Friday, March 16, 2007

Why Overly Analytical Law Professor Blog Editors Need to Do a Better Job Suspending their Disbelief

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (right) articulated that state of mind that is necessary for us to enjoy anyStccolor fiction: the willing suspension of disbelief.  The ultimate consequence of the failure to suspend belief, which of course caused all the male viewers not to be able to suspend theirs (as it merely accentuated the general lameness of the plot), while their dates or sTeresawrightpouses were weeping uncontrollably, was in the ultimate chick flick, Somewhere in Time, when Christopher Reeve, having successfully willed himself back to 1912 to meet Jane Seymour, sees the present date on a penny and comes back to reality.  Hum to yourself Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini as you read this.  (Bit of name-dropping trivia.  One of the supporting actors in Somewhere in Time was Teresa Wright, left, who won an Academy Award in the early forties in Mrs. Miniver, and played Peggy, Al's daughter in The Best Years of Our Lives.  She passed away not too long ago.  I have a DVD of Best Years autographed by her, because her grand-daughter lives here in Indianapolis, and was a schoolmate of one of my children.)

But I digress.  Note that what follows ought not be a plot-spoiler, but it may cause you also to fail to suspend your disbelief.  We rented the DVD of the latest James Bond movie, Casino Royale, and I'm about 40 minutes into it.  While I like the hard edge very much - Daniel Craig has more charisma in the role than anyone since Sean Connery - a bit of dialogue at the very beginning took me right out of my suspension at least until the next big chase scene.  The main villain, Le Chiffre, is in Uganda taking several suitcases full of cash to bank on behalf of a local "freedom fighter."  Here is the dialogue:

Freedom Fighter:  Do you believe in God, Mr. Le Chiffre?

Le Chiffre:  No, I believe in a reasonable rate of return.

Freedom Fighter:  I want no risk in the portfolio.

In an instantaneous analysis worthy of Paul Caron himself (or perhaps Kate Litvak or Larry Ribstein), I thought "how can he get a reasonable rate of return and have no risk in the portfolio?"  Then I had a flash image of the slides Alan Palmiter (Wake Forest) uses to explain return on investment to his Securities Regulation classes, and particularly the one about stashing cash in a mattress.   Then I wondered why the freedom fighter didn't just buy T-bills from a Swiss bank account, and if he wanted no risk in the portfolio why was he giving the money to a guy I know James Bond is going to kill by the end of the movie.  But by then we had moved on to Madagascar, and bigger and better things.

[Jeff Lipshaw]

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But the two antithetical (in normal circumstances) demands are placed in the mouths of two different characters. The freedom fighter's implied intent was security for the money with some possible growth; the risk-taking, if there were to be any, was Le Chiffre's. With consequences.

Posted by: Simon Pride | Mar 16, 2007 3:36:54 PM

He is a criminal, Jeff, and he was demanding what does not happen in a non-criminal world: combining high return and threatening that there must be no risk (to himself). It's not suspension of disbelief, it is irony. He understands that he is expecting something that is not true for unrigged markets. He wants exactly what Robert Shaw wanted in The Sting--a sure bet (y'falla?). All the risk to assure that would supposedly fall on Redford. And indeed the plan that old bloody-tears had in mind was not a free market but rather a rigged one, taking out the flagship jet prototype.

People shimmy straight up skyscraper beams and you are worrying about the assault on capitalist reality? You have less protectionist feelings for the laws of physics? Next thing you will tell me is that The English Patient is not English and does not require infinite patience. Humbug.

Posted by: Alan Childress | Mar 16, 2007 3:39:24 PM

My favorite Teresa Wright movie is Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT, featuring another of my favorite character actors, Joseph Cotton.

Posted by: tim zinnecker | Mar 24, 2007 6:54:11 PM

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