a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Deja Vu and Logical Flaws

I liked Deja Vu a lot. It's the kind of stuff I like to write -- everyday people going through a tale that is enlivened by some supernatural or sci fi twist.

Here, a lot of it works well; Denzel Washington is very likable, and the movie strikes a nice balance between geeky technical stuff, action and a nice little romance. Even all the exposition is finessed very well.

Logic is a problem though, something that some of the reviews have been picking up on. It's the kind of movie that gets you to think as you are watching it, so much so that it demands, more than other movies, that what you are thinking about should actually make perfect sense by the end.

In Deja Vu, it doesn't always. And as regular denizens of Wordplay know, co-writers Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio have been carefully writing for a while about how they aren't completely enamored about the changes director Tony Scott made to the screenplay.

So tonight, after seeing the movie, I read the script. I have a draft makrked "First Draft May 17, 2004", which I believe was the draft that sold.

And the core story is the same. The logic problems are the same. The biggest change is the fact that in the movie, Denzel Washington's character is initially misled about the technology he is taking part in; in the script, he is simply told the truth from the beginning . The movie's version works better; it is more credible that they wouldn't tell Denzel what is happening initially, and as Denzel puzzles out what is happening, it gives the audience a chance to do the same.

Unfortunately, a lot of critics (a subset referred to as "idiots") didn't seem to be paying enough attention, and got confused over what exactly was going on.

Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman's review, in which he seems completely baffled about what is going on, is a prime example; he cites the initial cover story as what is actually happening, despite a sequence in the middle of the film that makes it perfectly clear what the truth was.

Maybe he was in the bathroom.

*** SPOILERS ***

The big logic flaw in this movie is the fact that the film (and the script) tries to have it both ways; they have fun with the idea that even as Denzel Washington goes back in time, everything he does in the past has already happened. So his fingerprints are in the woman's apartment throughout, it is his bloody gauze in the wastebasket throughout, when she talks to her friend on the answering machine, he is there with her.

But because this all happens in a time stream when the woman is still dead, it makes no sense that it is happening.

Put it this way -- when Denzel Washington goes back in time, and saves the woman from being killed, that is when everything should change. There's even a helpful drawing of it along the way (which is in the movie and not in the script; maybe that's one of the big problems, though the drawing is true) in which we learn that things that change the past will create a different time path.

The problem is that there would be no time path in which Denzel is investigating this woman's death and also find himself puzzling out evidence that turns out to be of his presence after he saved the woman. It's impossible, even under the terms of this script's logic.


So the script doesn't hold up under close scrutiny. Though a reading of the negative reviews (it's currently running at about 61% positive on Rotten Tomatoes) shows that a lot of the critics who haven't liked it aren't giving it close scrutiny; they aren't disliking it because this key plot idea doesn't make sense, they are disliking it because they haven't paid enough real attention to the plot to understand what the hell is going on.

And for me, the logic holes were forgivable; I was along for the whole ride, and it was a good one. Deja Vu is well worth seeing, though if you need to go to the bathroom in the middle, hold it.


At 6:22 AM, Blogger Brett said...

Weird -- maybe I have a later versionof teh script than you do, as in the version I read a year ago the FBI agent is *not* given the full story about the time window-- instead he sorta figures it out thanks to an accident.

I also had a problem wrapping my head around the timeline chasing itsef-- sometimes I can imagine a looping set of parallel timelines that would allow for the events as described, and other times my thinking get tangled in a causality loop ("if he did THAT, then how did THAT ever happen in the first place, which then makes THIS logically impossible, except...")

Time travel stories always do that unloess you are just winking at the audience and saying "ok-- this is just silly." BILL & TED worked it well, and I still love that fabled PGL script about HANZ GRUBENSTEIN (or whatever-- I misplaced it, dammit).

DEJA VU, meanwhile, will end up making a profit, so T Scott will get props and permission to mangle some more projects, but nobody will even think about what the movie might have been if handled differently.

And so it goes.

At 6:49 AM, Anonymous Cecil said...

I liked it a lot as well. As I left I could see the steam coming off of peoples head as they tried to figure it out. I left with that same steam but after talking it out with my girl friend I figured it out, at least the best I could. I would like to read the script to see if there were any scenes that were left out. I'm not sure about the alligator tank with the arm in it. What that the partner? Maybe that will be an extra on the DVD. By the way, is the script anywhere online?

At 7:44 AM, Blogger The Thin White Duke said...


The logical loophole you point out was my only real qualm with the flick. I went in prepared for the worst, and left wondering how it could have been any better.

Which I mean as half compliment and half criticism.

One thing I really dug about the flick -

When Denzel's interrogating them, "Stop talking science and tell me what's going on", the team gives him a whole series of theories, even gives him a drawing to illustrate what a tangential timeline would look like -

Everyone's got a theory, but everyone admits: no one really knows what will happen if they change the past. Will the original timeline cease to exist? Will it go on coexisting in a tangent? Will "the encounter create a time paradox, the results of which could start a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space time continuum, and destroy the entire universe?"

Big questions, no one knows the answers - and I liked that.

At 10:04 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

In the script, he opens a trapdoor in the floor of the bad guy's house, and finds his partner's body, so I guess that was the partner in the alligator pit. Seemed a little unlikely the gator would be gnawing on that arm several days later though.

The bit with the theories wasn't in the script I have. In my draft, Denzel sees the 3D image of the past on the screen on page 29 and without being given any explanation says "You've developed a working time window. You can look into the past. From the look of things it's a prototype machine, developed on limited funds, probably no more than ten billion. You're using it as an investigative tool, trying to find a clue to the identity of the ferry bomber".

This seems more than a little clunky to me. I think the movie handled it all much better.

The original draft also doesn't have the investigative bit with Denzel under the bridge looking for blast residue -- a nice bit that establishes his bonafides.

I don't know of any draft online. I borrowed this one from someone in the biz. It's in a William Morris cover, so I assume it's the draft that went out.

At 1:32 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

So I posted a version of this on Wordplay, and I was satisfied with Terry's response, which is that even as they are in Claire's apartment together, there is still the chance that the killer could burst in and kill her like she was initially found, which means that time doesn't actually change until they pass the point where her body was found.

There's still some problems, like an early mention that she was dead several hours when she was found, but it makes the logic work better for me.

At 10:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, this is the same reason I couldn't get into "The Terminator". Same concept. If there was no boy in the first place he couldn't send his father back to meet his mother in order for her to get pregnant and have the kid to send his dad back in time. The only way that would work is if time went into an unstoppable loop where it couldn't get any farther than the exact point when his father travels back in time. but for that to work it would of had to work backwards. Cant work and wont ever.

Very few time travel movies work mainly because time travel doesn't exist and for the most part cant. (IMO)

There is one that made sense but it had a sad outcome and wasnt as good as I would of liked it to be. The Time Machine by David Duncan was that one... still it was pretty good and not a plot hole that I can remember.

At 12:57 AM, Blogger Formerly, The Dude Spoke said...

Hey Scott (or anyone who's read the script), can you help shed some light on something for me? I just saw the film today, and quite enjoyed it, even if the logic doesn't always add up.

But one thing is really nagging at me, that I don't understand and has nothing to do with the time travel logistics. It's why Denzel was called in the first place. He's ATF, right? Why was he called in for a homicide? Isn't that what NOPD is supposed to do?

Is there a reasoning I missed behind it? (I didn't leave to go to the bathroom or take a call or anything) Obviously without it, there's no plot, but I just want to know why he was called in the first place.

Any ideas?

At 4:31 AM, Anonymous Cecil said...

ATF provides support to state and local investigators, through the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) program.

From Wikipedia

At 9:40 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

He was there to investigate the ferry bombing; the ATF deals with explosives too.

At 11:48 AM, Anonymous Laura Reyna said...

"Very few time travel movies work mainly because time travel doesn't exist and for the most part cant. (IMO)"

Oh, i totally agree w/ this! HEH. :-)

My husband loves time travel movies & we always argue afterwards about them. I ask him to explain how certain things in the plot can possibly work & he always gives up.

There's always a big hole like the one in The Terminator (But i like it anyway cuz it's so far out there w/ the robots that you can't believe it's taking itself too seriously).

Time travel movies always have some logic or plausibility or cause & effect problem, etc...

They're basically fantasy, & the more fantastical the better. Bill & Ted, Kate & Leopold, Somewhere in Time... i enjoyed these movies b/c they were fun & kitschy & didn't take themselves too seriously.

But movies that strive too much for "realism" (Donny Darko) or want to be based on "scientific theory", just ask to be taken apart bit by bit. And they will always be found wanting.

Better to stay away from real science & concede it's just a fantasy.

At 11:53 AM, Anonymous Laura Reyna said...

OOPS!... I meant TIME AFTER TIME. The one w/ Malcolm MacDowell about HG Wells & Jack the Ripper.

I've never seen SOMEWHERE IN TIME.

At 9:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i saw this movie was quite interesting and provocative. if i just try to strengthen the validity of the story, just for fun (for the assumtion that theory in the movie is wholly true whether it really is possible or not...) the denzel washington must be created another time-line( which he did not intended & calculated that before his time-journey ). i mean he actually could not change the outcome in the time -line where he originated from. how could denzel know whether there is time-machin if the some tipping factors that led him to involve this crime already disappeared. therefore there would be no any single chace that he did the time-travel. however, in the movie, he did time-travel anyway and denzel's existence from the future did not disappear in the memory of the women's character and those of others( i suppose ) especially in the ending sceans. i suppose his body might be decaying somewhere under the water. and maybe current time's denzel's character found himself in horror and panic if he accidently encounter his dead body. do you think there is danger that our universe might explod? what do you think guys?

At 11:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did they bring his partner back to life at the end. He was killed the night before and was the reason for the second suv being at the house.

At 8:08 PM, Blogger angie said...

Enjoying all the comments.

I think time travel could have worked logically in this movie. If, after saving her life, they do not go back to her apartment before going to the docks, there would be no logical issues, would there? i.e.. If, after saving her life, everything changes, it would make sense. It is at THAT point, I think, that the time line breaks off.

The entire beginning of the movie, the team, and all that happened with the team, is a timeline that, at the breaking point, continues (or not) separate from this newly created timeline. They might all still be "there" wondering what happened.

At 7:51 AM, Anonymous DeCoy said...

How does 4 days ago Denzel explain future Denzel stealing an Ambulance? Or being revived in the emergency room? Isn't 4 days ago Denzel gonna get busted for future Denzel's activities?

At 4:35 AM, Blogger Neca said...

Time travel only could have worked logically in the movie if the woman actually dies anyway, after the house scene (with snipped off fingers), and he couldnt have managed to save both woman and the ferry.
That would be logical. Denzel-from-the-future would then realized that he was always part of the whole ferry explosion plot, because time is like a string: past-present-future they co-exist, same time. And you cant change the string, only look at diferent pieces of it.

At 10:22 AM, Blogger ecstaticist said...

Your major objection is that there would be no investigation timeline if Denzel went back. In the investigation timeline Denzel dies as soon as he goes back. The scientitist tell us that. Everyone who tries just does and they are never seen or heard from again. So, in the orginal investigation timeline, Denzel just disappears into time and is assumed dead. We don't follow that timeline because the script has to do with what happens to our protagonist, and he goes back in time. The only real debate for me is how many times he goes back i.e. how many branches are created?

At 6:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After the final fade out and Beach Boys music, the alternate ending fades into Denzel lying in the morgue as the Beach Boys music plays on a tinny radio. The guy doing the autopsy calls the ATF bureau and asks for Doug Carlin and tells him "Hey Doug, you gotta come over here. You'll never believe what I got from the hospital today."

At 5:13 PM, Blogger Mia Lavier said...

The only logical mistake is that Danzel should be dead after the girl is rescued and not appear. But then its no a happy ending.. There is a hope for logic that he will disappear in the air after 4 days... And the title should be : "4 days of life" thank you.

At 1:32 AM, Blogger Thomas Kilroy said...

I sorta agree but to me the mess in the girls apartment is what needs to be removed . it belongs in the new timeline not the original


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