It’s widely understood that answers are less interesting than mysteries. Whatever Christmas present you get will inevitably not excite you nearly as much as the anticipation built up over the course of a month. In terms of fiction, LOST taught a generation of storytellers the utter thrill of creating mysteries and a generation of viewers that no solution would ever satisfy them. The extent to which the show stretched out the resolution of its mysteries set JJ Abrams’s reputation for ‘mystery box storytelling’ in stone – not just in how people define the term, but in how they feel about it emotionally. What’s interesting to me is that part of the response is that the answers we did get were unsatisfying and they should have worked harder to make them more interesting. This wildly misses the point of what LOST was doing and to an extent it’s like trying to be funny – what’s fascinating to one person is obvious, wrong, or pointless to another. But I sympathise, because a good resolution to a mystery is such a satisfying experience. Oddly enough, considering my complaints about the MCU as a whole, I think one of my favourite Mystery Resolutions is Bruce Banner’s ‘secret’ in The Avengers.
One of the complaints I’ve seen about the MCU from fans is that Bruce gets the most interesting character development but it all happens offscreen, and this might be the most emotionally engaging example of that – it conveys the culmination of an entire story all on its own, to the point that Beloved Soluter The Ploughman remarked that it made any future Hulk stories redundant. What’s great is that it’s genuinely clever in its setup; all the characters know that Bruce has got the big guy under some control (one of the great jokes of the movie is him pretending to lose his temper as a prank), and several of them ask him how he does that. But they do it in a way that I didn’t initially realise there was even going to be an answer at all, and so it has the effect of a punchline. Even better, though, is that the punchline is emotionally profound. Like, yeah, I get it actually – he maintains control over his anger by acknowledging it to himself and finding healthier ways of expressing it, and that’s something you see in Mark Ruffalo’s performance all through the movie. One of the upsides of a movie being based on a decades-old comic book that has been rebooted and reimagined hundreds, if not thousands of times is that enough ink has been spilled on the themes that you can find the simple and true answer.
What are some of your favourite solutions to mysteries?