Riding the dragon

Erik Wyse

May I posit an example that may make my argument clearer from the onset: I do not like the most recent James Bond films starring Daniel Craig. As a counter, I prefer the films of the franchise that feature Roger Moore in the title role. If I had to sum up my preference, I would say it comes down to one major issue: realism.

I don’t enjoy the “grittiness” of the Craig films, the long, drawn out fights that often appear as real struggles, complete with nauseating jump-cuts and handicam work. Craig’s Bond appears too “real” for me.

Are Roger Moore fight scenes realistic? No, he often appears as if he were (a) having a stroke during the struggle, or (b) trying to seduce the combatant or some combination of the two. I find the scenes both comical and more memorable. They hold more meaning for me than the Craig fight scenes by-and-large.

I could continue at-length debating the Roger Moore Bond versus the Daniel Craig Bond, but my concern is much larger here. My critical view of the most recent Bond films carries over to many creative works. I’m drawn to works of art — I include movies, music and even certain video games here — that offer something I don’t immediately get from reality as I experience it. Part of this draw is based on fantasy and escapism. Sometimes it is purely escapism, which has its merits, but more often I would categorize the draw to the experience being fantasy.

The word “fantasy” carries different meanings for different people. For me, fantasy can operate as a powerful medium through which one can explore an idea or communicate a deep-felt human truth or experience. Fantasy, as I have defined it, has been an important means of storytelling since some of the earliest cohesive human societies.

I’m thinking primarily here of fairy tales and folk tales, the stuff of legend. Fairy tales have the power to reshape and reorganize the world we live in. So while I may attack straight realism, the fantasy I uphold has within it a deep connection to and return to the real world of reality, though that connection may or may not rest on the surface.

Perhaps fantasy’s power and attraction are caused by the way it often deals in universals and archetypes that cut deeply into the human psyche. Fantasy serves to better grapple with the abstract, with thoughts and ideas realism cannot adequately communicate. Which work, the more real or the more fantastical, is a question that will continue to be considered and discussed in the future. My take is that the work of fantasy will almost always outlast the work of concrete realism.

At this time I feel the need to share some criticisms I have of fantasy, and in so doing illuminate both the misunderstanding and misuse that so often occurs with fantastical works of narrative. A work of fantasy must be made with a mind focused not merely on elements of a topical nature. The works of fantasy that endure are those that have a strong narrative structure, or grapple with powerful and meaningful ideas — in other words, they move beyond the realm of forms that their characters inhabit. Within these worlds are similar issues and ideas that mark the world of reality, though a strength may be the subtlety with which these ideas and issues are expressed.

In summary, I believe that fantastical and abstract modes of expression are just as pertinent to human experience as more realistic modes. I have been primarily focused on narrative, but I think my argument applies to all modes of art as expression. These fantastical and abstract modes are marked by symbols, subtleties and obscurity, which brings clarity — clarity to the present moment reality.