Plot Holes & Nitpicks
Last week I mentioned that I’d been to see Don’t Worry Darling and thought it was really good and I didn’t really understand why it was getting such bad press. I won’t expand on that here, because I’ve now heard from plenty of people who hated it and don’t understand how I could have enjoyed it, so it doesn’t seem a particularly constructive debate to be had. But I did notice something in the conversations people are having about it that I found interesting, and that’s the role of plot-holes and nit-picks in the world of film. I’m not going to give away anything that happens in the film in case any readers want to go and see it, but suffice to say that in the people I spoke to and in the reviews and commentary I read online, a lot of stuff kept cropping up along the lines of “But what was going on with this bit” and “But in the real world that would never happen, because of this and this and this.” Much of what makes Don’t Worry Darling tense and compelling is the uncertainty over what exactly is going on, and the eventual reveal is founded on an imaginative “what if” that seems to have invited all these nitpicks. The reveal is perhaps not the most perfectly neat or watertight twist in the history of cinema, but for me, that didn’t matter because I understood what that “what-if” was being used to explore, and none of the supposed “plot holes” broke the world of the film. The unexplained moments felt more like things that might have perhaps been cut out in the edit, rather than being gaping plot holes nobody had noticed that fundamentally contradicted or undermined or broke any of what the film was using its conceit to say.
This got me wondering about the role of nitpicking in film, because it’s a genre in and of itself. Youtube channels like Pitch Meetings exist solely to point out the plot holes or logical inconsistencies in major films, and there are entire forums seemingly dedicated to the subject. I was trying to think about whether nitpicking exists on anywhere near the same scale in any mediums outside of film, and while of course there will always be people who like picking out the flaws in anything, live-action film seems especially rife with it. Even animated films seem to have much more leeway with people not picking plots to shreds, perhaps because an animated film is clearly not representing reality, so we understand that the purpose of the film is to illuminate our reality through storytelling, not to represent reality exactly as it is. Perhaps the same imaginative leaps are easier to make with theatre or with novels or with other non-visual forms of storytelling, because in those mediums we understand that we are, first and foremost, being told a story. Film, by contrast, has the setback of looking like real life, which seems to mean that we start to expect it to play out strictly adhering to the rules of real life rather than surrendering ourselves to it as story. When watching films, it seems like people’s priorities shift, and one of their foremost demands for the medium becomes the requirement that it not only be entertaining, it also makes absolute sense as something that could convincingly happen in the world as we know it, even if it’s a piece of science fiction, or a fable, or any other genre clearly one step removed from reality.
As far as I’m concerned, the purpose of storytelling is not to convince me that this thing actually happened, or even that it could happen. It’s to present me with an idea that makes me reflect on my own reality in a way that I hadn’t previously considered, regardless of whether or not that idea is clearly speculative, or even ridiculous. There’s not a lot in the Greek myths or in Shakespeare’s plays, or even in, say, Tintin, that make any of them come across as closely observed, watertight representations of reality as it actually is. If any version of those stories did happen in the real world, the chances are that they wouldn’t play out the way they do in the story, but that doesn’t make them badly told stories. We understand what they’re telling us, and we can apply the implications and ramifications of those ideas to our own lives regardless of how “convincing” they were. I know that if a large rock falls on someone’s head, it doesn’t create a comically large bump around which small birds circle. It smashes their head right open. But I don’t throw Tintin over my shoulder in disgust every time its world clearly separates from the one I’m familiar with. I understand that the story being told in a Tintin adventure requires that Captain Haddock doesn’t get his head stoved in horrifically, so rocks behave differently to how they behave in the reality I’m familiar with. I understand what a rock represents here – an opportunity for a character to be embarrassed, to have their ego punctured.
Granted, if a plothole in a film ever jumps out at you as being particularly confounding, then perhaps that means the central idea of the film isn’t absorbing enough of your attention, and perhaps that means the film is at fault somewhere. For me, I’m willing to overlook plot holes as long as they don’t undermine the world the story has established so far. If the question “Hang on, what about this thing?” opens up a hole that fatally breaks the things the story is actually trying to say, then there’s some significance to the question. If the answer to the question is simply “Does that change or undermine any of what this story is actually telling you?” then the question is basically irrelevant. Fundamentally, if the film is succeeding in communicating its ideas to you, and entertaining you in the process, then it’s doing its job. If its ideas aren’t coming across, or it’s boring you in the telling of them, then something’s gone wrong, but Don’t Worry Darling didn’t fail on either of those counts for me. Perhaps it did for everyone else!
The places I always try to be extra vigilant against plot holes or inconsistencies in my own writing doesn’t stem from a place of “Would this actually happen like this, though?” because I think that’s a red herring question, and often flies in the face of good storytelling. The better question is “Would this character do this, though?” When characters start making decisions that go against their natures already established within the world of the story, or things happen that directly contradict the things you’ve built the world of the story around, that’s when things can start to fall apart and become very unconvincing for a viewer. Story and comedy are all about point of view, and when characters start behaving in ways that undermine the point of view you’ve established for them, that’s when plot holes become gaping and ruinous rather than merely being cute distractions for internet forums to chew over. If you follow the rules and precedents you’ve already set within your own world and characters, then the correct question you’ll end up asking yourself while writing will stop being “What would happen now?” Eventually, that impulse will be replaced by “What should happen now?” because you’ll be working from a place where every decision evolves naturally from the groundwork you’ve already laid down in terms of story and character, and that’s when writing starts to become really rewarding.
That’s my thoughts on this, anyway. What do you guys reckon? Do plotholes really pull you out of the reality of a story, or do you not mind them as long as you can still follow the central argument of what the film is actually saying or proposing? Do you think films or TV shows have a responsibility to reflect some sort of truthful version of reality, or should their first duty be to their own inner coherence as stories? Always love hearing what you guys think!
A Cool New Thing In Comedy – The Dream Factory goes out tonight on BBC Radio 4! Written by me and Miranda Holms, starring me, Stevie Martin, Desiree Burch, Roisin O’Mahony, Chiara Goldsmith, Kiell Smith-Bynoe and Ben Target, and produced by Steve Doherty. I’d love you all to give it a share if you enjoy it!
What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – Had a very funny waiter in a Lebanese restaurant last night. When me and my friend split the bill, the waiter whispered in my ear that he was going to play a prank on my friend to punish her for not finishing her shawarma, and typed in her half of it with five extra zeroes so she owed £2.5 million. We thought it was hilarious and I love him now.
Book Of The Week – Just started Norse Mythology, the last of the Neil Gaimans that Isabelle bought me for my birthday! I think this one’s a retelling of Norse mythology or something. Hope it’s better than the last Thor movie.
Album Of The Week – The Hurting by Tears For Fears. Not sure why I listened to this. Been listening to a lot of very modern music from the 90s and 00s recently, so thought it was time I dipped back into my comfort zone. The first half of this is great, second half it sort of starts to wear a bit thin.
Film Of The Week – No films this week! Been busy. Not even been watching telly! Rushed off my feet! It’s crazy!
That’s all for this week! As ever, if you’re enjoying this newsletter, I’d love you to recommend it to a friend, or encourage others to subscribe! Take care of yourselves until next time, and all the best,
PS Not sure why, but the fountains in Regent’s Park ran green this week. Looks quite wacky and fun.