Fantasy, Film, Just So Narratives, Movies, Skepticism, Stories, troll, Trolls, Voicing
The first scene in Troll opens with a father teaching his child to see trolls in the mountains. She is skeptical, but he urges her to make an effort. To see them, he reassures her, she must first believe.
And she does!
Thus, another just-so narrative is born!
Or at least, a rather common just-so cliche gets another go at audiences.
The thing is, I could almost have gone along with it, if the movie-makers in this instance had only had the confidence to invite us to live in a world where a troll can just come out of the mountains and make himself a menace to humanity. They could have simply asked us to run with that premise. That’s what Troll Hunter did, and it was brilliant. But Troll wants to talk to us about it. They want to argue with us about it.
Or at least the characters in the film want to argue about it.
I just can’t imagine why?
At least I can’t imagine a good reason.
The movie’s main character, Professor Nora Tidemann (played by Ine Marie Wilmann) spends much of the first act trash-talking science and scientists. That she is a scientist herself could be an interesting paradox, if only she and her antagonists had anything interesting to say about the matter. It would also help if the scientific establishment in Troll was anything but a willfully obtuse little whipping boy.
For their own part, Tidemann’s skeptics have little to offer but their own refusal to believe the obvious facts of the universe they live in, that is the one in which a troll really does walk out of a mountain and start killing people and breaking things. So, it’s left to Tidemann to tell them what they are seeing, and the resulting debate is a string of arguments we’ve seen in countless B-grade fantasy and horror films going as far back as I can remember.
This isn’t good story telling.
The troll himself is good storytelling. He is interesting. Hell, he was awesome! He looked cool enough, and his behavior invites us to consider a whole range of much more interesting questions. He was menacing enough, true, but the Troll also showed traces of compassion. As the storyline developed, we even began to get a sense for how he could be approached, for what might make the difference between a violent encounter and a peaceful one. What made the difference in this instance was almost interesting, and it almost mattered.
In any event, the troll in this movie was actually pretty cool.
It was the people that sucked.
The people sucked because they were using the troll to rehash an old and entirely contrived debate about the limitations of science and rationalism. Because that debate was hardly compelling as a storyline, I have to believe it wasn’t really there in the service of the story. The debate was there because someone behind the making of this movie thinks they have a point to make about the limitations of science. Someone believes that message – that you must believe in order to see – is a point worth making. So, when Tidemann’s father tells his daughter to do that in the opening scene, and when she later repeats that message to the rest of the scientists throughout the rest of the movie, that is someone behind the making of this movie speaking to the rest of us, telling us that we must believe in order to see.
If only the people telling us this had the courage of their own convictions, the story might have worked. Had they been willing to show us a world full of trolls and let the characters (along with their audience) run with it, the whole story might have worked. But they had to argue with us. They did so through the voices of their less-than-compelling human characters. The argument was never more than a childish exercise in special pleading, all quite unnecessary, because the story presents the existence of trolls as a fact. Those still reluctant to acknowledge their existence well into the second act come across, not so much as scientists or skeptics as outright fools. They do so because they are denying obvious facts, and because their denial is clearly unreasonable at that point in the story. And so we are left with the notion that a kind of blind faith has proven itself out, that it is the characters who choose to believe in order to see the troll that understood the assignment, that such faith and such faith alone was the only hope for handling the troll in this story. Science and skepticism failed in this instance because they were simply written that way. And because the movie invests so much time in the arguments between the skeptics and the believers, I do not think it unreasonable to suppose the movie-makers wanted us to take their arguments seriously.
Only these just aren’t serious arguments.
They are tiresome cliches.
The troll deserved better!