I think this scene from Mullholland Drive is a fantastic metaphor for just how powerful the illusion of storytelling is. Watch it first and then I’ll explain myself.
This scene all leads up to the moment with the trumpet player. We’ve been told over and over again that it’s all an illusion, and yet, when the trumpet player stops playing, and the sound continues, we’re surprised. A certain part of our brain is unaffected by our knowledge. Even as the trick is being explained to us, we still fall for the illusion.
Movies, theater and media are all so powerful, that even in our current media saturated, celebrity obsessed world, where we’re constantly bombarded with gossip, on set footage, reviews and behind the scenes analysis, we still get swept away as soon as the lights go down and the story begins.
It’s an audacious form of magic that shouts, just like the MC from this scene, “this is a trick, this is a trick, this is a trick” while simultaneously fooling us over and over again. For me, this is why working on films is so thrilling. Even though I am fully aware of every artifice that went into the audio track for a particular scene I still believe it upon playback. I get to be both the magician and the audience at the same time! The trickster and the tricked, the con artist and the victim. I don’t know which is more thrilling, the illusion itself or just how impervious the illusion is to scrutiny.
In this clip the stage magicians Pen and Teller shove it in our face as well. Even as they explain the trick, it still delights us. (skip ahead to 1:32 if you’re in a hurry).
Of course there’s a darker side to all this. We all think of ourselves as rational thoughtful individuals, able to see through the stories told by marketers, salesmen and savy politicians. And maybe we can, but it does it really matter? When it comes down to it, what part of us is making decisions? The part that knows there is no band, or that part that was surprised when the trumpet kept playing?