Lost in Translation, Part 2

I encountered another one of those things that made me take a moment to step back and say, “Wait a second. That doesn’t make any sense.”

If you don’t recall, I talked about one such thing in an earlier post.

This one is much shorter, and came from both an old pulp story I was listening to on a podcast and some old movies I’ve seen. This is one of those, “Did people ever really talk like this?” things.

The scene: Two people are talking. One of them (BOB) is a crook or dishonest in some way. The audience either knows or suspects this. The other (ALICE) is an “investigator” or another crook. Alice is trying to convince Bob to go along with something, whether it’s telling the truth (if Alice is an investigator) or another con (if Alice is a crook).

Alice makes her case.

Bob (reluctantly) agrees to go along with whatever scheme Alice has presented, starts to walk away, then turns and says, his voice dripping with suspicion, “Say . . . this isn’t some kind of trick, is it?” (Sometimes, it’s “trap” instead of “trick.”)

Alice responds, “Of course not,” and possibly follows up with, “Would I do that to you?”

Of course, whether Alice is an investigator or a crook, there is a better than even chance that it is some sort of trick. And the audience is fully aware of it because the audience is very smart.

Unlike Bob.

I mean, seriously, what would make Bob ask Alice that? It’s a nonsense question with no chance of any answer other than “no.” Whether that “no” is a lie or true depends entirely on Alice’s character.

So why ask it?

I finally thought of a reason for film. In print, the reader is able to get into the mind of the character, but the POV character is almost certainly not going to be Bob, but Alice.

I think maybe having Bob ask that question is a lazy attempt by the writers to give the readers / viewers a peek into Bob’s internal monologue that we couldn’t otherwise see. To let us know that Bob isn’t a total stooge. He knows there’s a chance he’s getting himself into more trouble, but the only way for the lazy writer to let us know this is to have him just come out and ask. For him to willingly go along with whatever scheme it is without question would be to show he’s kind of stupid.

That’s all I can think of, anyway. The other alternative — that he’s asking it because he’s an astute observer of people and can tell when they’re lying and is asking it to force Alice’s inevitable reaction to let him know with certainty what her intentions are — isn’t something I think the pulp writers or screenwriters did, unless Bob was the POV character, in which case he’s asking it for devious reasons.

What do you think?


  1. Can you imagine the story if Alice stopped, blinked, and then slumped and said, “Yeah, Bob, it was. But you caught me.”
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