Emotionally investing in other worlds

Regarding his new film, Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio was quoted by the London Daily Star as saying:

This is my first science fiction film.  I have a hard time with science fiction.  I have a little aversion to it, because it’s hard to emotionally invest in worlds that are too detached from what we know.

I can only assume that DiCaprio was referring to science fiction films, and not written science fiction.  I, too, find difficulty emotionally investing in much of the science fiction films that are out there, but I simply can’t see how this is possible for written science fiction.  It begs the question:  what, if any, science fiction has DiCaprio read that he has found it difficult to invest in?

Well-written science fiction is all about getting the reading to emotionally invest in what is happening in the story; suspension of disbelief requires this.  This can be a difficult challenge for writers (and why so many writers say that the most difficult kind of writing they do is science fiction).  The fact that they can do it successfully again and again is a testament to the skills of the writer.  It doesn’t matter that the worlds we sometimes visit are detached from what we know–we still fall in love with those world, come to feel a familiar bond with them (think Dune or Foundation, for instance).  And yet the implication that all science fiction is about worlds too detached from what we know belies an ignorance of the genre.

Think of Robert Silverberg’s brilliant novel Dying Inside, which takes place in New York City in the 1970s.   Think of Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, the setting of which might be unfamiliar, but the theme of which–the purpose of war–is something that touches us every day.  Ray Bradbury writes stories about familiar and unfamiliar worlds, but in each of them we recognize ourselves, our gifts and our follies carried with us.  These stories shine a different kind of light on the human condition, allow us to examine ourselves in ways hidden from a classical narrative.  Every world we visit in science fiction, not matter how unfamiliar, is a world we know.

Sometimes, clarity gets lost in the storytelling.  In the same interview, DiCaprio says of the script:

It’s a very well-written, comprehensive script.  It’s completely original.  But you really had to have [directory] Chris [Nolan] in person to articulate some of the things swirling around in his head.

If the director of the film had to explain the concepts that underlie the story to its lead actor, what does that say for the rest of us?  Sometimes, lack of clarity in writing can make it difficult to emotionally attach to something, be it familiar or unknown.


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