6. "I made the whole thing lowercase since that asshole wouldn't." In response to In response to 0 Fri Mar-29-13 02:58 PM by Cold Truth
It only took a few seconds but still..... The Hulk 'voice' remains grating as fuck though.
1. proof positive
so hulk was pretty decent at math. not like a whiz or anything, but hulk went pretty far with it and if we sat down we could probably have a decent conversation about string theory or something. but out of all hulk's math skills, hulk's best aptitude was always for proofs. chances are you had to deal with them in some form. they are a big part of high school geometry and algebra and stuff and later they become the backbone of a lot of progressive collegiate mathematics (many students take a crack at proving the riemann hypothesis for example). in case you've never studied them, a mathematical proof is just the attempt to prove the truth of a proposition by using a sequence of other accepted truths and rules. at its most rudimentary it can be a "if we know x is = to y, and y is = to z, then x has to be equal to z" kind of thing. but the whole point of studying and practicing proofs in the first place is that they rely heavily on one's ability to use sequential reasoning. they're very much about cause and effect, action and reaction, and through-lines to direct purposes.
hulk also studied a field called "reasoning and argumentation." it's not a class in debate at all, but more of a study of a slightly more abstract form of proofs and a lot of text-reliant questions (which can actually be a good deal of fun. they're sort of like non-bullshitty riddles). the field is pretty neat and hulk recommends it as a good philosophy alternative for anyone interested in developing that sharp side of their brains.
the reason hulk is bringing all of this up is to qualify one simple idea: that hulk really and truly does understand the importance and function of logic. it is completely fundamental to how we form our growing minds and how we conduct our lives. but because of this fact, there are many who approach movie-watching with the same exact logical method of examination, as if telling a story through cinema were a series of singular, logical plot-centric moves; a series of adding and subtracting, all building to a functional purpose.
... the problem is that's not exactly how movies work.
in fact, movies contain so many other elements of vital importance that "logical plotting" only ends up a small part of the greater equation. which, based on hulk's experiences, reveals a startling, 100% true fact that few people ever really consider:
that movies are a thousand times more complicated than string theory could ever be.
2. the purpose
going back to hulk's mega screenwriting columns (vol 1and 2), hulk spent the entire first few parts simply asking the question "what is a story and why do we tell them?" the reason wasn't just to lay down some introduction and feel good vibes. hulk delved into "the why" because it is the most fundamental question we can ask ourselves in order to understand "the how."
we watch movies and listen to stories not simply because they are entertaining, but because they serve a function of understanding life's narrative. really. that's why ancient tribes started gathering around fires and telling stories. they give us transplanted experiences, which we can then use to inform our own personal development. character arcs don't just create "good storytelling" but purposeful storytelling. they create an understanding of how to live our lives better. to become better people. to have catharsis. and that doesn't mean that every movie has to be some feel good fluff. quite the contrary. tragedy. bleakness. ennui. all these things are critical because we can simulate an experience before we've had it. even examining the purposelessness of life is its own kind of purpose.
this doesn't mean that movies can't be entertainment first, it's just important to remember the root cause of why we participate in them. besides, hulk would argue that even the most generic of popcorn movies try to relay some basic truth about or approximation of human emotion. and hulk would argue that the very best of popcorn movies manage to accomplish that goal first and foremost. but the great part about "the purpose of art" and storytelling is it can come through any medium that manages to speak to us: films, songs, novels, poems, paintings, games - any of them can truly relate to us in a moment of emotional or cognitive synchronicity.
so hulk has a fundamental question for you: if what hulk just illustrated is the purpose of storytelling, why would anyone watch movies and judge their relative merit by their logical precision?
it's due to what hulk's said before; it's a simple "that's just how a lot of people's brains approach things," but we have to remember that is not the reason that we are in the theater. like, at all. sure, logic is certainly important on one functional level of the film, but as hulk will soon try to illustrate, it's just a small part of the overall function and not the sole lynchpin.
what makes matters a little more complicated is that some people look at the picking apart of logic as a fun exercise, even going so far as wanting to watch a film solely to laugh at its poor construction. hulk knows we are all guilty of this behavior to varying degrees, but some people actually do watch movies like that on the whole. hulk would argue that not only is the only merit of doing so a commitment of artistic schadenfreude, but a complete misinterpretation of why we are even in the theater.
3. the ocean solution
a friendly and kind acquaintance of hulk's was discussing looper on twitter recently and he asked the logical question: "why doesn't the future mob just drop their targets in the middle of the ocean?"
the most simple answer? because then there would be no movie.
glibness aside, it really is the only answer that actually matters. you can stop virtually any single movie on the planet (invented sci-fi world or not) with a simple solution that nullifies the core conflict. but we are actually there because we want to watch a damn movie. and we watch movies to experience drama, laughter, dizzying highs, sadness, tears and sympathy. and in order to experience these things we must have situations in which the most logical solution isn't present. in fact, we have to watch people fuck up. do the wrong thing. we have to see their wants and desires become entangled in a situation where they have to make a bad choice... we call these sorts of situations "conflict" and they happen to be the entire basis of good storytelling and drama.
on top of that the frequent problem with going down the logic hole is that hulk has a million good reasons why "the ocean solution" isn't even a logical solution, but none of them have to do with actual storytelling, just logic itself. for instance, hulk would argue there's a pretty damn good reason for using looper hitmen and that's because mob killings are all about "kill confirmation," which means it's all about having someone responsible who can attest to the relative success of the hit and be responsible if it fails (it's the same reason people laugh at bond villains who leave our hero in an easily escapable situation and just presume he'll die with no one watching). and the ocean solution absolutely ignores this rather logical policy of the mob. said acquaintance then cited that the ocean solution is preferable because with the looper system, we see the hitmen fuck up a lot. but again this is a misunderstanding of the purpose of conflict. in fact, we actually see the looper hitman system as a wholly functional enterprise and the only two unsuccessful incidents are actually the sole driving force of the conflict in the movie. again, it's the fundamental approach to plotting movies: "everything was okay, and then this inciting incident happened so it wasn't anymore!"
far more importantly, the ocean solution has absolutely nothing to do with making the movie "better." it would in fact make it infinitely worse. it literally would create a non-story. it's an age old quandary where someone asks "why didn't they just do ____ to solve the problem?" and the answer is because then movie would be over. every single conflict scenario you have ever seen on screen has probably had a more logical solution than the one that plays out in the narrative, but that truly doesn't matter.
that sentiment should be blindingly obvious to all of us, and yet we still love to ask those logical questions. especially with horror movies (this is largely because we place ourselves in the stalkee's shoes a great deal in those kinds of movies and actively look for solutions on our own). but the real answer to "why didn't they just do _____" in a horror movie is always because if they don't, it's the way to make the most effective, dramatic scare, which, lest we forget, is utterly the point of why we are in the theater. of course, there are a million other things that have to do with making an effective scare or an emotionally effective scene, but hulk assures you they often don't have all that much to do with plot logic either.
so in hulk's mind, these sorts of overt logic questions that are "movie-stoppers" are really not even worth getting into that much. they fundamentally misunderstand what the goal of a dramatic experience is all about. but while bringing up "movie stoppers" is one thing, there are still plenty of more nuanced kinds of logistical questions worth talking about...
so... people have been talking about plot holes a whole lot lately and there seems to be a good deal of confusion as to what that term actually means.
a plot hole is actually a very simple thing and here is hulk's personal definition: it's when there is a crucial gap or inconsistency in a storyline (as presented) that prevents the proper functioning of the plot or central characterization (as presented).
but those two words "as presented" are rather important, because it prevents us from diving into those sets of extraneous questions like "why don't they just drop them in the ocean?" the phrase as presented allows us to accept the rules of the world on a conditional basis.
going back to mathematical proofs, you always start the proof with the series of rules and information you will use to solve the proof. this information is called "givens." and in a way, when we start a film we are essentially accepting the rules of the world as a kind of "given." in a movie like looper, the givens are: "here's what happens in this world and loopers do this and these guys do that and that's just how it is." a more concrete (and famous) example of a sci-fi given would be asimov's three laws of robotics (and if you'll notice, the subsequent breakdown of those three rules is what creates the chief conflict in his stories). but it doesn't just have to be for these unique sci-fi worlds. the idea of established givens should work for even the more emotional realms of a movie world, like melodramas and comedies, rules like "dad hates mom" or "our main character is unpopular." we normally just think about these things as how we establish behaviors and characterizations, but we really establish these behaviors as givens for the world we are entering and then operate within the context of the movie from there.
because as movies go on, they give more and more information, whether plotting, character or theme, and thus create more and more functional givens for the world. and a plot hole occurs when the new information given is fundamentally countering the old information with no accounting for why. does that make sense? (hulk hopes it does). but the key to the kinds of plot holes that actually matter? a plot hole really needs to be important to the functioning of the movie. which means that it derails the in-moment experience and actively prevents you from enjoying the reason you are in the theater.
and in that spirit, let's be clear - a plot hole is not any of the following:
a) something that only seems confusing in retrospect
b) an event that occurs off-screen
c) a loose end (though it can be)
d) something based on an unresearched historical assumption
e) something based on over-researched historical knowledge
and f) continuity errors + people just plain not watching movies and missing information
... so let's talk about each in order:
a) it is not an event that only seems confusing in retrospect.
this one is actually the most complicated, but it is also the best one to start with because it gets at the heart of "function." and the best way to address this part is to have a little talk about christopher nolan.
christopher nolan is pretty damn well respected for the most part, right? we can at least agree with that. most people think he makes compelling, proficient and reasonably effective movies. still, he is often the subject of a lot of plot hole talk. for instance, a number of people have spent the last several years laughing and talking about how the dark knight doesn't make a lick of logical damn sense when you look at it as a whole. in one plot-based way, that is very true. the joker's plan for much of the movie is ridiculously implausible and dependent on incredible amounts of convenience and luck. but here's the thing about all of that... it really doesn't fucking matter.
why? because nolan isn't that interested in having it all make sense. he's interested in entertaining us in as dramatic and thematically interesting way as possible. and he did a pretty damn good job of it if you ask hulk (or the legions of people who walked out of their first viewing proclaiming it was a masterpiece). the plotting mechanism at play was obvious: nolan was essentially building a cat and mouse game of increasing escalation where we follow new pieces of information from scene to scene in ultra-compelling and propulsive fashion. and it works. boy howdy does it work. scenes move along with not just incredible pacing, but incredible purpose. there really is a sense of intrigue and character motive that showcases what a master filmmaker can do. sure, the movie's "logic" doesn't quite work, but it still flows beautifully and engages us on multiple levels. like what kind of other levels?
hulk argues what saves the dark knight from having a thread of logic undo everything at stake is the fact that the ideology and theme are so damn resonant and focused that they utterly carry us through the movie in terms of our understanding and comprehension. the joker's plan is chaotic, but his crystalline approach to the ideas of pure anarchy and his goals of breaking down batman, harvey dent and gotham are so absolutely clear (and terrifying) that we can completely hang our "interested viewer" hat on them. hell, we're downright fascinated by his actions. take special care to note that almost all of the joker's games are built around ethical choices that directly engage both the characters and the viewers. you may have noticed that bane's games rarely did and that was a crucial difference.
actually, the dark knight rises brings up some good issues to dig into. hulk has articulated hulk's problems with tdkr before, but here's the blurb version: despite some resonant emotional moments, it is hard to deny that tdkr didn't connect quite as well with audiences on the whole, and certainly didn't inspire the same kind of unanimous "masterpiece!" talk that came out of tdk. some critics cited fatigue or the simple fact that ledger's performance carried the predecessor, but hulk disagrees with that assessment. the problem with tdkr is that the moment-to-moment logic often meandered and the themes at play come across as much more obscured, contradictory and scattered. yes, there are certainly some ideas in there, but they are rarely engaging us emotionally or in conflict with each other. and hulk isn't talking theme in the purely intellectual sense, but the way we emotionally connect with ideas that move us and ideas that scare us. they are best used in tangible ways because coherent ideologies are part of the dramatic experience, like in tdk, which often felt like a tight-rope walk for two people's moral souls. so when considering the moment-to-moment energy and the clarity of mental connection, tdk gets hailed as a masterpiece simply because it is dramatically sound, whereas tdkr doesn't quite match up because it is not.
hulk hopes that makes sense because hulk now wants to discuss the effectiveness in moment-to-moment logic with another cinematic deity: steven spielberg. specifically, how devin hit the nail right on the head in his write up of jurassic park last year, which hulk will now cite:
the intersection of terror and wonder in that scene is, for me, the moment when lex shines the light into t-rexís eye; the way the beastís pupil dilates is amazing and scary at once. this seems to be a real thing!, you think, in awe. and itís right there, inches away!, you think, afraid for the kids. but every second of that scene is incredible and perfect; you could write an entire book about just that eight or so minute stretch of film. whatís most incredible, for me, is the way the scene works completely on its own terms despite making no real world sense. how did the trams end up back at the t-rex paddock? how did the t-rex eat the goat and climb up on the road when it is established after this scene that thereís a hundred foot drop on the other side of the wall? sometimes movie making is magic, and sleight of hand is a magicianís best friend; spielberg is such a master that even when youíre looking out for these geographical bloopers they barely register.
devin is completely right. the scene's geography is a mess. they skip logical beats and lie constantly. but the sequence is remarkable because it maximizes the dramatic effect. and if you look over the career of spielberg you realize something peculiar: this is actually his modus operandi for just about every single thing he has ever done. hulk's old buddy tom townend always points out that the truck chase in raiders "cheats like hell," before explaining why it so totally doesn't matter. spielberg's action tends to be so much fun because he is interested in the emotional through-line. he tells a visual story and brings you from moment-to-moment with the kind of distracting gusto few others even talk about.
hulk likes to characterize spielberg by saying he directs like a magician, always distracting you from what's really happening with one hand so that you just see the illusion and get carried through an experience. which is exactly how it should be if you ask hulk. godard has the famous quote about film saying "when you cut you lie," and hulk finds that to be a delightful truth. cinema is unreality and you just have to embrace it, logic be damned. which means that spielberg isn't lying because he sucks and he's trying to manipulate you. he wants to pull you into the moment and cheat both camera geography and plot logic in the name of more effective cinema. some people call that very instinct manipulative, but it's fucking cinema. it's inherently a manipulation. going all the way back to the origins of cinema with the lumiŤre brothers and george mťliŤs. and guess what, folks? spielberg happens to be the most popular, well-liked and traditionally effective filmmaker who has ever lived, so perhaps we should accept that he may know how to make the most possible viewers enthralled. he may not be subtle, but he isn't exactly being cheap. in fact, hulk would argue that what spielberg does may be most valid and pure kind of filmmaking we have. he gets us to embrace wonder and believe the lie.
for what other reason would we want to watch a cinematic magician?
see that's the thing about these two guys; for all of spielberg's flirtation with schmaltz and sentimentality, and for all of nolan's fascination with puzzle-building, they are actually just classic dramatists. they play the game of cat and mouse and get us to follow their rudimentary logic in the moment and that's how they get us to feel like we are in the world of the film. not coherency, but with their ability to draw you into their worlds. and it is worth noting that they are most successful when they also deliver resonant ideas which in turn help make resonant human beings.
but hulk talked about this situation as being "confusing in retrospect." you see all the people tend to complain about these movies and their logical problems after the first time they have seen them (and usually loved them). when they've had time to process the logic they can suddenly see the seams and precised errors. and that's when they begin to think that great thing was perhaps not built so great. it's a logical deduction after all.
but it is so, so, so missing the point of a movie. if they didn't need the logic to function like that the first time, then they really don't need it at all. because so often the eschewing of logic is done in the exact name of what hulk illustrated above with spielberg and nolan. it is done in the name of the dramatic experience that first made you fall in love with the movie. and that's everything. that's what pulls you in. that's what makes you satisfied to begin with. drama is by far the most effective tool to connect with people. to fulfill the purpose of storytelling and translate life's narrative... so why do we judge the logic differently in retrospect? drama is simply the gateway to everything we need from a movie. and even though there are a plethora of films that reward multiple watches for cerebral, humorous or silly purposes, it's that first dramatic watch that means everything in terms of dramatic function.
and since these living legends embrace the drama, hulk would wager that it is safe to say the following: they have no interest in anything remotely close to the ocean solution.
b) it is not an event that occurs off-screen.
this one is fairly obvious, but it needs to be restated: something that happens off-screen and is later alluded to is not a plot hole. shall hulk explain more?
let us first admit that movies are things that are edited. therefore movies create inherent, intentional gaps of information that are omitted because the viewer doesn't need to see them. heck, movies bring us into fully realized worlds with their own histories. and the thing about these histories and mythologies is that we don't necessarily need to know them, but simply feel them.
all of this should be obvious, but you would not believe the amount of times hulk has gotten someone asking about "a plot hole" that basically involved something that was explained, but not shown, including purposeful off-screen action... yeah those are not plot holes. hulk just had to acknowledge this and move on. ksorryhulkthankbye.
c) it is not (necessarily) a loose end
somewhat confusing matters is the subject of "a loose end;" a loose end being an unresolved plot-line or character arc at the end of the film.
so let's qualify it like this: the mere existence of a loose end is not necessarily a plot hole, but there are indeed loose ends that can be plot holes. the problem is that there's a huge range to what qualifies a loose end and which are important to whom, so hulk could just sit back and argue that it's all a "case by case" basis, which is true... but that's not really all that helpful. so hulk will argue that the loose ends that actually qualify as plot holes have nothing to do with want, but instead with function. (sensing a theme here?)
what does hulk mean by want? for instance, you may have wanted more of some comic relief character to be in the film, but if they serve their function earlier then they may not be necessary for a tonally different ending. or you may have wanted two characters to hook up, but instead the film is interested in telling a different kind of story and left it unexplored. and the thing about loose ends is they tend to bother us not because we want what we want, but because as an audience we like everything having a reason. and quite honestly, we're kind of right to want everything to have a reason. hulk even argues that everything having a grand, plot-based purpose is actually a sure-fire sign of good storytelling, but the truth is that you simply cannot wrap everything up sometimes without letting all the air out of your emotional ending and poignancy. ultimately, it becomes a question of function and balance.
for instance, j.k. rowling could have attempted to detail what happened to every single character in the harry potter universe, but you can't do that without really undermining the emotional end for harry. which means the question of "what gets resolved" (particularly in a big saga) is largely a question of negotiation. and in the end the author is choosing what gets wrapped up and what doesn't and we have to understand that. the things we want to happen must often be left aside, for what the story needs to happen.
naturally, this all becomes an even more nuanced subject of loose ends when we get into the topic of purposeful ambiguity... look. a lot of audiences hate ambiguity (specifically regarding endings) almost on principle. in fact, it makes them downright angry. and on one hand, hulk gets it. hulk talks about the purpose of storytelling and hulk has seen a lot of ambiguous endings that have no other bigger idea behind them than "it's ambiguous!" or "you guess what happened!" often times, the creators think that ambiguity itself works because it gets to that inherent post-modern truth or relativity. and quite honestly, hulk finds a lot of ambiguity to be a chief sign of a sophomoric attitude (as one very, very smart person once said to hulk regarding an ambiguous ending hulk once wrote: "you're a big boy. have your character make decisions.") but that doesn't mean ambiguity can't be completely profound, either.
hulk has talked about the end of no country for old men ad nauseum, but that movie made so many beautiful statements about how things can't always end the way we want, and it shows the damage we will do if we chase those "ends." call 'em what you will: money, justice, power - men will pursue them to the ends of the earth. and the movie is really about making peace with ambiguity and all the loose ends of life in a truly meaningful way. but that's just a stellar example of its use.
honestly, hulk kind of adored most of lost's approach toward ambiguity for much of the series' run. it was often buried into the themes and characterization in a way that felt largely natural and compelling (including the few rare cases of great use of deus ex machina). but the ambiguity thing became slightly problematic when they went in a purposefully didactic direction in the finale. hulk won't get into all that (phew), but while they were trying to be clear for the big finale, their general take on ambiguity ended up being rather curt and cruelly withholding in a way that was directed right at the audience. it essentially failed the functional purpose, not realizing that ambiguity is best experienced and not told.
but perhaps the best example on the subject of loose ends is the sopranos. no show was ever more content with pushing the limits of audience indulgence and withholding want more than that particular show. people like violence? you get an episode like "university" where it becomes so cruel and ugly. people want more drama? you get the entire slow burn of season 4. david chase wasn't being a dick about it either, folks. he was pointing at us and getting us to look inward. he was always questioning our morals and getting to the heart of life's narrative. he was asking why we indulged in the killings and the nudity and what we got out of it. he didn't try our patience with slower episodes to be a jerk, but instead to get us to explore bigger forms of storytelling and the amazing nuances of all the characters at play. he wanted us to fucking care. he wanted us to get outside ourselves, like so much of the psychology that had become fundamental to the show's text. and when it all came to an end and everyone was expecting all the stories to get wrapped up, he instead went outward. he got esoteric. he went with the most open-ended, symbolically driven, brilliant cinematic experience that brought us right into the head of tony soprano. hulk says it all the time, "the ending is the conceit," and the ending of that show fully expressed what it was really about: bringing you into the mind of a man who is emotionally connected, rather unbalanced and morally askew.
and yet, there were some people pissed off with the ending of the sopranos 'cause they never came back to the crazy russian guy who was running around in the woods somewhere... and oh yeah, the whole cut to black thing drove most of america crazy. and truth be told, hulk gets it. that was a really provoking move (especially without the title card). the sopranos was cerebrally brilliant and often very involving emotionally, but hulk gets why some found it dramatically unsatisfactory. but to hulk's point, david chase wasn't interested in just giving a dramatically satisfactory ending. he could have done that in his sleep. he wanted to push us into an area we weren't comfortable with. he wanted us to explore new boundaries of storytelling. he wanted us to embrace the ideas behind tony soprano and why we were even watching in the first place.
the reason hulk brought up all these examples is that when you are dealing with all these loose end questions, hulk wants you to really dig in and ask "why did the filmmaker do this?" these things are rarely unintentional, so ask yourself: "why was it not addressed? was it really all that important? what are they saying by that?" and these questions may give you the answers, and possibly the dramatic catharsis you need, if you are open to them.
d) it is not your un-researched historical details
hulk once read a review of x-men: first class where the writer called the movie bad for a bunch of reasons, but mostly because its plotting and details were not historically appropriate, specifically because the x-jet was way too advanced for its time and there was a nuclear submarine. a ten second google search confirmed the sr-71 was indeed in operation by the film's events in 1962 and hulk already knew we had nuclear submarines in operation as early as 1955. and they made a worse historical misappropriation when they said the film failed to capture the spirit of the victories in racial tolerance and peace in the 60's, and no one ever seemed to explain to this person that "the 60's" he's thinking of was pretty much just 1969. whereas 1962 looked very, very different. now the problem is not that this person was "wrong," but a two fold problem of 1) the author's assuming he had a better grasp on this stuff than the entire art department, production designers and research teams whose job it is to research every single historical appropriate detail because this is the way we make movies now. and 2) the author's starting with a hyper-logical sensibility that led him down the wrong path of how to watch and treat movies to begin with.
and it's that second problem that is more... problematic. it's just a terrible way to approach movies. which gets into the next subject...
e) it is not your over-researched historical details
yes, you sitting at your computer right now reading this article. guess what? you are probably an expert in something. maybe you are a molecular biologist. maybe you are an electrical engineer. maybe you like muscle cars. maybe you've seen every bergman film. maybe you know every word to the replacements' oeuvre. maybe you know the ins and outs of every episode of avatar: the last airbender. whatever it is, you probably know more about something than most other people. and when you see someone talking about that subject or dramatizing it in some way, you have to understand that the person may not be an expert in the same way you are. and that inherently means you have to be willing to give a little.
because writing and making movies well is really, really, really fucking hard. like harder than anything you can ever imagine. and chances are that writer or director has thrown themselves into whole worlds and done countless amounts of research. again, cinema is the lens of exploring everything about the human experience. and beyond the individual effort, we have the entire aforementioned departments devoted to getting things right. but in the community process of filmmaking things can get missed. or things can be ignored in the face of some other artistic choice. so when you're dealing with someone who is not an expert like you, there has to be a sense of understanding with all of it. this does not mean accepting if they spit in the entire face of what the subject means, but it does mean sometimes accepting it if they fudge things in the name of more effective drama. remember, why are you in the theater? chances are it's not to watch seamless historical integration.
f) it is not continuity errors + people just plain not watching movies and missing information (we're combining for a reason).
so for this article hulk went down the rabbit hole of lots of "worst plot holes ever!" pages that populate the internet and it was nearly aneurism-inducing. they were mostly things like "they shouldn't have landed in that room!" or "the car was scratched on the other side, not that one!" and then they lament how the people making movies are so stupid. ahem. they are not stupid. forgive hulk for being rash, but your comment is kind of stupid. for one, it showcases that you have no idea that movies are made in collective, out-of-sequence chaos and full of situations and scenarios that you cannot help and often times the "rooms" you're filming in are actually sets or those rooms might be in different houses or a million other things you have no concept of because you've clearly never been around a movie set in your entire life and can't even realize that "hey maybe they just flipped the damn shot for some good reason." ... sorry. hulk just got smashy there. sorry again. it's just if you have ever seen the staggering amount of work that goes into making films feel like seamless, continuity-correct experiences then this kind of comment is so heartbreaking. because continuity is virtually impossible on any movie, even with whole teams of people trying to ensure that it works.
but most of you know that... at least hulk hopes.
so anyways, out of all these pages there was one kind of plot hole that was everywhere and even managed to get the number one consideration for "biggest plot hole" of all time on one of them. it concerns minority report (and no, it's not the legitimate eyeballs one). it is the following:
the movie is based on a story by philip dick, a great science fiction author, and explains about a newly invented system in the near future, that uses extra-sensory perception capable individuals in order to spot crime before it even happened. they are called precogs. precogs are the most vital elements of the movie, but also the biggest plot hole in it. since theyíre able to sense things in the future and prevent crime, shouldnít they sense criminals getting arrested instead of murder occurrences? that means that they either have no perception of the future or are completely useless since theyíll be able to sense only prevented crime.
first off, that's not a fucking plot hole, it's a movie-stopping ocean solution.
second off, the movie 100% explains why this happens: the precogs can only see the act of murder because that action is so heinous that it creates a psychological rift so strong they can actually see and feel it. meanwhile, someone getting arrested is not rift-creating, but instead cathartic, thus they don't see it at all. so the "plot hole" is actually explained by the film and the viewer is not paying attention whatsoever.
but way more important than that is the whole movie-stopping thing. the author utterly fails to realize that the whole fun of the movie is getting to watch the detectives work with the pre-cogs to help solve the mystery and find out where the event is happening and stop it in the nick of time. that's where the, you know, drama comes from. and lest we forget, this person thought this "plot hole" was worthy of being called the worst plot hole of all-time.
the thing about this that makes hulk really sad is when hulk admits to hulkself that information actually explained in a movie is precisely the sort of thing that is most commonly cited as a plot hole.
look... at the heart of all these "not plot holes" is accepting that a movie is always an unreality. they might be very life-like, dramatic experiences, but we also have to accept that they are constructions. and that means accepting that they are both 1) full of conflict and 2) naturally imperfect.
it's not like a movie already exists and then we go out to film it and only fuck up the perfection of its existence through our own faults (and people really do act like this is the case), we make movies from the ether, from nothing, and we aspire to make them the best we humanly can.
to err is human. and it doesn't just speak to the nature of character conflict, but it speaks to the nature of creating art... so let's stay on point here shall we?
5. messy time travel!
going back to looper, hulk was recently talking with a good friend who has his doctorate in electrical engineering and is one of those brilliant dudes hulk goes to with questions all the time (okay, okay hulk's friend is reed richards). he didn't bring up anything overtly nitpicky in his criticism or anything like that, it's just that as a time-travel enthusiast he was getting hung up on the idea that the movie created a condition where time travel was something that was able to affect the future and change it, but also something where it had direct cause and effect with the past and future subjects when they were in the same time. and, for him, it was something he got stuck on.
it is a good concern hulk guess, but one hulk more or less resolved with a simple explanation: looper creates a world where time travel provides a series of alternate timelines (shown through the two ways the bruce willis loop plays out), but it is also a world where since the time traveler from the past is in the present reality/timeline that means there still has to be at least one timeline which brings them to a scenario where they still come back from the future (because the person is right there, ya know?). and the only way to extinguish that possibility? with a real true-blue death. so the film provides us with both interconnected cause-and-effect and alternative timelines which allow for multiple cause-and-effect fatalist scenarios. hulk hopes this all makes sense, but it was enough of a really interesting idea to both sate reed richards and even if it was messy, it got him thinking more.
you see, the important part is that from there it actually prompted a great conversation about fatalism and the movie's themes beyond logic. reed's chief concern being whether or not the film was getting into the paradoxical argument that willis going after the rainmaker forced a scenario in which he creates the rainmaker and how that's a paradox if there are alternate timelines, and hulk was again countered with the fact that the ending wasn't a literal fatalist creation, but a thematically fatalist creation. the idea that chasing something to the ends of the earth with such violence only begets more fruitless violence. it's not logically saying it's the specific cause of creating the rainmaker, it's symbolically saying that the pursuit of violence can do it for any timeline. in trying to undo the past willis is creating a new scenario which replicates it. only the fatalism isn't the literal one timeline we've seen in these kinds of stories before, but instead thematic to all.
and the whole idea of breaking these kinds of horrible cycles is what the entire movie is about. and if you ask hulk, it works like gangbusters because it doesn't hinge that realization on hulk and reed figuring out the complicated logic in a bar one night a bunch of weeks later, but instead the success of looper hinges on the beautiful, emotional character catharsis at the center of the drama. like the t-rex attack, the logic isn't what is making the moment work.
while one always hesitates to ask a filmmaker what he or she intended, rian johnson at least took care to clarify his approach to the whole business quite clearly:
part of my logical construction of how time travel works included a certain amount of messiness - instead of clean timelines and absolute logic, the notion that the universe is a pocket watch where everything works exactly perfectly," says johnson by phone. "i more approached it that the universe is an organic body and time travel is introducing a foreign element into it. there's a certain amount of messiness to the way the universe integrates this paradoxical new element; that also cut us a little bit of slack, i guess.
and later on twitter johnson pointed to another piece he liked a great deal saying: "in one essay, @charliejane has said nearly everything i've ever wanted to say regarding time travel's use in fiction http://io9.com/5945991/why-time-travel-stories-should-be-messy." the essay is wholly on point. the things that make a good and meaningful story rarely have to do with making it wholly logical, but instead conveying dramatic interest and emotional stakes. one of the reasons hulk likes looper is that it does not fall into the obligatory traps of having a clever premise by trying to "outsmart" itself with the ending. instead it settles down, focuses on the few main characters, and becomes more of an intimate drama. and it is precisely why the film works so well.
after all, how many films have we seen collapse under their own weight the moment they try to get too clever with the ending? especially the second they tried to be smart instead of emotionally resonant? shyamalan has nearly ruined his career with the inclination. and the much-ballyhooed "mindfuck" is something that hulk honestly finds to be a hollow exercise most of the time. probably because it just does not connect with people. unless, however, it is backed up by something more substantial.
and right on cue, how can we talk about the messiness of time travel and substantial mind-fuck-ism without bringing up the holy grail of the genre: shane curruth's primer.
the film is a borderline miracle. for one, it blew the doors off our conception of what time travel movies could be. it is wholly uncompromising. most of the tech-heavy dialogue is based on the realistic short-hand two engineers would actually share. the narrative feels almost like a series of escalating dares, bringing you further down the rabbit hole into layer after layer, timeline after timeline. it is a movie that does make logical sense and gives you a hyper sense of cerebral kudos for ultimately being able to follow it (after a few watches). but getting the logic to click and solving the puzzle is not the actual fun part of the experience (as opposed to something like nolan's the prestige), but instead what makes the film experience work is how we marvel at the sheer audacity of filmmaking, the earnest nature at which it grasps at ethics and ideas, and the sheer joy of watching two brilliant people work and do things we can barely comprehend at first. even though the two could not be less similar, the film is deeply alluring in the way that david lynch is alluring. they are both feeding on other experiences that have nothing to do with plot logic. meaning primer is wonderful because you don't have to understand a lick of the logic to actually enjoy it. more than anything, the film gets you to aspire.
so hulk will just keep saying it: emotions and ideas connect to us as film-goers more than anything else. but perhaps hulk has to prove it even more...
6. logic vs. theme
a lot of people had valid problems with hulk's mass effect 3 article, and that prompted the mea-culpa-for-being-a-jerk-but-hulk-really-still-thinks-this-stuff follow-up article. hulk got a lot of criticism, mostly in regards to the tone of hulk's sentiment, which is more than fair. hulk got too smashy and alienated the very people hulk was trying to reach. but the reason hulk brings it up is that even if hulk's tone was completely the wrong approach, there were still a lot of responses that were like "no, you're just wrong. plot holes!"
that may sound like a reduction, but the truth is that most of them could be countered with the information that hulk has given so far (stuff like the movie stoppers and what is and is not a plot hole). but there are absolutely valid plot holes. and when it comes to them, there was one piece that hulk read that provided a really great counter-point to hulk's characterization (and hulk really does love reading criticism of hulk's work because it makes hulk better at all this). the piece by shamus young was about how hulk was inadvertently advocating the death of logic. his argument is both simple and really good.
but to insist that people demanding logic and continuity are advocating the death of storytelling because you liked the theme is to duck the argument entirely. you can say they missed the message. you can say thereís more to the game that they didnít see. but letís at least admit that thereís a shortage of sense-making going on here. if the critics are advocating the death of storytelling, then film crit hulk is advocating the death of logic itself.
talk about meaning and cycles all you like, but people asking perfectly reasonable questions are not trying to kill storytelling. theyíre just trying to wring some meaning out of a patchwork mess of incongruous events. iím not going to list them all here. maybe in a future post iíll sit down and attempt to catalog all the moments where the game made some nonsensical leap. there are many, and they led to story collapse for a lot of people.
as you might be able to tell, hulk has spent the better part of the essay preparing to answer shamus' astute observation about hulk's argument.
without debating the individual merits of mass effect 3 (good gravy, you have all suffered enough), hulk wanted to simply say that hulk connected with mass effect in the way that hulk thinks stories actually matter and in the way that hulk thinks they actually work. for one, hulk found the ending deeply moving and profound. and it's not like hulk just turned hulk's brain off here and enjoyed something sappy. as hulk has hopefully illustrated, hulk is paying attention to logical presentation a great deal. it's just that hulk is always putting the other modes of connection first in the experience. and hulk is not trying to speak for shamus whatsoever as he is clearly a rather smart dude, but the way so many people were disappointed by the tone and purposeful lack of choice in me3 (much like a good deal of people were with no country) makes hulk feel inclined to think that the seed of emotional disappointment (whether intentional or not) forced them to go backwards down the logic hole for all the ways of explaining why it did not work. it's that whole retrospect issue.
now, there's a way in which hulk is totally being unfair with this characterization. hulk wholly admits this. and there's sure to be exceptions on either side of this thing, but hulk was talking with a few trying to really analyze and get to the bottom of this thing and one of them looked at the breakdown of those who enjoyed the ending vs. not enjoyed, and noticed curious rift among those who are movie and story fans first liking the ending and those who are more video game fans first hating the ending.
whatever curious deduction you can make from that, hulk has to first urge you to realize that hulk is not calling for the death of logic. but hulk fully admits to calling for the de-emphasis of how much plot-centric logic actually matters in storytelling. and in full sincerity, hulk believes that all the important ways that stories are told in terms of drama and thematic poignancy were there in mass effect 3, but it really did not cater to want in any conceivable way. and that's where the trouble came from. because it didn't cater to want and pacification and upholding the status quo, thus the plot hole armies came out to roost. and if the game catered to want at the end? if it gave the emotional equivalent of a blow-job? then hulk suspects that no one would have cared about the plot holes. and, fair or not, that says everything on the issue.
but again, mass effect 3 is such a sore spot for people. while hulk disagrees on the general take, hulk acknowledges that shamus is entirely right in that so many people had so many different game experiences that it becomes hard to approximate and relate to one another.
so with that difficulty in mind, hulk wants to bring up a few examples of absolutely legitimate plot holes from famous movies so we can talk about this whole dynamic.
a) - biff can't show up in the delorean
problem: so back to the future takes place in a single timeline universe where doing things causes events to change and alter on that singular timeline. in the sequel, biff ends up stealing the delorean from the future and going back to 1955 to give his younger self a sports almanac to make him rich. but rather than have this instantly change what's happening in the future, he actually shows up in a future that doesn't exist anymore to give marty and doc the delorean back so they don't know he did it. marty and doc later go to the new future scenario created by the almanac where old biff is rich and stuff.
why it doesn't matter: because the detail doesn't really interrupt the function of the propulsion of the story. biff returns and thus we dramatically worry about what biff did and know it's bad, and then the movie immediately goes to address the issue when marty returns to 1985 to find out his town is in ruins (in kind of a racist way too... did anyone else ever find that weird?). it doesn't disrupt the function of the drama and is an admittable cheat to get the time machine back to our heroes.
b) bringing up skywalker
problem: luke skywalker needs to be hidden from his father and protected at all costs and this is done by... letting him keep his last name and live with his next of kin which is the first place anyone would look for him.
why it doesn't matter: for one, it's all hypothetical and gets outside of the world as given ("that's the first place they would look!" / "yeah but they didn't.") but more importantly we experience the information in a different dramatic order. at first we think luke is some kid on a desert planet whose father was killed and is the hero of our story. but the whole plot doesn't end up being an issue until darth vader is like "i am your father." and instead of worrying about that little piece of logic the audience was too busy going "zomfg vader is luke's dad! holy fucking shit!" ... so is that logical nitpick worth losing the magic of that moment? the information was established and there was no going back... also, please don't bring up the prequels.
c) portkey trouble
problem: the book/movie harry potter and the goblet of fire establishes that portkeys are one-way objects that can transfer a wizard someplace, and they make a big deal of one time use and all that jazz and at the end of the story harry touches the triwizard cup and is transported to voldemort's layer, but he then uses it to get back! which is not just against how portkeys work, but would be extra stupid of the bad guys to have the triwizard cup be the portkey when it could have been anything, so why use the cup for harry and make him go through the most ridiculous series of challenges ever just so he can be eligible to touch it when someone seriously could have like just handed him a note or something.
why it doesn't matter: again, dramatic order. we experience the movie in sequence and we don't know this and it's all well and good and fine. in the moment-to-moment we are able to follow it and be compelled and not worry. even when harry's zapped in the goblet, we don't exactly understand yet and are too wrapped up in all the "holy fuck! voldemort!" to care. again, the storytelling and drama is sound, so we never stop to get wrapped up in the details. so it's mostly an after-the-fact realization thing.
... so now you'll notice the big link in all three of these examples: they don't ruin the drama in the moment.
so one last time, let's go back to the dark knight.
if there is a plot mechanism that doesn't really work in the film then it's the fake-out death of gordon. the reason he does it doesn't make sense, but that's not the reason it doesn't work. the problem is that the dramatic part of the device is strained too. the set up is telegraphed because gordon's death is pretty much an accident and we're not given a real idea of what actually happened. and plus the story just moves on and forgets him pretty damn quick with no real funeral or nothing. the death of gordon would instinctively feel so much bigger than that on the dramatic level. so then we keep seeing that shot of the driver and by the second time they show a shot of him, hulk is all like "yeah, that's gordon" in hulk's brain. and hey, it's good that he comes back and catches the joker cause in that exact moment of "son of a bitch" he saves batman and it all kind of works in that singular moment, ya know?
but it's a perfect case study for what hulk is talking about. gordon's logical reasons for faking his death are pretty thin. but the bigger problem is the moment is telegraphed and doesn't work all that much dramatically with the set up. on top of it, the moment doesn't mean much for the plot afterward or have anything thematically interesting to say. so the only strength it has is the momentary reveal where he saves the hero. and for a movie full of strong drama in moment-to-moment context, it stands out as being less than stellar.
but it's not a damn plot hole. gordon says he had to do it to protect his family, and there's kind of a reason that it makes sense and it's a little muddled, but the reason it doesn't work is that it's one of the few things in the film that is not all that well executed on a dramatic level. and still everyone calls it a plot hole and uses the poor logic as a reason to throw the whole subplot under the bus. really, it just falls a little flat. even still, the "saving the hero" moment doesn't quite ruin the drama and pace of the film. in fact, the movie recovers quite nicely in the aftermath as soon as we get to see gordon being promoted and the incredible interrogation scene.
so this all raises a question: do we only notice plot holes when a movie is bad?
and then are we blaming the logical plot holes for the badness, when really the badness is the badness? it could be the poor character motivation, or a telegraphed dramatic moment, or an unfunny line, or a stiff performance from an actor, or a confused message. hulk literally just caught the end of steve martin's version of sgt. bilko on hbo (shut up, hulk watches whatever), and the whole scenario ends with them saving the base by faking the success of the hover tank (something that would be discovered to be faulty almost immediately). does this one ruin the movie? do we only care because the movie really isn't that funny? or does the fact that this hypothetical plot-line actually has the chutzpah to suggest itself as being a permanent solution so blatantly? or is that the greater joke?
hulk isn't coming to you with a full answer on these questions, but hulk thinks we have the tools to try and suss this out...
7. the artist's dilemma
hulk said it at the beginning: movies are more complicated than string theory. really. they are. if you lay out a proof. you actually have to have a few running threads. the logic of the plot. the logic of the character's emotional journey. the thematic resonance. the geography of the scene. the actors appearance. the historical detail. the camera placement. the continuity. whether you can get your shots off in time. whether it will stay on budget. the amount of things that have to go right for a movie to go right is beyond ridiculous. in short, the proof is complicated.
and nobody knows this more than writers and filmmakers. to be either of those professions is to automatically be in over your head. and because both are professions that reward ambition with opportunity, you will find that there are a lot of both who are way over their heads. but that is not to take away from the immense difficulty of the task. legit masters of the craft make bad movies all the time. so many things can go wrong. a miscalculation in casting? studio interference? a sudden tragedy? you name it, it can happen.
and if you've ever had to write a film or make one, you realize that pretty quickly. even the great filmmakers sit there with a script and say "okay this doesn't work, this doesn't work, this doesn't work" and then they attempt to solve them. but solving everything is impossible. hulk keeps using the word negotiation because it's so apt. in order to make one choice work you have to sometimes hurt something else you are doing in a script. thus, you make choices. you consider every thought. and then you decide what about the film do you value???
and that's everything. there is no such thing as a perfect movie, only a movie that perfectly caters to the kinds of things that we value in movies. some of us like adventurous films. some of us like to feel good. some like to indulge. some hate manipulation. but when it comes to the downright effectiveness of traditional storytelling, hulk believes that both the cinema-going populace and those who have been telling basic stories throughout the history of time have come to value the same basic approach: character consistency is by far the more important factor in the overall equation.
there is a lot of debate about whether or not character inconsistency falls under the umbrella term of "plot hole." given the nature of hulk's stance in this essay, hulk likes to keep them separate because it helps us understand the ways in which they operate on us differently. but rest assured, character is what grounds us in drama, the overall experience and the sense of humanity. hulk has talked at length about characterization and how good characters have nothing to do with being likeable, but instead being compelling. after all, traditional drama is about conflict.
and character conflict is rooted in putting certain kinds of characters in certain situations and watching them make difficult choices, either together or against each other. as such, the narrative (ie, plotting) has to be constructed in a way where the plot itself doesn't necessarily need to make sense, but be executed in such a way that the characters' decisions make sense.
because that is what we truly follow. almost every audience member, literate in cinema or not, can get a sense for what a character would do and what they wouldn't do. and when a character goes outside of that kind of behavior is the very second that most audiences will turn. and so, it is not what a character should do (ie, going back to the ocean solution), but what they would do.
so what do we believe they would do?
we believe han solo would return to help luke not on some whim, but because the movie takes care to put han into that situation. it slowly pecks away at his ego. our characters get under his skin. and when he turns to leave with his money we see that moment of doubt dramatized: "i know what i'm doing." and then at the most dramatic moment possible, when our hero is about to be shot down by the villain, han returns to help his friend. that's fucking drama guys.
we believe in characters because they are our anchors to experience. our vessels. and save for the occasional movie where we are meant to largely look at these characters in external terms (coens play with this beautifully), they are the lens through which we absorb the cinematic world. character is our vessel into ideologies and themes and understanding of the world. in this medium that sculpts in time, they are our sign posts on the way to understanding life's narrative. meaning, yes, character is so much closer to why we go to the movies. it all comes to pass... if we were making a proof of how a movie works: character and that character's connection to the theme would be of greatest possible significance.
it is the very purpose of storytelling.
but... well... the hard thing about that statement is that it's hard to tell a huge amount of left-brained people that they're "watching movies wrong," but in a small way that's what's happening. if only because hulk is left-brained and it took an insane amount of logical thinking to bring hulk to this very non-logic-embracing place. hulk has been obsessed with figuring out how movies work forever and this is where it comes to. and as hulk has understood this non-logical place more and more, then hulk has been able to logically suss out the complexities of certain stories that had curious effects of the public.
john carter and the amazing spider-man were two films that seemed to have a ton going for them, but missed a connection in some way. what was the core piece of the equation that was missing? often it's not some big mistake, but a small, repeated mistake of approach. with john carter the filmmakers were obsessed with the concept of reveals and having things click in terms of story right in the moment you were experiencing them. but while this so understands story logic, it is completely dysfunctional drama. the core of drama is simple. we understand what this person wants. we understand what that person wants. and those wants conflict or are the same wants for the same thing. the film had no idea how to just construct a basic motivation leading into basic conflict. and with spider-man, the film had great actors, texture and projections of feeling, but it was going either way too light on character motivation or creating contradictory ones. it understood how to get emotion and there was logic to the "this causes this" part of the plot, but the character motivation was completely broken. characters didn't have wants and you so absolutely need to understand what characters want in order to let them propel you from scene to scene. instead, our peter parker rejected everything. now, hulk understood why they did it as stanton wanted to wow with reveals and webb went in the textural direction, but both movies needed a very different form of construction to make them work.
again, look back at spielberg and nolan, who thumb their nose at logic and embrace drama... the comparison should be stark.
and yet, here we are as a film-going culture talking about the "plot holes" of looper.
fact: looper currently has a 93% rating on rotten tomatoes. hulk doesn't inherently ascribe to this fact as any kind of proof of anything, as rotten tomatoes is basically just taking the grouping of critics and telling you if a film is effective across the board. which that score certainly indicates. specifically, for a big budget sci-fi film that figure is rather incredible. and given that the audience is just 5% behind at 88%, it is safe to say the film is working.
and it accomplished this not by trying to outsmart itself. not by obsessing over logic. it accomplished this by actively ignoring the questions of time travel and engaging in a very human story about an older man who lost his wife and tried to fix it, a young man who realized he might have pissed away his future, and a young woman trying to atone for her past and get a clean break with her son. and from there it manages to engage some of the most simple, but deeply felt themes of choice and consequence.
when you think about it, it's almost as if the filmmakers sat down and asked themselves a central question: "what do we want to get right?" and in ignoring all the plot hole concerns and the ocean solution, and by embracing the messiness of time travel, they created a movie that was compelling as all hell to almost every person who watched it.