I hear it all the time: “This movie was filled with plot holes.” The critic often says this in an effort to sound tough to please and, by proxy, credible. But when pressed, accusations of plot holery are usually reduced to a wag of the finger at some aspect of the movie the critic didn’t like. Granted, each and every complaint at the end of the accusatory finger may be valid, but it’s not necessarily a plot hole.
What is a plot hole, exactly? As defined by Wikipedia, it’s a gap or inconsistency in a storyline that results in an unexplainable paradox. Based on that definition, it’s easy to see how even a single plot hole can ruin a movie. What people forget is that a true plot hole is actually quite difficult to write.
This isn’t to say that it is impossible, just that plot holes are easy to detect and easier to fix. Plus, any screenwriter worth his/her weight in words knows that the best scripts have been rewritten multiple times. Let’s take a look at one of the most popular plot holes of all time and how it was fixed with savvy writing. In Citizen Kane, the titular character’s dying word is “Rosebud”. It is this mysterious phrase that launches the investigation at the heart of the movie, but if you’re watching closely, Kane dies alone. There is no one around him to hear his dying words. On the surface, this seems to be a huge plot hole, but alas it is not. Later on in the movie it is explicitly stated that Kane’s butler was in the room with him, presumably lust out of frame. It can even be argued that the opening scene takes place in the point of view of said butler. With a single line of dialogue, the hole is patched.
Another example of a non-plot hole stems from a discussion I had with some friends. In Gremlins one of the rules for keeping a happy Mogwai is never to feed it after midnight. But when is midnight? Depending on your geographical location, midnight could be literally any hour of the day. Moreover, when does ‘after midnight’ become ‘before midnight’? Once again, on the surface, this could be a pretty gaping plot hole, but under scrutiny, it falls apart. First off, whether this rule is explicitly explained or not, the movie remains the exact same. Having a specified cut-off time for the rule, in my opinion, would over-explain things. When Zach Galligan (whom I will likely refer to as Zach Galifanakis before this article is through) acquires the Mogwai, he does so second hand from a friend who got it from an old merchant at a creepy antique store; the type of person who would be content to say “after midnight” and leave it at that. Regardless, the Mogwai are fed after midnight not because Galligan misunderstands the rules, but because the mischievous Mogwai change his clocks. The film remains the same. Under-explanation, while confusing for some, is not a plot-hole. This is also why I can’t take LOST haters seriously.
A third example of a non-plot hole is from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Had Indy chosen not to interfere with the Nazi’s plan to find the Ark of the Covenant, the Nazi’s would have opened it, perhaps in front of Hitler himself, resulting in the same wonderful face-melting that was depicted in the movie. This is not a plot hole because, not even Indy had the slightest clue that the ark was filled with angry ghosts. In fact, Indy’s journey during this movie is one from skepticism to belief in the paranormal. It is only in the moments right before the ark is opened that he takes a leap of faith and closes his eyes. Plus, why are you trying to nullify one the greatest movies ever? Jerk.
Ok, ok, so I’ve showed you two plot holes that aren’t plot holes, it’s time to show you a few legitimate plot holes.
-In the third act of The Lost World the T-Rex is loaded on to a cargo ship and brought to the mainland. When the ship arrives the entire crew is dead. It’s portrayed as if they’ve all been attacked by the T-Rex, but the dinosaur is still locked up in his crate. Did he bust out and then bust back in? Not likely with those tiny T-Rex arms.
-In FACE/OFF, John Travolta has just undergone a temporary facial transplant and is now looking decidedly more Cage-y. While he is off completing his mission, Cage is being kept in an induced coma. The villainous Cage awakens from this coma and forces the surgical team to give him Travolta’s face. Why then, doesn’t the surgical team just keep him under instead of giving him the face surgery? That was the original plan anyway. While it could be argued that Cage forced them to keep him awake during the procedure, it doesn’t seem likely.
-In The Karate Kid, it is explicitly stated that kicks to the head are against the rules in the final tournament. Daniel wins with a kick to the head.
-The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers has perhaps the most egregious plot hole I’ve ever seen. The story dictates that the body snatching process works as such: a pod is grown next to the potential victim. When the victim falls asleep, the pod is able to absorb their essence and build an emotionless clone to take their place. Later on in the movie, however, a character falls asleep for an instant and awakens as a newly converted pod person. Not a clone, but a pod person in the original body. This negates almost every plot point leading up to it. Luckily for us, the superior 1978 remake fixes this mistake.
The fact of the matter is that plot holes aren’t nearly as common as your friend, the movie guy, may have you think. And when they do appear, like in the cases I mentioned above, it doesn’t necessarily ruin the movie. Except The Karate Kid. That movie sucks. Yes, this is me saying that I kinda like The Lost World.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.