NBierma.com File

Sunday, March 20, 2005

(Is true love possible in 90 minutes?
Also see 2nd item here)

A lot to do in 90 minutes

by Devin Rose
Chicago Tribune
February 6, 2005

True love had better slip alongside me and bowl me over, because it's not
going to happen if it takes as much work as is spelled out in "How to Make
Someone Love You Forever! In 90 Minutes or Less" by Nicholas Boothman
(Workman Publishing, $16.95).

Not only do you have to dress right, flirt right, master small talk and play
talk (there's a difference), make eye contact, smile, use open body
language, learn how much to saunter or swagger, and use just the right
amount of self-disclosure and discreet touching, but none of it matters,
Boothman asserts, if there's no chemistry.

For love to grow, he writes, two people must be "matched opposites," or
people with complementary personalities who share things in common. Only
then can they proceed with all the games he encourages them to play.

The book does encourage readers to get out and meet people and offers tips
to do so comfortably. And it's indeed hard to grow to love someone you've
never spoken to, so this is certainly a place to start. But we'd suggest you
not buy the 90-minute scenario--even if it did work, why hurry love?

It's not you, it's me: "We don't fall in love with other people; we fall in
love with the feelings we get when we are with them."

C'mon, 'Baby' -- let's do the twist
You'll be surprised to hear why we hate spoiled endings

By Julia Keller
Chicago Tribune
February 6, 2005

Relax. We will not be discussing the controversial ending of "Million Dollar

We will, however, be discussing the reasons why we can't discuss the
controversial ending of "Million Dollar Baby."

Firmly holding us back is the fact that the film's conclusion features a
plot twist -- an unforeseen narrative development inspiring reactions such
as "What?!" or "Wow!" or "I can't freakin' believe it!"

In order to write about the issues raised by "Baby," we must be willing to
reveal what happens in the end -- whereupon, if you haven't seen the film
yet, you'll promptly want to kill us.

Moreover, every court in the land would dub it justifiable homicide.

That's because plot twists are sacred in entertainment culture, as lovingly
protected as slumbering infants. And people who give away surprise endings
are shunned and ostracized, treated as if they've raffled off nuclear
secrets to terrorists.

Apparently, the worst sin a critic can commit -- judging from the zealous
care with which many critics announce that they are tiptoeing delicately
around certain plot points or earnestly warn that they're about to spill the
beans -- is to mistakenly give away a surprise ending. A recent Tribune
essay about the fuss kicked up by "Baby" was forced to interrupt itself with
a boldface disclaimer ("Note to readers: This story reveals a key plot twist
in 'Million Dollar Baby' ").

But why the extra care? Why the typographical traffic cop to warn readers of
secret-spoiling dangers ahead?

Sure, an unexpected nuance in a story can be enjoyable, but how did a single
aspect of a film, novel or play -- the "Boo!" maneuver -- acquire the noble
sheen of a universal human right: the right to be blindsided by a plot

As long as we've had stories, we've had shocking turns in stories. Before
"Million Dollar Baby" and its sucker punch of an ending, there was "The
Sixth Sense" (1999), "Primal Fear" (1996), "The Usual Suspects" (1995) and
"The Crying Game" (1992) and, even further back, "Psycho" (1960). There have
been TV series such as "Dallas" with famous season-ending cliffhangers,
echoing weekly adventure serials that played in movie houses in the 1940s
and '50s. Writers such as Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe and O. Henry, and
contemporary counterparts such as Stephen King and Dennis Lehane, can link a
large portion of their success to the desire of audiences everywhere "to be
completely bamboozled," notes Douglas Post, a Chicago playwright who
specializes in mysteries.

"I think people love to be fooled. It's the same thing as watching a good
magician at work," adds Post, a resident playwright at Victory Gardens
Theater. "If we know the ending, it somehow lessens the experience."

But what strange cravings in the human psyche are satisfied by the sudden
twist -- and aren't those cravings a bit infantile? Novelist E.M. Forster
once called our desire to know what's on tap in a story "the caveman
question -- What happens next?"

And can't we enjoy the show even if we know the big secret in advance?

Freudian analysis

Sigmund Freud, as it happens, would have appreciated the strenuous efforts
to keep "Baby's" ending under wraps, according to Dr. Arnold Goldberg,
psychiatry professor at Rush Medical College and the Institute for

"In his very first writings, Freud talked about how we seek out surprises
because they're pleasurable. It's the erotization of anxiety," says
Goldberg, author of "Misunderstanding Freud" (2004). "There are people who
love to get a little anxious, a little fearful."

And when someone else is in the driver's seat -- the playwright, novelist or
screenwriter -- we're forced to surrender control. "Freud wrote that
surprise always has fear at the base of it," Goldberg says. "Unexpected
changes rock us."

Post, author of plays such as "Blissfield" and "Murder in Green Meadows,"
likens that frisson of fear to the chill one gets on a roller coaster. "It
can be thrilling. And there's something primal about it. We get a glimpse of
a covert reality -- the truth behind the mask."

Twists, Post adds, are a way of keeping the audience on its toes. "People
tend to pay a little bit more attention than they would otherwise. There's a
bit of gamesmanship.

"The first question people ask each other [after the show] is always, `Did
you see the ending coming?' And the second question is always, `When?'"

The proliferation of surprise endings, though, tends to irk Betty Shiflett,
novelist and emeritus professor in Columbia College Chicago's fiction
writing program who still teaches at the school.

"It's a manipulation," she declares. "That kind of withholding is a cheap
shot, just to make suspense."

Overused approach

Student writers often overuse the surprise ending, Shiflett says. "It's
somehow impregnated in them in kindergarten. It has such a hold on us."

She acknowledges, though, that many great works of literature, from the
"Oedipus" plays to Shakespeare's dramas and comedies, have endings that
catch audiences unawares.

Out-of-nowhere plot twists don't bother Cynthia Ozick one bit. "It is a
convention, and much trivialized, but I really think it represents some of
our most sophisticated thinking," says Ozick, award-winning novelist and
critic. "Coincidence and surprise are how we live. Real life is precarious
and fragile. Think of the day before 9/11, the day before the tsunami."

Ozick recalls her first reading of Forster's "The Longest Journey" (1907),
in which the fourth chapter opens with the unexpected death of a major
character. "It came as such a surprise, such an astounding shock. You think
about it and think about it and then you think, `Life is such a shock.'

"When I read that chapter, I was stunned. I was stunned for life. I still
think of it." She rereads Forster's novel annually, Ozick adds, "and I never
tire of it. I'm not surprised anymore -- but I am still shocked."

After a plot twist has been exposed, then, a reader or viewer doesn't have
to walk away. A novel or play or movie can still reward repeat visits, even
though the initial surprise -- the one that prompts a sharp intake of
breath -- is no longer possible. It's a different experience. Not
necessarily lesser, just different.

All of a sudden

And sometimes the writer herself is surprised by a plot twist, adds Ozick,
whose latest novel, "Heir to the Glimmering World" (2004), includes some
narrative developments that sneaked up on her. "The writer and the reader
can undergo that sense of surprise. Everything in the world consists of
these sudden, sudden turnings."

But might there not be a danger in a too-keen appreciation of plot twists?
Distracted by waiting for a vivid moment in which everything changes, a
reader or viewer could miss other worthy aspects of a story -- dialogue,
characterizations, descriptions.

Such is the fate of John Marcher, protagonist of the Henry James short story
"The Beast in the Jungle" (1903). Convinced that an extraordinary destiny
awaits him, Marcher's life becomes "the simplification of everything but the
state of suspense." He waits, day after day, for the thing that "lay in wait
for him, amid the twists and the turns of the months and the years, like a
crouching beast in the jungle."

At the end of his life Marcher discovers -- if you've been meaning to read
James and don't want to spoil the surprise, please skip to the next
paragraph -- that the amazing fate was the fact that there was no amazing
fate. "He had been the man of his time, the man, to whom nothing on earth
was to have happened." Waiting for the twist, Marcher missed out on life.

Worth the ride

So once you know there's a significant surprise at the end of "Million
Dollar Baby" -- a surprise so touchy and topical that it has created a
raging controversy among critics and ethicists -- can you just sit back and
enjoy the balance of the film, without jumping with anticipation at every
plot turn?

Probably not -- but that's OK, Post advises. The final, stomach-flipping dip
could be worth whatever you miss along the way while waiting for the payoff.

"Think of the roller coaster. It's no accident that they save the biggest
drop for the end."