Plot Holes: Are they always bad?

glenn criddle | cynical celluloid | nov. 2017

As a critic I've lambasted many a movie for making no sense. Those moments when stuff just happens to serve the plot without explanation or reason are a source of bother to many and often to myself. But should we be overly obsessed with the completeness of any given narrative? Well, personally I've always tried (not always successfully) to steer clear of being too nit-picky of certain aspects of a story in a film, partly because of the limited nature of film, not least the time they have to tell their story. But when do plot holes, contrivances and missing information matter then?

It's all too easy to sit and say, “This doesn't make sense" or “That was never explained" and certainly there are times when that's an important thing to recognise. For instance, in Christopher Nolan's sci-fi epic “Interstellar" there are complaints that if the scientists can grow food in space then why can't they just do the same on Earth. A valid point but not one of the main drives concerning what the movie is about. To some extent you can fill out the whys and wherefores of this particular plot hole yourself, maybe it's not scalable to the Earth's population for instance and a longer-term solution is needed. The situation itself matters less than the journey to put it all right.

Another example would be with Star Wars. Why would there be such a destructive flaw in the Death Star that would allow a very small weapon to take out the moon-sized base in a single shot? Surely the Empire would protect the hell out of such a soft spot. For years this was a source of debate among fans and critics of the film and as it turned out in “Rogue One" we were given a plausible, if a little-forced (no pun intended), reason for why a teeny-tiny little fighter could take out the largest battle station in the universe. Did it change anything about Star Wars knowing that? Not really, it's a detail but not one that makes or breaks the fantastic tale of resistance, mysticism and heroism the story was telling. Could the same be said about the Midi-chlorians the prequel pulls out of its backside? Not really. There's too much suggested by that ham-fisted addition that affects not just the prequel story but the universe the whole Star Wars story is set in. It introduces plot holes not only to itself but retrospectively to the following films and because such a big deal is made of it, it is rather important.

Hopefully you can see the point I'm making here, if a plot hole doesn't affect the actual purpose or workings of the story then it's not a problem in the big picture, in fact it can sometimes be to the benefit of a film. I know, that sounds like asking for lazy writing but just imagine, if you will, that every tiny detail of a story is filled out for fear of leaving something out. Every movie would either be very simple or very, very long. There are folks that demand things like this when it comes to characters in video games. They wring their hands about how non-player characters are exploited because we don't know their story when their stories simply do not matter. Certain details of any given story are necessarily left vague or entirely unexplored. We don't, for instance, need to know the story of the child who Bruce Wayne saves in “Batman V Superman," he's a situation, a drive, motivation, that's it. What is missing is why Superman clearly had no regard for the lives of those in the immediate area.

However, with many story plot holes, some large, some small, these details ultimately don't matter, it's little more than details. What is important when it comes to plot holes, returning to “Batman V Superman" for a moment, are things like Lex Luthor's motivation, things like why he has such a grudge against them and how his manipulation of the two superheroes works. None of that, and indeed so many more points, make any kind of sense and because these things are central to the plot, they're something that's actually very important to what's going on. “Batman V Superman" has bugged me since I first saw it because we're expected to take so much at face value that there's very little solid information to sink your teeth into. It's all contrivance and expecting the audience to take things for granted.

When the plot holes and the likes are there, as long as it doesn't result in something like a desperate “deus ex machina" or break the cause and effect of the story, then it can actually be a source of inspiration. It can give us things to speculate on, to talk about and it can simply aid the pace and flow of the film. On the other end of the spectrum though, it can lead to half the DC extended universe, a series of films where every action, every motivation, happens because ... well, because.

It's okay to have some missing information, “Blade Runner 2049" certainly has plenty of gaps in the story, so does one of my favourite films, “Inception." The thing is the gaps and holes in these films don't necessarily break the story, they don't cause it to collapse, they instead provoke discussion as to what's going on in these spaces. The story in its own right still works but there's room for exploration. My friend, Josh Hadley, would disagree wholeheartedly on the problems with “Blade Runner 2049" though. He says it's broken, he may be right, but for my part it worked enough overall to allow for those moments that don't make too much sense.

So, my advice is don't get hung up on every little detail that isn't fleshed out. While I certainly don't advocate accepting a substandard story, it's also problematic to have unrealistic standards for how complete a story can be. Sometimes the gaps in knowledge are as, if not more, interesting than the things we do know. It's a matter of whether it's a product of laziness, incompetence or brevity.


He's British so forgive the extra U's and the use of the letter S instead of Z. If there's one thing that typifies Glenn's writing it's the 'Video Nasties,' a long list of movies that offended all and sunder during the 1980s in the UK. It's those seemingly offensive fringes of cinema that informed his writing on cinema and the more political area of censorship with a more sympathetic approach to those films that push the limits of taste. But don't worry, he does talk about normal stuff too and isn't likely to go off on a horror movie fuelled rampage.

For more of Glenn's work, visit cynicalcelluloid.com.

More from Category

In Review: 'No Name' by Larry P. Madden

Stay up-to-date

Sign up for a monthly digest of everything new in GB.