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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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May the fourth be with you

Blockbusting action is all well and good, says Jessica Elkin, but when it comes to studying, a more predictable storyline is probably best

05 MAY 2016 | JESSICA ELKIN

Yellow brick road
©Phil Wrigglesworth
You’re unlikely to be reading this on the fourth of May. But whatever date it is (Revenge of the Sixth?), it matters not. We are now post-examinations and have miles of yellow brick road to skip along, all the way to the next ones in September. A new dawn has broken: you’ve a fresh start and newly sharpened pencils for your next exam subject – when The Force Awakens.

The start of a new study period generally rolls around in the same reassuring and predictable manner as the latest sequel in an enormous Hollywood franchise. It’s familiar to you, but it feels different from the ones before – fresh and exciting; full of promise. Yet you may end up being disappointed anyway. It will most likely go the same route as the ones before. And, in retrospect, you’re not even sure why you are surprised.

Hurtling toward disaster
For a start, all the leading characters are written in. There’s Optimism, who seems like a goodie at the outset but will turn out to be a deceptive blockhead, and then there’s Procrastination, and my personal favourite, Blind Panic, who gets drafted in towards the end. The script is full of the same tired old lines, like “This time I’ll start early” and “It’s ages till exams!”… and then, later, “What’s happened to the time?” followed by various outbursts of profanity and blasphemy.

The plot makes a slow start. There’s an overload of dramatic irony as the characters believe they’re safe, although it’s quite clear to any viewer that they’re hurtling towards disaster. They might realise something is awry halfway through, but their attempt to correct things, too late, often doesn’t help.

The whole thing culminates in a fevered yet predictable action sequence at the end. Optimism gets killed off, just as you knew he/she would, and Blind Panic takes hold of the reins. It has you on the edge of your seat, even though you’ve been through it all before in different incarnations.
Will Panic turn things around just in time?

As the credits start to roll you remember that the franchise is signed up for a further six films. You roll your eyes, even though you’ll inevitably be queuing up to buy tickets for the next one.

Keeping it steady
Over my winter break, I was doing my usual Christmas TV-and-film marathon, – the best kind of marathon – and my dad would come in intermittently and scoff at Bridget Jones’ Diary, or Hugo, or one of the many other delights I permitted myself. “Who writes this stuff?” he has said more than once. I put that down to Grumpy Dad-ness – and cynicism resulting from having had children trample all over his dreams.

However, I concede that he’s sort of right. The thing is, you need storylines to be a tad ridiculous to make them watchable. I’ll bet you didn’t watch Titanic to find out what happened to the boat, but to watch Rose hacking blindly at Jack’s handcuffs with an axe as freezing water threatened to drown them both. You could rage at the injustice of how she just let him freeze to death in the water while she lounged around on that massive piece of wood. There was clearly room for the two of you, Rose. What’s the matter with you? Talk about selfish!

Furthermore, consider just about any Tarantino film. Reservoir Dogs? Pulp Fiction? The Kill Bill films? Excellent writing, but ridiculous nonetheless. That’s sort of the point. Or, more topically, the Five-Point-Palm Exploding-Heart Technique.

To put this into context, when it comes to our own lives and study habits, a steadier plotline is normally preferable. The more predictable and calm, the better.

More The Archers than EastEnders – although I hear the aforementioned is becoming increasingly risqué. More Bert than Ernie. More tortoise than hare.

I don’t have any advice here. I crave excitement as much as anyone else. But when you’re next taking a long lunch on a study day, remember what’s in store when signing up to the next chapter in the tired old franchise of your study habits.

How refreshing it would be to pen a different ending.