“Rip Off What Matters”

J. J. Abrams, of _Lost_ fame, gave a [TED talk](http://ted.com/) where he talked about the role of mystery in fiction, and in life. He attributes his own fascination with mystery to his grandfather — it’s a somewhat interesting story that I won’t summarize here. It’s not the best of talks, but a lot of these TED talks focus more on being entertaining and than being cogent and tight in what they are trying to say. In Abrams’ case, maybe it’s intentional — following his argument is sort of like trying to follow _Lost_: you think there might be, and you want there to be, something there, but maybe there isn’t and he’s only presenting the illusion, the mystery of there being something there to keep you watching.

No matter. At some point he discusses the mystery of the shark in _Jaws_ and asserts that the movie would have in fact been far less interesting if the mechanical shark, Bruce, had in fact worked as Spielberg hoped. The shark is the mystery, and we all remember the scenes of it. What we don’t remember are such amazing scenes as the one he shows in which Roy Scheider’s character tell his son to kiss him. The son asks why, and the father responds: “Because I need it.”

It really is an amazing scene, and Abrams seems to be suggesting that we come to the movie for the mystery of the shark, but what fills us up is the mystery of ourselves that we find in scenes like this.

Abrams then goes on to argue that where we go wrong when we make sequels or borrow from other works is when we rip off the ostensible mystery, the shark, when we should be “ripping off what matters,” which is the character, his development, and those moments in which the two are revealed.