Levels of Reality in Film, a paper written for Prof. Alice Jardine's class in Semiotics, Fall 1988

In the fifth chapter of his book Narrative Discourse, Gérard Genette sets up a typology of diegetic, or narrative, levels, to describe the relations of the narrator to his narrative. A diegetic or intradiegetic narrator is a character telling his story to other characters, and the characters and events within that narrative are metadiegetic, down one narrative level. He calls the narrator extradiegetic "who is at the same narrative level as the public, that is, you and me."(229) This narrator can be fictional, as in the case of Robinson Crusoe, who is not the same as the actual author, Daniel Defoe, but he can still narrate his story to us directly, rather than to another fictional character, as is often done. But Genette is careful to exclude from the discussion the actual author, that is, the "literary instance," as opposed to the "narrative instance." He does not see any contradiction, anything odd, in having a non-real character (the extradiegetic narrator) address real people, that is, us, the reading public. To put it bluntly, I do. I do not see it so much in written literature, as in another medium, that of the audio-visual, that is, film (and, though in slightly different ways, television.) The key factor is the element of realism.

As Christian Metz explains in Essais sur la Signification au Cinéma, (the first essay, "À propos de l'impression de realité au cinéma,") film is more realistic than any other medium yet invented. Unlike sculpture, or painting, it shows us real people and things, but what really sets it apart, and from photography too, which also shows real people and things, is movement. "It is in effect a general law of psycholgy that movement, from the moment it is perceived, is the most often perceived as real, as opposed to many other visual structures such as volume..."(17, my translation.) He goes on to set movies apart from plays in that they do not require the same conventions, and are not as limited in scope and space. I agree; for, though it may seem contradictory, film imposes enough of a separation from the events it portrays to create a stronger sense of realism thatn the play, in which the very flesh and blood nature of the characters on stage, their proximity, make them too real to get away with some of the stage fictions. Of course, the assertion that film is more realistic than written literature would test the definition of realism and would not go unquestioned. Each medium, of course, has different capabilities and different strengths, and thus different rules. My point is simply that the rules, or rather the descriptions, that Genette formulated for literature do not apply in the same way to film. His typology of levels of narrative must be modified to become a typology of levels of reality.

In her unpublished article, "Postmodernism?", Julia Kristeva explains the term as referring to "that literature which writes itself with the more or less conscious intention of expanding the signifiable...realm...I would call this practice of writing an 'experience of limits,'...compared to the media, whose function it is to collectivize all systems of signs....this writing-as-experience of limits individuates." (Her emphasis) What she means is that instead of attempting to make all sign-systems, that is, all the various artistic and literary media, interchangeable, (I interpret her use of "media" to mean the "mass media," with very little, if any, literary value or purpose) post-modernism explores the expressive possibilities of each individual medium, which are often unique to that medium. But this implies a certain awareness of the medium, (my emphasis) a sense throughout the work that it is a work of art and one of a certain type. It is like the familiar pantomime routine of a character suddenly discovering himself inside an invisible box, and with his hands, as if feeling its walls, he makes clear its boundaries. The same process is at work in the literature, (a term I will use very loosely), described by Kristeva. In the case of film, because of its unique qualities of realism, the limits to be explored often involve concepts of reality and non-reality. This is another reason why a typology of reality and its various levels in necessary.

However, my concern is not with post-modern works for whom exploration of the boundaries of the medium is the principal goal, but with works whose emphasis is elsewhere, but in which the post-modern concern with the limits shows to a greater or lesser extent, whether by the creators' intention or not. They may use indications of medium-awareness to help convey their meaning orinclude them as a by-product of the creative process. Generally, their function is connotative rather than denotative.

Therefore, without further ado, let me introduce my concept of levels of reality in film, in their logical, completely consistent form. At the top stands (or rather sits, in his plush seat) the spectator, who could be you or I. He or she is Real, and anything involving him or her, whether inside the theatre or in the rest of life outside, happens on the level of the Real. On the screen, a film is being shown, on the level of the Real, and this film has been made by a great number of people, actors, directors, producers, cameramen, technical staff and special effects artists, also on the level of the Real, which can therefore also be caled the level of production. In this film, there is a depiction of action which bears a striking similarity to the action that occurs on the level of the Real, i.e. in life, at least in the sense that creatures (I am trying to be all-inclusive here, for I have seen many science-fiction movies which require such a loose definition) who bear at least some resemblance ot ourselves or creatures with which we are familiar, move and engage in activities that are again at least faintly recognizable (as activities if nothing else), often including speech, in a setting which has that same property. There is thus an imitation of the flow of time through movement, which is the plot, an imitation of Real people by actors (who are also Real people, but not the same people), which are called characters, and an imitation of some sort of natural laws of cause and effect, and of the conditions that govern the action, by the various techniques and conventions of production, which we will call the conventions or assumptions of the film. Taken together, these elements create an alternate reality independent of Reality (our own) in which anything can happen, limited only by the technical means at the creators' disposal. This is the cinematic level.

If part of the plot of the film should involve the viewing or the production of another film, this meta-film will have its own characters, plot, and conventions, independent of those of the film just as those of the film are independent of Reality. This is the metacinematic level, and levels beneath this can be distinguished by the addition of the meta- prefix. Each level is susceptible to interference from its creators on levels above, but it is not in any way governed by its conventions, nor must it include its characters. In fact, it is impossible to include a character from a higher level; even if a Real person were portrayed in a film, it would be by an actor, or if the person portrayed himself, still, the conventions would be different, and the character would only be a fictionalized version of the person, in much the same way as, in Genette's explanation, Marcel, the narrator of Remembrance of Things Past, is a fictionalized version of the author Proust. On the other hand, no level has access to that above it, and the created cannot in any way influence the creator. It is important to distinguish the representations of the created, lower levels, from the alternate realities themselves. An actor, or a special effect, is a signifier of a character or a situation that has no reality outside the minds of the creator and the spectator, which is a signified without a referant. (Except in the case of films based on Real events, in which the events become the referents for the cinematic signs.) As long as the rules (which I described as "logical and completely consistent" above) governing the interaction of levels are respected, there are no problems. But it has become common to violate these rules, to allow the levels to interact in less than logical and consistent ways. These can be overt or subtle; in the latter case, they are often more interesting. They fall into two general categories. The first I call external awareness of the medium, and it is the recognition, explicit or implicit, that other works of the same medium exist. It is the more subtle type. The other is true self-awareness, or internal awareness of the medium, in which a work acknowledges its own fictionality. It usually involves grosser and more noticeable violations of the level-separation laws.

External awareness can take many forms, and has several purposes. The simplest might be called the referential, as it is similar to Roland Barthes referential code. In Sarrasine, there are references to works of art, music, etc, with which the reader is assumed to be familiar, sometimes with explanations of their relevance if they are obscure. One of the ways in which movies attain their realism is through the great variety of means of expression they command and unite. Thus, if in a film it is necessary to bring a certain word into play, to suggest or underline a point, it can be shown printed in a newspaper, sign, etc., spoken by a character or heard somewhere else, the choice of means depending on the exact situation and connotation desired. Of course, this multiplicity of outlets could be used for anything, any word, or as in Barthes, any part of cultural knowldge. But in the case in which it refers to the title, characters, situations or conventions of another film, it is particularly effective. Because the media are the same, it is easier to superimpose one on the other, to see the relationship. References of this type fall into subcategories. In simple references the title of the film or a perhaps a character name is introduced in one of the ways described above, and the viewer is left to make any associations he might, ideally, the relevant ones. In a movie dealing with the hardships of the urban poor, a view marquee announcing the showing of Oliver Twist would conjure up images of the same sorts of urban hardships for the viewer. Showing the cover of the book in a bookstore would force the viewer to switch his train of thought to a different medium, and blunt the effect. Explanatory references are simply more complex, and usually require dialogue. They pinpoint what in the referred movie is significant and relevant to the current situation. In Beverly Hills Cop, as a shootout begins in which two policemen armed with pistols face a mob of heavily armed villains, one remarks cheerfully, "Gee, this is just like in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when they faced the whole Bolivian Army!" The other responds in a less than enthusiastic manner, and the point is well taken;although Butch and Sundance's stand may have been heroic, the ending was not favorable to them. The audience is assumed to be familiar with the movie and to undeerstand the connection. References of both these types also serve to illuminate character, showing that a certain character identifies in some way and we are meant to identify him with some aspect of the cited film, again; either context or specific statement may make it clear what aspect.

Sometimes, instead of simply referring to another film, a film actually includes excerpts from it. The audience will not simply be reminded of the content of the film and left to its own to recall the exact scene, but have the scene presented before it in its entirety. One crucial distinction to make in these instances is that of the presence or absence of the margin, the band of film around the quoted metafilm. This margin is controlled by the framing, by the camera of the film, of the screen on which the metafilm is being shown. If it shows only the metafilm (or if the metafilm is simply spliced into the film) and excludes any of the setting of the theatre (not the Real theatre, but the theatre within the film) it is marginless. It is then appearing as an idea in the mind of the viewer in the film (the metaviewer), and we the Real viewers see directly into his or her mind, showing us what he or she is thinking, not what he or she is watching. Or, the film is being shown to us directly, with the metaviewer unimportant or even non-existant, but this is very rare. When it is made clear that the metafilm is not part of the reality of the film, by showing the metaviewers as they watch, or the theatre, etc., then the quotation can be said to be margined. Really, margins function like quotation marks; they indicate that the utterance belongs not to the creator of the work or the narrator but to some other source, either outside the work (as when quotes are used in a research paper, to attribute the statement to another scholar) or inside it (as when quotes are used in fiction, to attribute the statement to a character.) Woody Allen's Play It Again, Sam, begins with a marginless quote from Casablanca. It could almost be an introductory poem to a Kipling short story or a scene on the same level of reality, and it is not clear that it is another film until the reverse shot, when the camera cuts to Allen's character seated in a theatre, watching the movie. Thereafter, there are several shot/reverse shot formations, showing Casablanca, then Allen's character watching Casablanca. But for a moment, we were watching Casablanca, along with the character in the film, or rather, first we saw him thinking about Casablanca, then when the margin appeared, we saw him watching it. At this point, Allen's character "stands in " for us, (to use Kaja Silverman's term in "Suture," p205) we identify with it. He is in the same place where we were only moments before, and where we have probably been before in our lives: watching Casablanca.

In the film Diner a male character, Boogie, lures a female into a sexual act while both are watching a film. Two of Boogie's friends are seated down the row, dividing their attention between the film, which depicts a pair of lovers on their way to a love scene, and the real (to them) drama nearby. A very strong parallelism is drawn between three levels: members of the Real audience, perhaps making their own moves or having moves made on them, watching both Boogie, the meta-film, and whatever may be going on around them; the other characters in the film, watching the meta-film and the parallel goings on near them. A sort of confusion is created, in which, to us, the meta-film seems to be on the same level as the film, one level beneath us, and the metafilmic events stand for those of the film.

The other important distinction to make in external awareness is that of whether cited film is Real or not, whether it has any existence outside the film which cites it. (A Real film is part of Reality only as a film; none of its characters, actions, or conventions is Real.) Could one of us view the cited film in its entirety, or is it fictional, purely a creation within the film that cites it? In the case of Play It Again, Sam, the cited film, Casablanca, is a Real film. It existed prior to the Allen film, would be, and has been, seen by many people who have not seen PIAS. It might even be shown on a double feature with it. In another film, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Allen makes up a meta-film to cite, which has no existence outside the film. The creator thus has total control over its content, and does not have to face the problem of incomplete parallelism, that is, if a film used another film to illustrate, but that meta-film did not match exactly, in a way that undercut a point the filmmakere was trying to make, what to do? It is at this point that the creation of an entirely new meta-film becomes necessary. The pre-existing, Real meta-film has the advantage of familiarity to the audience, rendering any points to be made through comparison more clear; the created meta-film has the advantage of total controllability.

External awareness may seem like a form of intertextuality, the interpretation of all literature as part of one great work. But external awareness differs from intertextuality in that it requires an awareness of the meta-work on the cinematic level rather than the Real. The reference must be targeted not only to us, but to the characters as well. Intertextuality is based on the truism that no work comes out of a vacuum, that the creator had to have experienced other works and been influenced by them, or that his or her work cannot be understood without reference to, and understanding of, a great variety of other works of similar origin, theme, or content. However, when the reference goes beyond a certain point of explicitness, and is acknowledged too openly, then it supersedes intertextuality and enters the realm of awareness. In Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, there is a nice example of contrast between the two concepts. In the first act, a young musketeer compliments Cyrano; when the latter asks his name, he is told, "D'Artagnan," a reference to Dumas. (The borrowing of a character is of course the grossest, most obvious example.) In the third, an enemy, commenting on Cyrano's upholding of chivalric values that seem obsolete by that time, asks him if he has read Don Quixote, to which Cyrano responds that he has and identifies completely with the title character. In the first instance, only the audience and the writer realize the connection; it occurs only on the level of the Real. In the second, the connection is made on the level of the play, the equivalent of the cinematic level. Of course, the Real (historical) Cyrano could not have been aware of the work of Dumas, written two hundred years after him, and Rostand could not have had him aware of him without an anachronism. However, Cyrano in the fourth act makes references to the chivalric heroes in the same way Don Quixote was wont to do, without specifically acknowledging the imitation him, we have intertextuality again, that is, Rostand referring to Cervantes rather than Cyrano referring to Don Quixote.

The same thing happens in the l988 movie Red Heat, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Ivan Danko, a very physically fit Soviet policeman on special assignment in Chicago, and James Belushi plays the Chicago detective working with him. After Danko's gun has been taken away, his new partner gives him a .44 Magnum, known to the viewers of Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" movies (who are likely to be viewers of this movie as well) as "the most powerful handgun in the world," and in fact repeats this phrase. When Danko does not recognize it, he says "You never heard of Dirty Harry?" Here, he (Belushi's character)is referring to a character in a movie as a character, the same way a Real policeman or any other Real person might. He is aware that Dirty Harry is a character in a movie, just as Cyrano is aware that Don Quixote is a character in a book. Throughout the film, Danko engages in various forms of police brutality and violence made familiar by the genre which includes the Dirty Harry films, and at the final shootout manages to look surprisingly like Eastwood's Harry Callahan in his facial features. This is intertextuality, for only we see the similarity; Danko is not aware of it. Schwarzenegger may be imitating Eastwood, but Danko is not imitating Harry. The reference occurs outside the film, on the level of the real, rather than inside it, as in the other example. Intertextuality places all texts on the same level, as texts to be read and compared by us, on the level of the real.

The above examples introduce another question of film awareness. Are all character on the same level in the same reality? Obviously not. Although it might seem as logical as any of the other rules I have introduced to assume so, just because all the cinematic levels bear the same realtionship to the Real does not mean they are equivalent. Thus, when Belushi's character refers to Dirty Harry, it is as a fictional character, not as "this guy I heard about over in San Francisco." There is no reason why they must belong to different worlds; they both live in roughly contemporaneous crime-ridden America, and have about the same degree of realism. Their creators are not like the comic-book companies, who have in recent years attempted to unify all their characters into single "universes," but with Universes of the various companies not intersecting, and the presence of savage barbarian adventurers and high-tech superheroes in the same universe explained by time-warps and dimensional switches. If two cinematic levels are similar in conventions to the Real, they could conceivably join each other to it, and relate to one another like the various episodes in a series of sequels. But this is rare. Why? Because, to put it figuratively, each film wants to beat down the others and claim a place for itself closer to reality than others. Only higher levels of reality can refer downward. Referring to a work of fiction instantly places it at a lower level of reality. Real people can refer to fictional works, such as films, and it is understood that they are at the cinematic level. When films, at the cinematic level, make reference to other films, then they are subordinated one level. The referring film seems somehow more real. The problem is that the film referred to is one level beneath us, we in the Real world know, and logically, if it is one level beneath the referring film, then the referring film seems to be on the same level as we. This is the technique of Play It Again, Sam, and of Red Heat. They claim a special immediacy, a special realism, by providing a common ground for the viewer, a view with which he can identify. In animated cartoons, an anthropmorphised dog, who in every way acts like a human being, will have as a pet -- a dog. It is a way of asserting, "This is more than a dog," and it may strike the viewer as strange. For the characters in a film to see the same movies as we is different from the common possession of any other cultural item, such as drinking the same beer or wearing the same clothes, although these would also provide added realism. Having the characters watch the same films involves a transgression of level-boundaries, a much stronger claim to reality. It is here that the difference between Real meta-films and created meta-films becomes important. When the cited film is a Real film, on the same level of reality to us as the citing film, the assertion of reality is stronger than when the meta-film has been invented. It seems strange enough that movie characters should be able to see movies, but it can be reconciled when we realize that they are not Real movies. But when they are, we begin to resent the unReal claiming equality with the Real, or at least we notice it more, and are more likely to believe it.

There is a way out of the contradiction, to avoid accepting the Reality of the Real film which quotes another Real film. When a fiction refers to anything, it fictionalizes it, it makes a copy of it to fit its own conventions and uses this rather than the Real thing, to which it cannot obtain access. As soon as something Real, anything, a person, place, thing, or activity, is brought into a work on the cinematic level, it loses its Reality. Just as Proust himself cannot enter his narrative except as the narrator Marcel, a film cannot enter another except as its fictionalized version. In a film such as The Day of the Jackal, there are historical personages present, but they have been fictionalized. They are no longer subject to the conventions of Reality, but to those of the film. Although in Reality, Charles DeGaulle was not assassinated in 1963, in the film, he could be. By the same token, in Play It Again, Sam, a Casablanca could be shown in which Ilse leaves with Rick instead of Victor. The viewer can refuse to accept the Reality of the plot, conventions, and characters of a citing film by refusing to accept the Reality of the film it cites, although he or she may have seen the metafilm outside of the citing film. He or she can simply assert the difference between the metafilm before and after the citation and resultant fictionalization.

Internal awareness, the other great denomination, involves the acknowledgenment by a film of its own fictionality. For fictionality, I use the sense of "having been made," instead of happening exactly as we see. Thus, for example, a film such as Breaker Morant, which deals with historical events, is still fiction because it depends on actors playing the roles of the historical characters some eighty years later rather than filming the events as they happened, as in a documentary. in some way, all films acknowledge their fictionality; they begin or end with credits, in which the identification of the characters with their real-life portrayers is made. But many films go much further, using methods that utilize the three components of the film: the characters, the conventions, and the plot.

Often in a film a character will look out toward the audience and speak, or his or her voice will be heard, but not addressing any of the other characters. This can be a conventionalised way of representing thoughts; the character is speaking to him- or herself, like a theatrical soliloquy or aside. This is one way to explain voice-over narrations, as the thoughts of the characters as the actions depicted occur. But when they are in the past tense, then they cannot be occurring at the same moment as the action, and must be addressed to some one. It can be another character, with some framework provided for narration, or even an internal monologue, if the narrator's reasons for reflecting back can be explained.

Thus, in The Man Who Would Be King, the film opens with a mutilated beggar visiting the character of Rudyard Kipling, then telling him the story of his adventures. At the end of his narration, he is seen again with Kipling, and leaves. In Genette's analysis, he is a diegetic narrator, included in the story. It is very hard to have an extradiegetic narrator in a movie, for he would have to be the filmmaker, or the camera, who is seldom seen, except in documentaries. An exception would be This is Spinal Tap!, which masquerades as a documentary about a rock band, but as the band is fictional, it is not a Real documentary. However, the director, Rob Reiner, appears at the beginning of the movie to identify himself as the maker of a documentary, and appears throughout the film as an interviewer. Even if Reiner were not the actual director of the film, his character would still be an extradiegetic narrator of the film (he has been fictionalized, and thus is not really Rob Reiner throughout the film) just as, to use Genette'e example, "Robinson Crusoe is the fictive author of the book by Defoe that bears his name."(229) The similarity is that the production of the work, the book or the movie, is an event of the action of the work. However, the work has again been fictionalized; the book by Robinson Crusoe is not Robinson Crusoe, but an act described by it, and the result of the fictional director's labors is not the Spinal Tap! which we see but merely part of the action of the plot. But finally, there is the example of the film She's Gotta Have It!, which begins with the heroine looking at the audience to tell her story (that is, the actress looks into the camera), continues with the story depicted, and ends again with the heroine speaking to the audience. It would be just like The Man Who Would Be King, only the story is addressed not to another character but directly to us, and unlike Robinson Crusoe, there is no explanation of the mechanism by which the work came to be. This is the phenomenon which Genette calls metalepsis, a violation of "a shifting but sacred frontier betwen two worlds, the world in which one tells, the world of which one tells."(236) As another example, he cites the story by Cortazar in which a man is killed by a character in a novel he is reading. (234) The difference between metalepsis of this type and the types of level conflicts I have described above is that in external awareness, the fictional characters may claim to exist on the same level as the Real, but in metalepsis, they may actually affect them, speak to them, or even kill them.

The contradiction of metalepsis can sometimes be resolved by assigning it to its proper level of reality. The Muppet Movie opens with all the Muppets assembled for the about-to-be-released movie showing how they achieved stardom. The film then begins, shown on a screen on which the camera zooms in to eliminate the margin and which becomes the same as our screen, so that we forget that a metafilm is going on, two levels of reality below us. Later, Fozzie Bear is about to relate the whole story of his and Kermit the Frog's adventures to some new characters, but when Kermit admonishes him that he will bore the people watching the movie, he looks at the audience and apologizes. This may seem like a violation of Genette's sacred border, but when it is realized that the non-reality of the action is acknowledged already by the opening scene, the contradiction disappears. In non-Reality, anything can happen. Douglas Hofstadter, in Goedel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, explains away the apparent contradiction in the M.C. Escher etching "Drawing Hands," depicting two hands, rising into apparent reality out of the paper on which they are drawn, but with each drawn by the other, by reminding us that both are drawn by Escher, and as fiction follow no laws, anything is possible in a drawing.

The film Ferris Bueller's Day Off has a hero who constantly speaks while looking away from the other characters out towards us. At first, he may seem only a to be representating his thoughts, but various lines such as "This is the part where such-and-such happens," and his final line, in which he tells the audience to go home, make it clear that he is addressing the audience. This whole ability, possessed by no other character in the film, serves to underline what the other characters constantly say about him: that he is superhuman, that everything always goes right for him, that he can get away with things that no one else can. And he can. The fact that he can talk to us, the audience, suggests that he is somehow on a higher level or reality, pulling the strings. His ability to address the audience symbolizes his superhuman, or super-the-humans-around-him, ability to manipulate the world and its inhabitants.

Using the plot to express internal awareness corresponds roughly to Genette's concept of author's metalepsis, allowing the author himself to bring about rather than just to write about. He can reach into the narrative, and kill a character with a stroke of his pen, just as in a famous cartoon in which Daffy Duck is tormented by an animator with a paintbrush and eraser who keeps painting him into all kinds of uncomfortable situations, using his absolute power. In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, quite the opposite happens; just as the heroes are about to be devoured by a ravenous dragon, the animator is shown having a heart attack, and the dragon disappears. In an episode of the TV show "The Twilight Zone," a businessman walks into his office, and looks out to see one wall is missing, with a film crew there. The character is sure he is a businessman, not an (drunken) actor playing a role, which everyone else insists he is. Finally, he manages to reenter his office and leave through the front with his wife on vacation. At the end, the film crew is left pondering his disappearance. Genette explains the discomfort produced by this episode, that "the most troubling thing about metalepsis indeed lies in this unacceptable and insistent hypothesis, ...that the narrator and his narratees -- you and I -- perhaps belong to some narrative."(236) Certainly Alice in Through the Looking Glass is disturbed when she is told that the sleeping Red King is dreaming of her, and when he wakes up, she will disappear. What is God but an author who can write our destinies as a narrative, with as much leeway as the cartoonist tormenting Daffy Duck? Film is an ideal medium for conveying this message, since by showing how real that which we know to be unreal can look, it can make us begin to wonder about the reality of that which we were quite sure is real.

Lastly, internal awareness can be expressed through using the conventions of film. In his chapter "An Introduction to Verisimilitude," in The Poetics of Prose, Tzvetan Todorov presents some of the means by which verisimilitude can be established, and that "we speak of a work's verisimilitude insofar as the work tries to convince us it conforms to reality and not to its own laws."(83) But he also notes that each genre has its own verisimilitude, that "there are as many verisimilitudes as there are genres." In some of these, such as the mystery, verisimilitude conflicts with the truth; there is, he says, actually a law of antiverisimilitude in mystery, that the obvious is never the truth. Movies can be tripped up, or can profit, by this rule of thumb. When they are highly conventionalised, the expectation is not that they will not try to conform to reality but to their own laws, their own conventions, or those of their genre. Thus, in the movie Brazil, a pair of futuristic totalitarian secret policeman are shown removing the ominous-looking helmets that cover their heads, and complaining about the heat. This is a violation of a film convention that futuristic totalitarian secret police never remove their helmets, never show a human face or a human side, even though, being human beings, the removal of the helmets and the comments would be perfectly natural. To the viewer, this seems unnatural, in fact, comic. Science-fiction movies set in outer space feature starships zooming by with a roar, despite the fact that there is no noise in space, because to adhere to reality would violate a film convention that large, fast moving objects make noise. The films thus implicitly acknowledge that they are fiction and give up the attempt to imitate reality, lest they appear humerous. For that, after all, is the usual effect of the crossing of level boundaries, rather than production of meaning, just ask Genette; intrusion from one level into another "produces an effect of strangeness that is either comical...or fantastic."(235)