(Otherwise) Smart Characters Doing Stupid Stuff
In the movie Double Jeopardy, Ashley Judd plays a woman framed by her husband for his faked murder. While she is in prison, he assumes a new identity and becomes a wealthy businessman in New Orleans. (Yeah, didn't make a lot of sense to me either, but it is an entertaining film mostly because of great performances by the aforementioned Ms. Judd, Tommy Lee Jones and Bruce Greenwood.) During the first act of the film, Ms. Judd's character happens upon the alleged, bloody murder scene, coming across the putative weapon, a bloody knife. Despite the fact that her character is smart enough to find her supposedly dead husband after doing her time in prison, this character does what every character, smart or stupid, does in such films: she picks up the bloody weapon, thus putting her fingerprints on it. And let’s face it: if the otherwise smart and talented Ms. Judd’s character does not pick up the knife, we don’t have a movie, because she beats the rap. (Similar stupidity from otherwise smart characters advances the plot of what would have been a great film, Babel, with Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and other fine actors.) I hate such scenes because it makes the audience smarter than the character and stretches the bounds of the suspension of disbelief.
With that as some background, I write to tell you, dear readers, that I have a new found sympathy for Hollywood script writers who find themselves in need of something to advance the plot. Under (no doubt) significant time pressure, they let one of their characters do stupid things so they can get their characters where they want them to be. I ran into this problem recently in writing The Long Squeeze. I found myself gazing across a yawning chasm in the plot, able to see where my characters should be, but no idea how to bridge where the plot was with where it had to go. After expending some time (a luxury script writers mostly don't have)simply thinking about it, running through several now disposed of drafts, and then thinking some more, the answer was solved very simply, and I didn't have to have my characters do something really stupid to get there. At least I think so. You will have to wait for the finished work and then let me know if you think I succeeded. Anyway, I think we are just a month or so from editing.
All the best. Paul
P.S. If you think of other films that use the "smart characters acting stupidly" device, please post it. Perhaps we can develop the definitive list of such films.