Elements of Surprise

I heard about Vera Tobin’s book Elements of Surprise on the Hidden Brain podcast. Shankar Vedantam was interviewing Tobin about her work analyzing the ways in which knowing/not knowing affects the unfolding of narrative and how writers/filmmakers plant seeds to make plot surprises satisfying. (Surprise alone without the seeds planted in advance just seems silly or contrived to readers or viewers.) I immediately requested the book from my local library and read it–I found it terrifically helpful for thinking about my own writing. Toward the end of the book, there’s a 6-page or so discussion of a film from the early 1970s, The Conversation. I’d heard of the movie but never watched it. Tobin’s discussion, of course, contained spoilers, but I thought it would be fun to watch the movie to see how the groundwork was laid for the surprise ending. The odd thing was that the ending seemed completely obvious to me (of course I knew what it was, but I somehow hoped I’d be able to erase that knowledge from my mind). For my husband, who did not know the surprise, however, the movie seemed confusing. He immediately recognized that the audio ‘clue’ on which the plot hinged changed in the course of the film. The film did remind me of another film I did see at the time of release–Blow Up. I suppose the ground was shifting in the 1960s & 1970s. People were struggling with reality. These films reflect that struggle.

theconversation

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