Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Quantum Mechanics of Screenwriting

A slightly mind-boggling but fascinating article in the latest edition of Scientific American, discusses the intensely counter-intuitive, quantum mechanical concept of nonlocality. Elementary particles can influence each other instantaneously, even across galaxies, without there being any physical connection between them, either direct or indirect.

This notion has been an anomaly for physicists ever since Einstein formulated his theory of general relativity. In fact, Einstein called this nonlocality “spooky,” and presumed it was something that would eventually be explained within the realms of conventional physics. Instead, nonlocality hasn’t gone away, on the contrary, it has made a comeback and is challenging some of our most basic intuitions about how reality works.

What’s all this got to do with screenwriting, you may ask? Ah, well, I’m not sure, you see. But it’s something like this quote from aforementioned article puts it:

“… combining quantum mechanics and special relativity requires that we give up another of our primordial convictions. We believe that everything there is to say about the world can in principle be put into the form of a narrative, or story. Or, in more precise and technical terms: everything there is to say can be packed into an infinite set of propositions of the form "at t1 this is the exact physical condition of the world" and "at t2 that is the exact physical condition of the world," and so on. But the phenomenon of quantum-mechanical entanglement and the spacetime geometry of special relativity—taken together—imply that the physical history of the world is infinitely too rich for that.”

No matter how well-versed you are in screenwriting “techniques,” regardless of how clear your understanding is of concepts such as story structure, character arc, theme, subtext, visual writing and so on, at some point you have to allow for the fact that … shit happens.

Whereas, what the audience wants (or is it the investors?) is a good yarn, with all the loose ends neatly tied up and the emotional drama satisfactorily resolved. Because we want our “primordial conviction” that reality is fundamentally logical, physical, comprehensible and so on, reinforced.

So are we, as screenwriters, simply helping to maintain this illusion? And what would a screenplay look like in which the story deals with the illusion that life is a neat, linear narrative, with cause followed by effect, and effect becoming the new cause, etc.?

There’s a great idea for a film somewhere in that question, I’m sure of it … But for now, I need a drink to numb my baffled mind.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you got it.
thanks for sharing.