As a popular tv drama about castaways (you know what I mean, and if you don't, its not important, heh) on an island ends its second season, soon, and beings preps for a third, fans acknowledge that all the questions are soon to have to come to an end. Endings for any series can be hard to handle as you blend together a plot that is both open, so the characters are not stunted, and closed, so that fans get satisfaction. This series (ok, I'll spill it, it's Lost. There, you happy?) has been known to through a bit of the surreal with a dash of the fantastic into the mixture. And ending to this series will have to, to get customer satisfactino, entail an explanation. And there are numerous explanations, one of which fans are afraid of: it's a dream.
Of course, Lost is not the first show to end with the "it's a dream!", assuming that it does (which it probably won't). It has happened before. My favorite use of the device was Bob Newhart's sitcom from the 80s, in which it became part of an older series of his. It was so left field, and the subject matter was comedic, that it worked. I believe it was either Dallas or St. Elsewhere or both that used a similar device. I've heard harsh rumors, as though a great dissatisfaction lingers to this day.
Super Mario Brothers 2 used it, and that made me aggravated. The Princess Bride used a related story device, and that will sometimes irritate me to this day. I am sure no one else cares about this in these two cases, but if you were to take an intense movie and make it all out to be a dream, people would feel cheated, I wager.
Why is this, though? What about the concept of a fictional world being a fiction inside of itself makes us really pissed off? Is it that one step too removed from reality vibe? Is it that? Is it that it seems like a cheap explanation? I bet that's one we will list because it sounds nice on a resume.
I imagine it stems from the implied contract between fiction creators and the audience, that they will accept whatever reality you throw at them. Within reason. And it requires a degree of talent to pull it off. This is why so many people are willing to accept that a man in a rubber suit is a monster destroying Tokyo and why so many people think that some pop star really does care about his listeners. It is the reality we are given, not as fact, but as livable.
Since this is the implied contract, when we breech that contract by saying the reality we accepted was not the reality, we become as irritated as if we were in the base reality and we had been lied to directly.
That, and it might just oh so slightly play upon subconscious fears that we are not who we think we are. We are not living the life we quite think we are living. We are terrified of the dark much less than the idea that underneath it is something completely different than what we expect. Like Stephen Wright once said, "Terror is coming home to find that someone has removed all of your furniture and replaced it with stuff that looks like like it."
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