One of the most exceptional type of movies are those rare ones that make you leave the room smarter than you left. The kind that stretches your thoughts to new horizons, and without prior warning, expands your mind to new scenarios you never thought possible.
In this aspect, the Sci-Fi genre offer the most potential for mindsex than any other genre in cinema.
First of all, the futuristic and/or visionary aspect of Sci-Fi immediately takes you to a place in the future that are not familiar with, inducing you mind to start perceiving the story on a different context than the one you were used to.
A context where everything is possible, where there is no normalcy bias nor resistance to new ideas that otherwise would deem too uncomfortable to entertain and would otherwise reject.
New concepts and theories are pretty much like new inventions. Once something is invented, it cannot be uninvented, and the exact same thing occurs with new concepts and ideas.
A mind that is stretched to new proportions cannot shrink back to the way it was before.
I’m sure I’ve read that in some bumper sticker, but the point stands.
It’s funny to observe that those movies that take us to a journey to the unknown where we explore new territories we never knew existed, those are the ones that stays in our memories as the time passes by.
Until they make a remake and screw them up.
Jokes aside, there are these types of movies seem to remain immune to the test of time. Their scenes stay with us forever, their storyline is used allegories for decades and even their dialogue becomes immortalized.
Let me give you an example:
“Welcome to the Matrix Neo” (The Matrix) or, “Hasta La Vista Baby” (The Terminator)…
Or ...Vroooooom! Mad Max.
No matter where you go around the world, and no matter how much time has passed, people will always react to those lines.
However, for every single one of these timeless movies, there are dozens who never made it to the Iconic status despite the absolute brilliance of the concept they are based upon.
And there’s a reason for that.
You Can’t Have Mind Sex Before Preliminaries
The Matrix VS Equilibrium
Equilibrium is a fascinating movie that had all the ingredients of becoming the 1984 of our era but somehow fell a little short.
The concept was bullet-proof, the hero John Preston (played by Christian Bale) is a very capable man who’s plagued by a constant inner struggle. As as one of the top government enforcers in a world gone full-Orwellian, he often has to harm all sorts of innocent people who have done no harm but want a tiny piece of freedom for themselves or display any sort of human feeling.
As the events unfold, we start to see us just how totalitarian the world has gone, and Preston gradually begins to reconcile with his conscience and free will to such point where he stops taking the mandatory blue pills that the state has forced on everyone.
And no it’s not viagra - get your mind out of the gutter - it’s a mind-numbing substance that is used to dull your critical senses and renders you unable to question anything, turning you into a senseless and obedient flesh suit.
John’s struggle doesn’t end there. You see, the government's brainwashing of children had become draconian too, as they successfully implemented what the Swedes refers to as Jante’s Law.
On top of his tremendous inner struggle, having to question all that he has known as well as society’s accepted norms and the state’s cruel and oppressive laws, John is also forced to face the rejection of his own son, who on the other hand was successfully sold on the slick propaganda and who is truly unable to love anyone but the state.
And then he begins his uphill battle (inner and outer) until such point he finally arrives to the place behind the curtain and meets with the puppet master for the very first time, only to realize that it was all a joke.
And oh yeah! Somewhere above this line I should’ve said: Spoiler alert!
So here we are, with a concept that is truly captivating, a story line that is very engaging, a brilliant acting brilliant and spectacular mise-en-scene... So what went wrong?
In one word? Preliminaries.
With everything this movie had to work with, they decided to open with a few seconds narration that says something in the lines of:
“In the future the state has banned all forms of entertainment including art and literature, banned all acts of love and caring.. So the only purpose of existence remains to serve the all-seeing, almighty Gov”.
It sounds dark, doesn’t it?
Imagine the build-up that could have been done with such a fascinating material.
Imagine watching the first minutes where the main hero - the guy you’re expected to connect with - is going after people who were caught reading a book and people who were caught admiring plants or any sort of beauty whatsoever.
How’s that for creating connection?
Going after kids who cared for a little kitten that was injured, or a husband that shows affection for his wife disobeying the government war on love.
As you can see, that is not the type of introduction that’s going to take people’s breath away.
If you’re making a movie about an executioner in medieval times, you better not open with scenes of him chopping people’s heads off just because they disobeyed some bullshit rules.
In other words, no matter how ingenious your concept is, if you don’t spend enough time on the build up process, you can't possibly grab the viewer's attention and help them dive into the story.
Let’s compare that with the Matrix for example, a movie that on the other hand has remained on people’s minds for years, a movie whose lines people do not only remember, but use often use as examples and analogies to this very day.
In The Matrix, the movie opens with a nice character (Neo) that most people would empathize and/or relate with, he’s bored with his life, stuck in a job that he hates and wonders if there is more to this world than we’ve been taught to accept.
So not only they are creating s rapport and connection with the audience, but also setting up the plot to what’s about to come next.
Neo, soon after that, starts to challenge the pre-existing views, and we see just how tired he is of his daily routine that mainly consists of: Comb your hair, shine your shoes, present yourself and clock in.
He wonders if this is all there is to life, or if there was something else out there.
Very soon after that, he meets a woman the likes of which he’d never seen before and he senses that his entire world is about to change, and so does the viewer.
But she doesn’t lay it out on him just like that, instead she teases the message by making him follow the white rabbit.
At this stage, we are all intrigued. We can’t stop watching, we want to know what's coming next and with every scene the world becomes bigger and bigger.
Now that’s a build up!
You see, they could’ve just started with a short narration explaining what the matrix is and immediately skipped to the action and fighting parts, but they didn’t do that.
Instead they chose to not take the audience’s attention for granted, and they built up the story up to the climax.
Whether your story takes place in a futuristic time or in some imaginary land, the last thing you should probably do is to ignore the build up.
You cannot just tell the audience to imagine a far fetched event they never heard about before and expect them to connect with it. Maybe it’s better to spend some time on the preliminaries, create some rapport, build up the connection.
Maybe the viewer's attention shouldn't be taken for granted.
Or maybe the main difference between good and memorable often lies in the preliminaries.
Whatever you do, don’t skimp on the build-up!