Thursday, August 06, 2009

Stick It In My Plot Hole

A criticism I often hear about movies is that they are full of plot holes. But I wonder how many of these gripes are about genuine plot holes, and how many are more about the griper's lack of imagination.

A genuine plot hole is an inconsistency that is integral to making sense of the plot, but left unexplained. For example, in the horror movie Haute Tension (HUGE SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT), the twist ending is incongruent with some of the events that came before it (e.g., a person chasing herself in two different cars; a female getting a blowjob). It's not necessarily a flaw; people can debate what really happened and come up with perfectly good theories. But it's a hole.

But, demanding answers to questions the movie didn't even bring up, that's not an indication of a plot hole. Yeah maybe it's kinda weird that Harry Potter didn't just use the time travel compass thing from Prisoner of Azkaban to prevent all the horrible deaths in the later books. Why didn't he? Well, who cares? Make up an answer. Maybe it would be too dangerous. Maybe he's just a dick. Maybe Dumbledore dropped it in the shitter off-screen. It's not a question that's brought up in the plot, and it's not integral to figuring out what happened, so it's not a real plot hole.

My main point is that plot holes usually ain't so bad. At best they can make you think more about the movie, and at worst they're irrelevant.

That said, I just saw Southland Tales, and that movie is one giant plot hole. I've never before sat through an entire film and at no point had any idea what was going on. It was cool to see a bunch of comedic actors in semi-serious roles (Stifler looks like he's about to laugh even when he's crying), but really, it was just three hours of WTF. I'm sure some people will be motivated to watch it over and over again until they decipher it, but I won't be one of them.


Rick "The Hat" Bman said...

I agree that what most people consider plot holes aren't really plot holes. Just because a movie leaves something out doesn't make it a plot hole. The example I usually use of this is the movie Down By Law. I have heard people say that the movie has a huge plot hole because it never explains how they escape from prison (for those that haven't seen the movie, that isn't really a spoiler so don't worry). The movie doesn't explain it but it doesn't matter how they got out, just that they did.

However, I have to slightly disagree with you on Haute Tension. I am in no way an apologist for the film and I think tacking on the twist ended was a stupid thing to do because the movie could perfectly stand on its own without a twist. There is a perfectly good explanation for the ending of the film though.

The reason the story has holes in it is because you are getting it from Marie's point of view and she is an unreliable narrator. She isn't telling the story how it actually happened. This is the story that she is telling herself so that she can justify what happened without seeing herself as the killer. She is unable to comprehend what she has done so she is making up this story in her head.

Things like the second car never actually existed. She never actually chased herself around the house or anything. She is making up all these facts in her head after everything has happened as a way to justify what she had done.

The story Marie is making up in her head has hole but that is the whole reason that story falls apart in the end. The story she is creating in her head doesn't make sense so she is forced to abandon it and realize that she did everything. Which is why at the end the killer disappears and she takes his place.

I will still call it a cop out ending but in the end it does make sense, it just require far more explanation than a movie like this should need. I still would have rather them not used the twist and just had the guy that was the killer in the beginning stay the killer through-out the whole thing. Up until the twist it was one of the most suspense modern horror movies I had seen in a long time.

shine said...

Isn't Harry Potter a 25-year-old guy who's still in high school or something?

Hey Lady! said...

I'll admit to not having seen Southland Tales (but I have seen all the other films you mentioned), I think some movies intentionally do not make sense SO people will continuously watch them and try to figure them out. Plus, it often becomes a pretentious thing were people talk about how they understand some impossible to understand movie so they can sound smarter then everyone else (I find this to be true of some people who watch "Lost" as well...

@Rick- Thanks for your explanation of Haute Tension (or High Tension as I call it because I don't speak French), it really made a lot more sense after reading that. I do agree it would have been a better movie had it been more straight forward and had that dude be the killer.

Anonymous said...

Okay Mike, here's the thing: All the Time Turners were destroyed in the Department of Mysteries. Hermione gave hers back so it too was destroyed. It's explained in the book but not in the movie. Suck it.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Phronk. Big fan and 99% of the time I think most of your BS is genius but I'll have no more. Southland Tales isn't the kind of film to be overanalyzed for plot holes. Like Kelly's previous film, it is fundamentally flawed lacking a clear coherent easily decipherable narrative. But that is a necessary component to its existent. Comedic actors in serious role? Are you kidding? Southland Tales is one of the most absurd over-the-top hilarious comedies, all the more improved by not letting you know its a comedy.
I know what you're saying about plot holes and I wholeheartedly agree but I think if you're meticulously analytical about the narrative or plot-construction of Southland Tales you are completely missing the point of that particular film.

D.S. said...

First I have to agree with the previous post about southland tales, it was an interesting movie but it made no sense. How it got so many known actors is mind-boggling.

Second, I do agree that not all minor plotholes should be have a big fuss made out about it. Sometimes the minor ones just need to be let go and allow yourself to just enjoy the rest of the movie. On the other hand movies with major plotholes that obviously affects the movie makes it impossible to forgive the director and/or writer.

Phronk said...

Rick: Great points. This is what I was getting at when I say that it's not really a flaw and there are perfectly good theories. The unreliable narrator one is probably the best. But I'd still label it as a plot hole, just because it takes a lot of explanation and the movie brings up these questions without explicitly answering them.

Shine: Yes.

Hey Lady! Very true! When done right, plot holes are a GOOD thing that increase interest and engagement in the movie. Lost is a great example (but I think most people have faith that by the end of the series, most of the holes will be filled in one way or another).

Anonymous Dan: Yeah that isn't explained in the movies, and I'm sticking to movies. Plus I didn't want to out myself as a nerd. It suits you though, good job.

Anonymous Anonymous: Hey don't be sorry, I love disagreement. True, it is very much a comedy, but it's played pretty straight. I wonder if the actors themselves even know it's a comedy. But if overanalyzing it isn't the point, then what is? There is clearly a cohesive plot in there somewhere if you dig deep enough, so it's not just a big surrealist comedy mess. I loved watching Donnie Darko a few times until it all made sense, and I think Kelly was going for the same thing in Southland Tales. However, IMHO it was missing the motivation to figure it out that Donnie Darko nurtured.

D.S.: Yeah there are good plot holes and bad plot holes. I can usually forgive even the worst ones though. I love Minority Report even though it has some pretty major holes when you think about it.

Rick "The Hat" Bman said...

@Phronk Yeah, it does take a bit of explanation and, of course, I could be completely wrong and talking out of my ass. However, even with my explanation they are still plot holes because the holes in the story are what cause it to fall apart at the end.

Anonymous said...

I wanna see a woman getting blown.

And, seriously, that ST movie was crazy.