“I hate metaferences that break the verisimilitude of a film” or, “What I didn’t like about last night’s episode of Lost.”

So last night’s episode of Lost was pretty good. It prominently featured Desmond, so that’s an automatic win. What I didn’t like was the scene where a couple of red shirts get blown up and random guts and/or water hit the camera lens. UUUUGGGH. I actually said outloud, despite the fact that I was alone: “NO! Why? Why the hell would you do that?”

I know many filmmakers think this adds to the realism and highlights the tragedy and/or humanity of a life lost by an explosive device and/or hand-made prison shank. Yes, I get it. It can work very effectively when done in the right context or style, being: the whole film or show operates on that premise (e.g. Saving Private Ryan), with that style (e.g. Children of Men), or with continual instances of metafiction (e.g. Hot Fuzz).

First, let’s not confuse Metafiction with Realism. Metafiction is a type of fiction that self-consciously addresses the conventions of fiction, i.e. it lets you know that this is a film, or that this is a written document. This does not necessarily create realism. Realism can be achieved through the creation of a fictional world existing within its own verisimilitude (in its literary context, is defined as the fact or quality of having the appearance of being true or real). This is what Lost had done brilliantly. However, when those guts and/or water splash across the camera, it immediately breaks the fourth wall, in a highly inappropriate metareference to the fact that there is a camera there at all.

I hate, hate, hate it when films that have a wonderful fictional reality suddenly destroy it. Part of what works with Lost is the fact that this elaborate mythology works; that you believe it in and of itself. It is simply ruined when you throw in something that harkens back to the “real world” of the filmmakers; it carelessly reminds you that this is just something created by mere fallible humans, and that characters die for reasons as slight as the fact that the actress got a DUI. It just doesn’t jive, fool!