Uranowski’s First Law of Involuntary Suspension of Disbelief

Uranowski’s First Law of Involuntary Suspension of Disbelief


Even if you didn’t know that the 1999 masterpiece “Deep Blue Sea” was about super-intelligent sharks before hand, Saffron Burrows’s character (Dr. Susan McCallister) interacts with a 3D computer model 14 minutes into the movie showing us all that the sharks mentioned in the previous expository scene have gigantic brains.

The plot of the film involves a scientific testing facility located on a re-purposed oil derrick where a pharmaceutical company is expanding the size of shark’s brains in hope of developing a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The main crew of the facility is gone for the weekend and a skeleton crew remains.

The sharks manage to break through the viewing glass and begin flooding the facility. They then proceed to “overhear” the scientists from level to level, which ensures that the facility floods further and faster and the pens on the top-level sink to a point where the sharks can escape into the open ocean. The scientists manage to kill all of the sharks in increasingly ridiculous ways.

On one occasion I was watching the film at my university residence. I stayed silent throughout the movie but my friends kept questioning if certain scenes defied the laws of physics (the way the water enters the facility when the glass initially breaks) and the plausibility of characters surviving for as long as they did (at one point LL Cool J spends a solid chunk of time in a gas-filled oven.)

After the movie finished I pointed out that none of my friends questioned the credibility of super-intelligent sharks, that was taken as a given. The movie gets to to accepts this ludicrous premise early on in the film. Since you, the audience member, has already tacitly accepted that the impossible is possible you wave your right to complain about any of the other outlandish plot devices.

This is “Joseph Uranowski’s First Law of Involuntary Suspension of Disbelief” or “The Deep Blue Sea Theory”: If you are willing to accept one gigantic outrageous premise, you cede the right to complain about the tiny inconsistency that would precipitate from said premise.

Uranowski’s First Law or the DBST in practice:

  • During the finale of Lost, one of my companions questioned how Jack was able to deal with one of his injuries, on a magical island inhabited by a smoke monster and the time-travelling survivors of a plane crash who were brought there by the now deceased demigod Jacob.
  • People complain about the race blind casting in the BBC television show Merlin, saying it is not historically accurate. I would point out that talking dragons and wizards are proportionately more historically inaccurate.
  • In episode 2F09 when Itchy plays Scratchy’s skeleton like a xylophone, he strikes the same rib twice in succession, yet he produces two clearly different tones. I mean, what are we to believe, that this is some sort of a magic xylophone or something? Boy, I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder.

One response to “Uranowski’s First Law of Involuntary Suspension of Disbelief

  1. This is a great post, Joseph. I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen “The Death and Return of Superman” by Max Landis on YouTube, but it reminds me of a point made near the end of the film: Q. How do you kill a vampire? A. However you want, because vampires don’t f*cking exist. There’s an extent to which “all bets are off,” and we oughtn’t import any expectations to our experiences of the fictional universes we decide to experience.

    But…only to an extent. I think that audiences are willing to suspend their disbelief–but not for absolutely everything. While by stepping in to a fictional universe the audience relinquishes certain expectations of how the world is or should be, I don’t think they’re required to simultaneously relinquish their desire that the world be consistent and “make sense” within the context of that world. That is, I think that the most compelling fictional universes have a “logic” of their own…and I think when viewers critique stories on this level, they can be justified for doing so. If and when these fictional universes begin to break with their established “logic,” I think one can justifiably bring the charge of a Deus Ex Machina against the creator/author–or at least call shenanigans.

    If the First Law holds, can anyone ever complain about a Deus Ex Machina explanation?

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