What is Verisimilitude and how does it work in films?

Tue 1 Dec 2020

Q: What do we mean when we use the technical term verisimilitude?

A: A film has verisimilitude if it seems realistic and the story has details, subjects, and characters that seem similar or true to real life, or mime convincing aspects of life in important or fundamental ways.

Q: Why is verisimilitude so important?

A: A character needs to be plausible, within or without of her ‘make believe’ environment on screen or the power of the project devolves or becomes lacklustre. The nuances of character and the methods employed to deliver ‘believability’ will go a long way to carry a story, and grab the attention of producers looking to hire new talent!

Q: Why does a character need to be believable, even in a fantasy world like The Marvels Universe or Game Of Thrones?

A: All of the characters on screen exist in a fantasy world, but some exist in very peculiar or esoteric worlds. However, they share common experience and motive. Their struggle must strike a chord with a new or existing audience member and the mechanism of their antagonistic journey must resemble a life-story that, with suspension of disbelief, we could imagine the virtue or sacrifice of the journey worthwhile and the resolution of the character anew, in victory or tragedy, meaningful.

Q: Why don’t over-loaded characters or situations work?

A: If you attended a sporting competition and one team or one player always defeated a team or a foe so utterly and predictably each time you would find the oeuvre unconvincing, the pitch of one element against another ridiculous and likely the event would not survive collective audience ennui. Films are the same and its important the viewer doesn’t become immune to the spectacle.

Q: How is the story pinned to the construction of believable characters?

A: Movies, T.V. and theatre are constrained by narrow boundaries; you can go off script, ad-libbing can and does provide a useful tool for accomplished actors, but it is an uncommon trick; and a writer needs to be wary of venturing into unchartered territory. A writer might understand completely a tangent she is making on paper in her bedroom after overdosing on caffeine late-night, of a radical or new or ‘out there’ direction a character is making but is the audience able to share her vision or will it run contrary to the rest of the narrative?

The writer is in some way duty bound to an aggregate audience response. She has a target audience in mind as she formulates a story and fills it with characters and if she wants the character and therefore the film to have a life, first the story, then the character need to be dually believable for the audience to progress alongside and cast aside doubt!

Q: Can radical ‘unbelievable’ characters endure in a film?

A: Indeed they can, but they might function as ancillary or one-off characters defining an hiatus or comedy moment. It's important that the viewers do not dispose of their belief in the character before the journey is attempted.

Q: What’s one of the most memorable on-screen characters?

A: Rutger Hauer’s character ‘Roy Batty’ in the futuristic movie Blade Runner (1982) is a replicant and leading a group of artificial humans on the run. After saving his pursuer's life, ‘Rick Deckard’ played by Harrison Ford and, moments before his own death and in heavy dramatic rain, he reflects with great melancholy on mortality and says; “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…All those moments lost in time, like tears in the rain…Time to die.”

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