Why We Need to Give “Plot Holes” a Rest

There’s a lot to like about the way the internet has affected the film industry. It’s given us new filmmakers, new ways to find movies, and a wide forum to really examine the art of film. So stop clogging it up talking about plot holes. I know it’s fun, but we have got to chill out on that.

It always happens with the good ones, too. I guess that makes sense, since people don’t care enough about truly bad movies to notice plot points that don’t work. But it’s obnoxious to try and hold a discussion about recent movies like Prometheus or The Dark Knight Rises, just to have a bunch of self-professed “film people” yell about plot holes like a backseat driver in early-1900s Mississippi.

Okay, I might be getting ahead of myself. Let me back up…

ATTN: Spoilers ahead. Also, an non-comprehensive and editorialized list of examples. We good? Alright, moving on.

One of the first problems that comes up with “plot holes” is that people often can’t even get the definition right. Literally, “a hole in the plot.” Here are some things commonly mislabeled as plot holes that simply aren’t:

Character choices.

Remember Prometheus? Surely you do; it only came out back in June. Anyway, why did Charlize Theron run in the only direction that would lead to her getting crushed by a huge spaceship at the end of the movie?

This is a perfect example of people yelling “plot hole!” at something that’s simply “what a character does in the movie.” Now, there are certain instances where, for instance, a character will suddenly not know something they’ve known in the past (like, if we’re honest, that zoologist trying to pet an alien snake in the same movie ((even though I can sort of handwave that aside for myself))). But then there are times where characters simply make poor decisions. This is one of those second times.

It’s not inconceivable that she would panic. Theron’s character is the ship’s captain. She doesn’t go off and explore; she stays and monitors. It stands to reason that a) like eveybody else on the mission, she’s simply out of her depth and b) she hasn’t had a ton of field experience to hone her reflexes.

Also, sometimes people just screw up. Like that much-maligned Imperial officer in A New Hope who orders a gunner not to fire on the droids’ escape pod. Bad decision? Yes. Believable? Why not? It’s not like I’ve never messed up at my job. Furthermore, it’s not like the Empire has a perfect track record in its hiring department.

For instance…

Dumb characters don’t necessarily equal dumb writing.

Things we have to infer on our own.

Movies are a short format for storytelling. Even on the long side, a feature film will rarely exceed three hours in length. When you consider the amount of story, world-building, and character most of these things have to incorporate, you reach the inescapable conclusion that filmmaking typically requires storytelling shorthand. It’s not a good or bad thing, it’s just a restriction of the medium.

So we need to stop acting like plot elements that aren’t explicitly spelled out for the audience are holes in the plot.

A common complaint from Prometheus was the Engineer’s black goo. I’m going to return to this more in a future article, but suffice it to say some audiences have a problem with the lack of explicit a+b=c rules for the alien substance.

The Engineer, seen here absolutely covered in black goo.

I’m gonna be honest with you guys. WATER doesn’t make sense all the time, and it’s not even organic. I’m not saying I can quote-unquote “follow” the way that the black goo works, but I also can tell that it’s responding differently to different scenarios. The explanation we’re given for it in the movie is that the goo destroys life and rebuilds it, which is essentially what it does throughout the course of the movie.

Lest you think that this kind of “plot hole” always requires a substantial suspension of disbelief or a simple apathy about science, let’s jump back to Star Wars: Why didn’t Vader find his own son on Tatooine? It’s his home planet, for cryin’ out loud!

Oh wait, Tatooine isn’t under Republic/Imperial law, and Vader works for the Empire. And two of the three most traumatic experiences of his life happened there. And everyone agrees that Tatooine sucks in general.

And then there’s stuff that’s pure mystery; the most recent widely-discussed example of this type of plot hole stemming from The Dark Knight Rises. How DID Bruce Wayne get back into Gotham?

Basically how I feel after hearing this question a dozen times.

Perhaps a better question would be, how did Bruce Wayne do just about f***ing anything, ever, in these movies? Presumably the answer is that he’s Bruce Wayne. Forget being a hero, the guy is a superhero. So he’s probably way more clever about that sort of thing than you or I are. Showing Wayne walking across a bridge where the military have inexplicably decided to stop patrolling would be a plot hole. Simply not telling us how he did it is not a plot hole.

No explanation is not the same as a bad explanation.

Things that sound right, but actually have no relevance to the movie.

Sometimes people raise questions that sound bizarre — how on earth could this or that have happened if anybody was paying attention to the script? But then you watch the movie and realize that there’s an extremely simple, obvious explanation, and the complaint in question is pure “what if” that has nothing to do with the movie.

Star Wars: Why doesn’t Darth Vader recognize C-3PO? The question has plagued movie discussion forums ever since Lucas had the temerity to include one of Star Wars’s main characters in its first episode. As someone who has actually paid attention to all six movies, I can confidently say the explanation is probably, “Because he never sees him.” Except for the carbon freezing chamber (where I suspect Vader had better things to think about), their paths don’t cross.

Minority Report: But if Precrime stops the murders, then aren’t the predictions by the Precogs false? This time, the movie itself explicitly addresses the “plot hole” in the dialogue of the film’s first half-hour. Tom Cruise even says it. It’s one of the big ethical questions the movie tackles.

Just because it sounds good, doesn’t mean it’s actually there (or not, as the case may be).

Now, all this soapboxing isn’t to say that there’s no such thing as plot holes. Sometimes people cheat a little (Why does a professional assassin do a Tarzan swing at Jason Bourne while wildly firing a machine gun?) or a lot (What’s the point of creating the Matrix at all?). In a bad movie, constant leaps in logic can completely wreck the flow of the narrative.

But often, these kinds of cheat don’t (or shouldn’t) actually affect the import of the story. The incredibly short answer to that Matrix question goes something like, “Because then there wouldn’t be a movie called The Matrix.”

That Bourne Identity one is pretty stupid, I admit. But hey, what are you gonna do?

Anyway, another one I came across in a couple of places while looking up stuff for this article is the plot hole at the end of Edward Scissorhands. Namely, how did he get the blocks of ice up to the castle? He doesn’t have any human connections, warm weather, or even working hands!

It’s not like I have a good answer for this one, but I will take the opportunity to remind you that the actual point of the scene (and the movie) is pretty far removed from a debate about how Edward managed to haul a block of ice up to his castle.

And that’s really all I’m saying. Obviously, plot holes exist. THEY EXIST, in all caps, for those of you who aren’t reading closely at this point.

I’m not proposing that the internet film community stop analyzing films. I’m not proposing that “plot holes” be stricken from the list of things that are worth writing about (or even creating websites about, if you really feel the need). I’m simply pleading for a little perspective on the subject, whether that be realizing that some of these things aren’t problems at all or simply cutting a good movie a little slack.

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  1. Seriously, great article David R. I have had the same arguments with people time and time again. If a movie is entertaining enough that you don’t notice the “plot holes” in your initial viewing who cares? If you need to sit down and watch something only to tear it apart you need to find a better way to waste your time. I have a friend that complained about Jeremy Renner’s archery form while watching the Avengers and used that as an excuse to complain about the movie, are you fucking kidding me?! I had such a blast watching Prometheus that I honestly didn’t care that the characters made strange choices.

  2. People get annoyed when someone else starts pointing out problems with a movie they enjoyed. Sometimes it is just nitpicking, other times it is legitimate criticism. For me, both Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises had enough head-scratching and eye-rolling moments to detract from my enjoyment of the films. Did I dislike the films? No, but most of the so-called “plot holes” in each film could have been avoided by better story-telling. Sometimes directors and screenwriters get lazy. Sometimes it is due to poor editing. It becomes like going to a professional football game only to see a bunch of penalties, missed field goals and dropped balls. It diminishes the finished product.

    The whole article comes across to me as one big “STFU” to those who would dare criticize a movie someone thought was really good. So what if someone else has an opinion different from yours? Pointing out “plot holes” is a way to explain why you didn’t like the movie. And don’t tell me all of us haven’t had those movies that we once loved and now we realize they weren’t all that good?

    Sorry, but I am not going to give my opinions “a rest.”

  3. I see your point, but I find gaping plot holes without trying. I can still enjoy movies, like The Dark Knight Rises, but I will discuss the major plot holes with people because that is how I was taught. I’m sorry if you think that critical thinking is passe, but it’s what I was taught for 18 years, from kindergarten through graduate school.

  4. A few plot holes is no big deal and won’t affect my enjoyment of a good movie, but they are often still flaws in storytelling and should be treated as such. If a writer/director can’t give a minute’s thought to ensure the story they are telling makes sense, I’m not sure they can be taken seriously as an artist. You wouldn’t leave a blank spot in the middle of a painting or song and go “meh, I’m sure the audience can figure out what it’s supposed to look/sound like.” Critical thinking is part of nerd culture as well, guys. If your favorite movie doesn’t hold water, just accept that you enjoyed it anyways and leave it at that. Getting upset that other people take their art/entertainment seriously is for Michael Bay and Beiber fans.

  5. Thank you so much for this. Almost every single person I talk to that mentions plot holes are not really plot holes. They are just things they didn’t agree with or like, therefore they label them as “plot holes”. Like you said, movies are short-form stories so you have to sometimes use your own problem-solving abilities to get your mind from point a to point b. I blame how dumb society is becoming and the inability to think for yourself. It’s all just whiny BS.

  6. Meh. You say tom-A-to; I say to-MAT-o, but I get your digs. There are a few things I’ll let pass in the average flick, but once ‘plot logic’ falls apart, I tend to zone out as a viewer.

    But that C-3PO and Vader bit, I could call you to task on forever.

  7. “And then there’s stuff that’s pure mystery; the most recent widely-discussed example of this type of plot hole stemming from The Dark Knight Rises. How DID Bruce Wayne get back into Gotham?”

    The movie tied into Batman Begins moreso than it did The Dark Knight. With that said, there’s a scene in Batman Begins where Ducard tells Bruce he needs to mind his surroundings on the ice – when Bruce falls in. He then learns to do so and is capable of battling on the ice.

    Then in The Dark Knight Rises, we see Bruce in Gotham suddenly, but the next time we see Batman he’s protecting Gordon and others from a point on the ice further out than they are, and he walks over to them.

    So in conclusion, Bruce Wayne got back into Gotham by simply walking across the ice into Gotham. He could’ve done it the night before and not been seen.

    As for how he’d get back to the US. Rich people broke is not the same as poor people broke. It’s not inconceivable that he simply chartered a private jet back to the states

  8. The original “Minority Report” deals with the “hole” in the movie. ITS THE ENTIRE POINT OF THE SHORT STORY! The question becomes whether or not the main character (and thus all of humanity) has free will. The movie completely butchers P K Dicks book (which is par for the f-ing course with Hollywood). The actual ending ends up leaving the question unanswered, but not in a lazy fashion.

    My big issue with the plot hole in Minority Report is because it is COMPLETELY unnecessary and manufactured. Its on par to the movie studio redoing “Gone with the Wind” but having Red Butler marry the chick at the end because they think audiences are idiots.

  9. Actually did they create the Matrix because it helped keep the human batteries viable for a longer period of time? If memory serves they even comment that the first matrix was a paradise, but they had to rewrite it because the humans were rejecting it because it was too perfect which led to the creation of the more “realistic” version of the Matrix.

  10. I am going to be linking to this article in forums and comments for years to come. Absolutely terrific; articulates feelings I’ve always had but never been able to put to paper. Great movies like TDKR shouldn’t be brought down because people think everything needs to be directly explained to them for a movie to make sense.

  11. Good article. I’ve noticed some people in the comment section took this article a bit defensively. But I really think that people should look at this article as a learning tool on how to constructively criticize a movie. I’ve met too many people who over-use the term plot hole for any flaw or lack of information and nitpick things that aren’t important to the plot or story.

  12. “Showing Wayne walking across a bridge where the military have inexplicably decided to stop patrolling would be a plot hole. Simply not telling us how he did it is not a plot hole.

    No explanation is not the same as a bad explanation.”

    Yes, no explanation doesn’t equal bad explanation.
    but you forgot one thing… you’re talking about plot HOLE here!
    and by definition, it means lack of appropriate explanation to make the plot run smoothly. If the film shows Wayne walking across a bridge where the military have inexplicably decided to stop patrolling, they would have yelled “That scene sucks!”

    I do enjoy Dark Knight Rise and wasn’t trying to find its mistake or anything, but those ‘wait a minute’ scenes annoy me and disappointed me. And no, I’m not trying to be a critic. It’s just that I expected it to be better than this.

  13. A plot hole only matters to me if it interrupts the story to the point it falls apart.
    An example, Star Trek (2009) regarding how Kirk, a academy suspended, cadet ends up Captain of the Enterprise without logging a single star hour in space.
    I’m no film (movie) critic but the reason we go to movies is to watch a story and that story needs to be reasonable sound to work.
    Iron Man 3 was a good movie but the plot holes made me wonder what the director was thinking.
    It’s more difficult in this CGI-educated age to “BS” someone so the stories need to be more elaborate but not to the point of standing up in a court room.

    My 2¢.

  14. I don’t “critique” movies, I watch a movie to be entertained, and I very rarely think during a movie. I’m soo into the movie that nothing really matters despite plotholes. I’m usually never disappointed with a movie. I didn’t even think about the whole Edward Scissorhands thing until you just pointed that out.
    But Prometheus….I was disappointed. I felt let down. First off, the whole drilling of the origins of the human race. Now, I don’t mind it until it becomes the “essence” of the first half of the movie. The first half is that, then the humans realize that its not all it seems. And then the guy starts drinking. I’m no scientist but, if that had ever happened to me, I wouldn’t be hitting the bottle so soon. I’d be trying to figure out why the engineer are the way they are and all that jazz. Not drowning my sorrows in booze.
    I didn’t mind the whole Charlize Theron thing, I’d probably do the same thing. I didn’t even notice that Theron could have gone a different direction, all I could think of was the split second of pain the character felt before being crushed.
    My biggest problem is: Weyland, how does he tie in with the story? I mean, look at the Aliens vs. Predator movie. Thats Weyland in it, yet there are Aliens. AND apparently androids hadn’t been created yet.(that we know of, but I’m assuming they had not been created yet in that universe.)

    I think in a nutshell, Ridley Scott pumped out the movie too quickly. There was soo much hype about it, and I think that he should have taken more time in creating a better movie. The movie was entertaining enough, but it could have been done better. Excluding the scenery, the scenery is wonderful.

    I haven’t been able to get the dvd version of the movie, so does anybody know if there are a lot of stuff that wasn’t shown in theaters, but are on dvd?

  15. I’m glad this was said. I hear these criticisms all the time and they are valid criticisms, but I cringe whenever somebody calls them plot holes.

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