|Physics 513 Name
Quarter 3 Project
Physics (or the lack thereof) in Philm
Movies often violate the fundamental laws of physics in order to increase the entertainment value of a film or to open up new possibilities in the plot of a film. As engaged viewers, we often suspend our disbelief of these violations of physics, too caught up in the “world” of the film to take notice and object. The goal of this project is to analyze scenes from films in order to discover examples in which the laws of physics are broken, to explore the motivation for breaking the laws of physics, and to consider what is done to promote the suspension of disbelief during viewing. Since the suspension of belief is so pronounced in certain types of films, you must choose movies/scenes that take place in a world with the same laws of physics as our own. If you are not sure, ask; points will be deducted if an inappropriate movie/scene is selected.
You will select two different scenes from two different movies to analyze, examining the violation of two different laws of physics. Your analysis must include:
1. A brief description of the scene. It is necessary to explain what happens with enough detail so that I will be able to understand what happens in the scene even if I have never seen it before. There is no need to get bogged down in minute details that are unrelated to the physics, nor to explain elements of the plot that are unrelated to your analysis (more on this later).
2. A clear statement of which law or laws are broken and evidence that supports your statement that the law or laws are broken. A particularly effective way to do this is to state the law in equation form and approximate numbers. You must explain why you choose your approximate values, proving citations when possible. If your values are unrealistic, your analysis will not be accurate, and points will be deducted.
3. A brief explanation of why the filmmakers chose to break the laws of physics. How does breaking the laws of physics enhance the entertainment value of the scene/film? How does it contribute to or enhance the plot? How does it contribute to or enhance the style of the film? Etc.
4. A brief explanation of what the filmmakers do in order to help the audience suspend their disbelief of what is happening. Why does the audience accept the breaking of the laws of physics as plausible within the world of the film instead of causing the audience to reject the film as impossible?
5. Evidence that you actually watched the scenes you write about. For example, a selfie of you watching each scene, with both you and the scene clearly visible, would count as evidence.
Example: (Note, this example contains two violations from one scene, which is NOT your assignment)
In a scene from a Superman film, Lois Lane falls out of an airplane and is caught by Superman just before she strikes the ground. Of note, the path of Superman’s flight is perfectly horizontal before, during, and after the catch. While Superman himself exists beyond our laws of physics, Lois Lane does not, and yet what happens to her is in clear violation of the laws of physics. If Lois Lane fell with air resistance, her terminal velocity would be about 56 m/s (Wikipedia). Let us assume her mass to be about 50 kg. Since Superman’s flight is perfectly horizontal, Lois Lane’s vertically velocity changes from 56 m/s to 0 m/s very quickly. Since we cannot perform calculations with an impact time of 0, let us say the impact time is .01 s. If this were the impact time, Lois would have pushed Superman downward by 1/3 to ½ m, so the impact time was actually less. (You would need to show math, I ran out of space) Applying the equation for impulse to Lois Lane, we see
Given that “a sharp blow that delivers some 3,300 N of force has a 25% chance of cracking an average person’s rib (www.livescience.com/6040-brute-force-humans-punch.html), and that this is a high time and therefore low force estimate, we can safely say that the impact with Superman’s arms would have deadly effects on Lois Lane. (A similar analysis could be performed for the x axis.)
This scene also violates the law of conservation of momentum, which states that the momentum of a system remains constant. If we view the system of Lois Lane and Superman, then, before they collide, Lois Lane has momentum directed downward while Superman has momentum directed to the side (say the right). After the collision, Superman, now holding Lois Lane, has the same velocity. If momentum were conserved, Superman’s trajectory would have been deflected downward, as Lois Lane had downward momentum initially; this downward momentum was lost. Furthermore, Superman’s horizontal speed would have decreased, as catching Lois Lane increased the amount of mass moving to the right. Thus, there is a violation of conservation of momentum in both the x and the y axis. Consider the following, where Superman is 1 and Lois Lane is 2 and s is the system of them both:
While the violations of physics involved with Superman catching Lois Lane are glaringly obvious once analyzed, they tend to go unnoticed while actually watching the movie. This is most likely because of Superman himself. The audience knows Superman is not bound by the laws of physics, and expects to see him break the laws of physics. The filmmakers are able to extend this suspension of disbelief beyond Superman and onto the objects and people he encounters, so long as the violations of the laws of physics remain relatively minor. This extension of the suspension of disbelief allows the filmmakers to create more exciting scenes, as breaking the laws of physics opens up new possibilities for all characters and the environment itself.