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6 Movie Plot Holes (and How to Explain Them)

July 22, 2013
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MementoBy Hoff Matthews

Movies depict all sorts of things that we never encounter in the real world—time travel, aliens, magic, etc.—and we as audiences are willing to suspend our disbelief for the sake of the transporting experiences that made-up stories can deliver. Sometimes, however, movies contradict not just the rules of the real world, but the rules that they themselves have set up within their own stories. This can be distracting and seriously undermine your enjoyment of a film—unless you do what I do and use your imagination to fill in the gaps that the filmmakers have left open. Sometimes this process can even make the movie more enjoyable than it was before!

Here, then, are some of the biggest movie plot holes I’ve noticed—and some thoughts on how to make them make sense:

6. INCEPTION

Inception-poster

The Plot:

Leonardo DiCaprio plays a “dream architect” who gathers together a gang of similarly skilled operatives to pull off a “dream heist” inside a wealthy businessman’s “dream.”

Why It Doesn’t Make Sense:

Okay, so the movie establishes early on that you get out of a dream via a “kick,” which is some sort of physical shock experienced in the real world that causes you to wake up. We see this principle at work when the protagonists get “kicked” out of one dream level by having the elevator they’re in in another dream stop suddenly, and then they get kicked out of the elevator dream when the van they’re in in Dream 1 crashes. Or the van crash kicks them into the elevator dream, I can’t remember.

Van Kick

Regardless, there’s this other other dream where they’re inside the ice fortress level from Goldeneye, and here’s where things stop making sense: They get out of that dream not through a kick in another dream, but through a kick within that dream itself, when the fortress explodes, totally contradicting the rules that the film set up for itself.

Ice Fortress

Or… Actually, maybe they got out of that dream because of the elevator stopping. But then I think something still doesn’t make sense because Ellen Page gets back to the fortress dream by jumping off a balcony in another dream, when really she should’ve only needed the explosion in the ice dream. Unless she was in a different kind of dream or something.

I think that's what happens. I couldn't find a picture of this part

I think that’s what happens. I couldn’t find a picture of this part

I don’t know, I’m pretty sure I remember some part not making sense. I’d watch it again but it’s not on Instant and I can’t get the DVD until I finish re-watching the first season of Girls.

Potential Explanation:

The easy way to explain this would be to interpret the ending as indicating that everything in the movie was a dream, and that real-world logic therefore doesn’t apply. But I’ve got an even more mind-blowing idea: What if NOTHING in the movie was a dream? What if the rules regarding “kicks” are inconsistent because there are no kicks, and DiCaprio’s character is actually moving the other characters around while they sleep and then waking them up in artificial dream-like scenarios in order to make himself seem like a grand, brilliant “dream architect” instead of the run-of-the-mill con man he is? Now THAT’D be a twist!

Leo

Admittedly, this explanation does have its own issues, such as how DiCaprio would get a city to fold in on itself, create a zero-gravity environment, etc. But, you know, it is just a movie. Let’s not overthink things.

5. MEMENTO

Memento-Poster

The Plot:

Guy Pearce plays a depressed loner obsessed with finding his wife’s killer.

Why It Doesn’t Make Sense:

Not to pick on Christopher Nolan, but man, this movie is just a mess from start to finish! The very first scene shows Pearce shooting Joe Pantoliano, but then two minutes later we see Pantoliano alive and well, seemingly not at all upset with Pearce for having SHOT HIM IN THE FUCKING FACE. Pearce and Pantoliano then go to an isolated area where Pearce of course shoots Pantoliano again (if at first you don’t succeed, I guess), and yet Pantoliano reappears a few scenes later, STILL acting as though he and Pearce are pals!

“Hey, Joe, no hard feelings about that whole shooting-you-in-the-face thing, right?” “Durrrr, nope, I’m cool with it!”

“Hey, Joe, no hard feelings about that whole shooting-you-in-the-face thing, right?” “Durrrr, nope, I’m cool with it!”

(The opening scene also shows a Polaroid fading from a clear image to blank grayness, which is NOT how Polaroids work, but I guess I can accept that the movie takes place in an alternate timeline in which Polaroids are reusable.)

And while Pantoliano’s invulnerability to bullets is the film’s most egregious oversight, it’s far from the only one: There’s also a character named Jimmy Grantz who is strongly implied to be dead but then also shows up alive, a love interest played by Carrie-Ann Moss whose behavior towards Pearce is totally inconsistent, a series of black-and-white scenes that seem to be taking place at a completely different time from the rest of the story—the list goes on.

This picture has no function apart from breaking up the text

This picture has no function apart from breaking up the text

Full disclosure: I was making dinner while I watched this, so I was kind of in and out of the room and might’ve missed some exposition here and there. But if this movie actually has a plot point that makes its whole disjointed narrative hang together—well, that would have to be one hell of a plot point! I mean, it’d have to be something seriously innovative and brilliant! And boy would I look like an idiot for having written this whole rant!

Potential Explanation:

I have thought of one idea that might make Memento sort of make sense: Perhaps Pearce’s character had some sort of mental condition that loosened his grasp on what was going on in the world around him. Like, specifically—and the more I think about this idea the more I like it—maybe he had a split personality, and was actually just imagining the other characters, à la Fight Club!

Guy Pearce and Guy Pearce

If that’s what was supposed to be going on then I apologize, that’s a pretty cool twist.

4. My Dinner with Andre

my-dinner-with-andre-movie-poster-1982-1020201893

The Plot:

Wallace Shawn meets Andre Gregory for dinner.

My Dinner with Andre

Why It Doesn’t Make Sense:

The movie’s central debate over aesthetic utilitarianism vs.the pursuit of transcedental enlightenment seems simple enough at first–until you think about it for, like, A SECOND. Once you do, you’ll wonder how it is that Wallace Shawn’s character, Wally, is supposed to be the scion of Upper East Side intelligentsia and yet somehow ends up as the mouthpiece of down-to-earth practicality, a perspective totally at odds with the capriciousness endemic to idle aristocracy! And the character of Andre is even more of a mess: He too preaches the virtues of placid domesticity, except when the dramatic flow of the discussion requires him to espouse the totally contradictory values of nonconformism and mysticism. Worst of all, the restrained realism of the film’s subject matter and execution suggest unqualified support for Wally’s more pragmatic outlook, which totally undermines the dialogue’s textual ambiguity!

My Dinner with Andre 02

This picture also has no function apart from breaking up the text, because sometimes when you have A WHOLE LOT OF WORDS it can be helpful to supplement them with IMAGERY. Not that I’m COMMENTING ON THE NATURE OF THE FILM IN QUESTION or anything

Potential Explanation:

The only conclusion any reasonable person can come to here is that Wally has a split personality, and was actually just imagining the character of Andre, à la Fight Club.

My Dinner with Wally

This would explain why their conversation often seems less like a true dialogue than a back-and-forth between two seemingly opposed but actually complementary elements of a singular consciousness, as well as why the waiter keeps giving Wally such funny looks.

Waiter Reacting to Wallace Shawn Talking to Himself

On the other hand, there is also one part where Andre claims to have died and become a robot. But I think it’s a metaphor or something.

3. INLAND EMPIRE

inland_empire

The Plot:

The film starts with a woman who may be a prostitute crying in front of a television:

Inland Empire 1

The TV is showing a sitcom where all the characters are rabbits:

Inland Empire 2

Then an old lady tells Laura Dern a creepy story.

Inland Empire 3

Laura Dern’s in a movie!

Inland Empire 4

A woman with a screwdriver in her gut meets with a detective.

Inland Empire 5

There’s a needle on a graph or something.

Inland Empire 6

Some foreigners do some stuff.

Inland Empire 7

A bunch of women dance.

Inland Empire 8

Laura Dern goes to the country. Her husband has ketchup on his shirt.

Inland Empire 9

This guy has a light bulb in his mouth.

Inland Empire 10

Dern’s husband buys a gun from foreigners with a ghost who become rabbits.

Inland Empire 11

More dancing.

Inland Empire 12

Dern gets stabbed.

Inland Empire 13

Some homeless people tell Dern stories.

Inland Empire 14

Dern dies, but it’s just part of a movie.

Inland Empire 15

It turns out that the movie is a movie.

Inland Empire 16

This thing shows up.

Inland Empire 17

Dern makes out with the girl from the beginning.

Inland Empire 18

A one-legged woman says, “Sweet.”

Inland Empire 19

There’s another dance party!

Inland Empire 20

Why It Doesn’t Make Sense:

Potential Explanation:

I’m not sure what to say about the rabbits and the ghosts and the light bulb and stuff, but one thing I feel 100% sure of is that Laura Dern’s character had a split personality à la Fight Club. And I think at least one of her personalities was on some heavy, heavy drugs.

I mean, SOMEONE definitely was.

Feel free to offer alternative explanations that do not involve someone being on heavy, heavy drugs.

2. THE DANTE QUARTET

The Dante Quartet

The Plot:

This experimental short film by Stan Brakhage echoes the structure and themes of Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy via a series of abstract images created through Brakhage’s application of paint directly to scratched, damaged filmstrips.

Why It Doesn’t Make Sense:

The Dante Quartet starts off logically enough with its opening chapter, “Hell Itself,” depicting the Inferno as a set of constantly shifting Jackson Pollock-style paint swirls. This part makes sense, as nothing evokes a sense of eternal damnation like having to sit through an experimental film. The next two chapters, “Hell Spit Flexion” and “Purgation,” also work, since the increasingly chaotic nature of their imagery and the inclusion of occasional representational fragments appropriately symbolize the deeply Catholic idea of moral cleansing through an intense process of atonement.

Makes sense

Makes sense

But then, in the fourth chapter, “existence is song,” things go completely off the rails, with Brakhage’s idea of Heaven shown to be just as chaotic and ever-shifting as the imagery in the first three chapters, suggesting an almost Eastern view of Heaven and Hell as a false duality which must be transcended in order to achieve true enlightenment—a view totally at odds with the philosophical precepts Brakhage seemed earlier to have been asserting!

Clearly makes no sense

Clearly makes no sense

Hey Stan, next time you spend six years creating a six-minute film, maybe spend some of that time coming up with a narrative THAT DOESN’T SUCK!

Potential Explanation:

FUCK YOU, STAN BRAKHAGE!

1. FIGHT CLUB

Fight Club

The Plot:

Mild-mannered Edward Norton gets gradually drawn into a life of violence by his rebellious, subversive new friend Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). In the end it turns out that Norton has a split personality and that he’s actually been Durden the whole time, à la Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Why It Doesn’t Make Sense:

I mean, c’mon. How could you not know your own name.

Potential Explanation:

Okay, I’ve come up with two options for this one. The first is that Edward Norton and Brad Pitt’s characters BOTH aren’t real, and that it’s actually some other character who has a split personality and is imagining the two of them. Like, I don’t know, the bitch titties guy played by Meat Loaf.

Whatever that guy's name was

Whatever that guy’s name was

But then I thought, what if the person imagining Tyler Durden into existence is someone who never shows up in the film at all? What if NONE of the people in Fight Club are real, and all of them—not just Tyler—are supposed to have been artificially created for the purpose of embodying certain personality traits or perspectives, perhaps by some sort of writer? And what if the inconsistencies or flaws in the film’s plot are actually clues that help to signify said writer’s existence via demonstrations of his inherent human fallibility?

Maybe the writer looks like this! Maybe his name is "Chuck"!

Maybe the writer looks like this! Maybe his name is “Chuck”!

I like the Meat Loaf idea better, though. The second one’s kind of contrived.

If you enjoyed this listicle, check out some of my others:

10 Pictures that Look Photoshopped–But Aren’t!

• 7 Great Comedians with Stage Names

The 9 Steamiest Texts Between Your Ex and Her New Boyfriend

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Grepppo permalink
    July 23, 2013 1:42 pm

    Dude, you completely missed the point of Memento.

    The story is told in reverse, in episodic flashback because the Guy Pierce character cannot process/create short term memories.

    Hence all his tatoos, which are his “memory”.

    Go and rent it again, and sit down ans watch it properly.

    • July 23, 2013 2:21 pm

      WHAAAT?! Well, boy, is there egg on my face!

      I was on point about everything else, though, right?

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  1. FIVE MAJOR PLOT HOLES IN OTHERWISE DECENT MOVIES | Daley James Francis

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