Sunday, May 23, 2010

Layering. We layer our clothing and we layer our cakes. Are we ourselves layered?
Several years ago I watched a movie called Layer Cake. Daniel Craig spent the better part of two hours trying to maneuver through the layers of a plot that was almost Hitchcock-ian in its multi-layered plotting.

More recently, I have become a fanatic for LOST, which comes to an end this weekend after six years. The show, and its complexity, have given me a basis for some self examination.

I adore books and shows with complex plots. I have never thought of myself as a particularly complex person, yet if friends and relatives were queried, I suspect they would laugh at me and reveal me to be one of the most complex individuals on earth.

A simple plot is boy meets girl, they fall in love, they live happily ever after. Or Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, fell off, and died. (For those of you who follow the theatrical thread of my thoughts, that would be a Shakespearean tragedy). Now while we all love a happy ending or a truly dark tragedy, the fact is that such simplicity is, from a dramatic point of view, not entertaining enough to keep us reading or watching or even listening (books on tape).

My life is simple enough (somedays I'm the girl with the happy ending, somedays I feel a bit like HD). But for entertainment purposes only, I'll take the complex plot everytime.

Consider just about any story by Charles Dickens. What a monumental knot of duplicity, secrets, surprises, love-lost, and treasures revealed. Sprinkle in a little tragedy, madness, and a smidge of true love, and there is enough to entertain everyone. The same is true of Diana Gabaldon's books. Layers, hurdles, mysteries.

And don't even get me started on Twin Peaks.

Years ago someone did a survey and discovered that young urban professionals with high-stress jobs loved Telly Tubbies at the end of the work day because it was simple, mindless, comforting. They could let their brains and bodies rest and just absorb the simplicity of childish play, bold colors, soft sounds. No pressure. No conflict. No stress over characters' tribulations.

For me, Lost (which could have turned out to be a dramatic cross between Gilligan's Island and Knot's Landing), epitomized the concept of plot layering. The simplicity of people trying to survive the plane crash morphed into Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, retold with a modern twist. My brain spins with the concepts condensed into the few short minutes that the writers feed the audience each week. Alternate realities, good vs. evil, morality, mayhem, Mythology, espionage, and the classic love triangle.

Complex plots challenge us. Like crossword puzzles, chess, Jeopardy, or Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me (NPR), complexities generate our brains to use grey matter that I suspect doesn't get used on the daily drive to work.

So, as Lost comes to an end, and Law and Order fades into the sunset, give me some feed back. Do you like your stories simple and soothing? Or, do you live vicariously by suspense, multiple plot lines, and the one who got away...