dig down into its rules usually loses me.

And the big one: the world around the weird stuff should be realistic, to some degree. Even more so, the characters should be. I enjoy flying suits of armor and wizards and space samurai and all the rest. What takes me out of a fictional world more than anything else is when the people in it act in ways that don’t make any sense.

I don’t want to re-start a conflict from another thread, but there was a recent-ish movie that involved magic and demigods and wishes coming true. I like those kinds of things. But the rules for the magic and wishes and the demigod’s powers seemed to randomly change from one scene to the next. Magic will work by a certain rule in scene, and it’s an explicit plot point that the magic works that way, and yet in another scene the magic works in a completely different way that violates that rule. And a character that had been set up in previous movies as being a deeply compassionate hero just kind of shrugs it off and goes along with it when an innocent bystander gets mindwiped and body-jacked. That’s the kind of thing that destroys my willing suspension of disbelief.

Exactly my thought as well.
Also, introducing rules the audience/reader didn’t know about at a climactic moment will get an eye-roll from me. It’s fine if your hero has the power to teleport. It’s bad writing if you don’t reveal that power until your hero is in a seemingly hopeless situation and suddenly uses teleportation to get out of it.

For me, one thing that comes to mind is prophecy: where characters in the story have revelations or hints or oblique descriptions of what’s going to happen in the future. To me that implies that the future is already determined, and all the events of the story are just playing out toward that foregone conclusion, which is whatever the writer made up as opposed to something that’s actually happening.

I’m afraid my threshold of disbelief is very low for magic of almost any stripe, but especially when they are mixing magic elements in with the real world. It’s not even that I get into a story and then get taken out of it. I really can’t seem to make myself care about any story that relies on magic to make it go (this applies to religious magic as well). Maybe it’s just that there is so much of this kind of storytelling around now.

Lord of the Rings was different for me because it was recognizably not the real world. There are probably other exceptions that I can’t think of at the moment.

Even Stan Lee and Jack Kirby knew this back in the Sixties. They called them “repulsors” consisting of special electromagnets and lenses.

These posts largely speak for me as well, with a couple of additions. A relatively recent trope (and one that is almost ubiquitous in Chinese wuxia and similar genres) is the “I’m super OP but going to act weak because I don’t want my enemies to find me/ I don’t want to stand out / I’m on a journey to improve” who ‘struggles’ through their fights until they unleash their OPness (Over powered if it’s not clear from context) and ROFLstomp the enemies that were winning until moments before.

Or for those who’ve seen Dragonball anime, this is the point where they take off the 800kg of weights or equally ludicrous inhibiters so they can ‘fight at full power’. Please. I hate this, and it totally sucks me out of any disbelief. Because at least half the time, the enemy has/is doing the same thing. So the first time you fight anyone you should go full power, and take them out. And in longer works, this will happen dozens of times before the end of the story.

The worst failure for me of suspension of disbelief came pretty early on in Harry Potter world - I could get if the Wizarding World and the Muggle world had a strong ‘separate but equal’ treaty from historical conflicts. Each goes it’s own way and they come down with both boots on anyone that crosses the line. But they DON’T. From the perspective of the Muggle world, the wizards are always coming in to mess with crap - and the stuff they can do is so damn dangerous (mind control, time control, reality alteration) that it makes conventional weapons seem benign.
So either I have to ‘head-canon’ it as the wizarding world keeps muggles around for amusement and a large breeding pool that occasionally spits out new wizards while controlling it all behind the scenes (which makes the most sense but directly contradicts a huge portion of the stated wizarding worlds ethos) or decide that moments after the story ends the Muggles wise up and nuke all the wizard areas off the map due to the absolute insanity of the last wizard war that is the Harry Potter series.

You’re talking about the Star Trek transporter, aren’t you?:slight_smile:

It doesn’t have to be space or magic to take me out of a scene.

Let’s take an episode of L&O: Criminal Intent. I can handle Goren as a Holmesian deductive genius, that’s fine. But when he “knows” that every hotel keycard contains all the person’s personal data, AND that this was used to advance the plot as if it were a true fact, that makes me yell at the TV.

Or in Elementary, there was an episode where the actual Holmes(not-ian) is AMAZED that people reload their own ammo. Even the NYPD detective seems stunned to learn this. In fact, many people all over the country, not just “environmentally concscious” murderers, reload. Holmes came across not like a genius detective but like a NYC sheltered liberal stereotype. I think it gave him and Watson the vapors, actually.

Yeah, impossible solutions to mysteries suck. One I especially hate is the Monk episode with a significant amount of missing gold where the solution was that the guy melted the gold, blended the molten gold with ink, then used the resulting still liquid still ink to write gibberish in diaries for decades. What?

If the movie is purposefully idiotic, then I’m okay with almost any suspension of disbelief.

On the other hand, if the movie purports to be serious and realistic, then it only takes little flaws or plot holes for me to be yanked out of it.

Almost all of the best shows I’ve seen lately, among the best ever for me BTW, require me to ignore the fact that when the protagonist, after being under threat of death, gains the upper hand somehow, and knocks the bad guy out, does not kill, subdue, or disarm him. They run away. ???

The show must go on but WTF. believable drama is hard.

Something similar bugged me from Green Mile. John Coffee grabs Hanks’ hand and replays what he saw in Wild Bill’s memory. It could have been powerful if we didn’t know for sure it was Bill until he looked in the mirror.

I know! I’ve been watching reruns of Monk on the Decades channel and that one was a real head-slapper. And in addition to what you said, how in the heck does one go about rendering all that gold ink back into gold?

Another episode of Monk had a doppelgänger plot that I thought had been retired by the end of the 70s as being too stupid to keep retreading. A mob hitman who’s the exact double of Monk is killed, so the FBI has Monk impersonate him so they can bust some other bad guys who want him to kill someone. Even the woman who had been sleeping with the hitman couldn’t tell it wasn’t him, though she temporarily got suspicious when she tried putting the moves on Monk and he got all Monk-ish.