Wikipedia describes a plot hole as,
“…a gap or inconsistency in a storyline that goes against the flow of logic established by the story’s plot, or constitutes a blatant omission of relevant information regarding the plot. These include such things as unlikely behaviour or actions of characters, illogical or impossible events, events happening for no apparent reason, or statements/events that contradict earlier events in the storyline.”
A common misconception about plot holes is that they result from a lack of awareness on the part of the filmmaker. While some plot holes or leaps in logic may slip past unnoticed during production, there are so many people involved on any given production someone is bound to notice the more garish examples. These are ignored or manufactured to facilitate a set-piece or the story as whole. What’s more, there is ample proof (read: profits) moviegoers will ignore/forgive a plot-hole in exchange for a big pay off.
A plot hole like a punch-line or the steady-cam is just another device used for dramatic effect. If used properly it can do wonders on-screen, when mishandled, it strikes a false note – and like the steady-cam or a one-liner, they’re tempting to use and use and overuse.
Take for example the plot for Armageddon, wherein “a group of blue-collar deep-core drillers sent by NASA to stop a gigantic asteroid on a collision course with Earth.” Co-star Ben Affleck – whose persona at the time was of a handsome idiot-jock – thought it was nonsensical that NASA would train deep-core drillers to go into space, when it would be simpler to have the drillers show trained astronauts how to drill. When Affleck pointed out this Texas-sized plot hole to director Michael Bay, Bay promptly directed him to “Shut up” and continued shooting. The movie grossed $553,709,788.
Plot holes can give us an insight into the mind of the filmmaker. Bay does not care about logic if it interferes with his scheme to destroy the world – he’ll defy the laws of physics as many times as necessary until everything is ash. Conversely, there are filmmakers that go out of their way to mask any possible plot holes with fantastical settings/scenarios – I’m looking at you Richard “parallel universe” Kelly. In both cases plot holes serve the aims of the director to tell an impossible tale. A contemporary attempt at the epic. And like the epics of yesteryear, you have to inflate things somewhat.
The mislabeling of events as a plot hole is fairly common place. This is often the case in time-based mediums, (ie. cinema) where omissions have to be made to save time or keep a certain pace. It is assumed minor omissions or gaps will be filled-in automatically by the audience. For example, if a character exits a door at location A and appears at location B a moment later and the distance between location A and B is substantial, it can be assumed the character took some time to traverse the distance or that he employed some form of transportation. Unless it is essential to the plot, there is no need to explain an omission.
A problem occurs however when the causal chain breaks down and it is not clear why the character has chosen to traverse the distance between A and B. An omission of cause and effect, which is often attributed to bad writing or the disposal of relevant footage in editing, can generate a plot hole – or the appearance of one – in the final film.
In Michael Crichton’s Looker, he omits a scene in the latter part of the film that explains why the women at the beginning were systemically eliminated by a hired killer. Crichton, a thoughtful and methodical author of high concept fiction, wrote and shot the scene but it never made it to the cinema. I can only assume whoever ordered the cuts did it for economy of time, hoping nobody would notice or ignore it altogether, being distracted by the climactic shoot out – one of several noteworthy set-pieces in the film.
Certain actions by a character or group in a story can also be mistakenly labeled as plot holes. Though they are sometimes gross leaps in logic, they do not necessarily fall into the category of a plot hole. Characters are permitted to have flaws – in fact it makes them seem more human – and often make terrible, terrible choices. A leap in logic on the part of a character can be warranted and often makes for a more entertaining film, assuming there is a discernible cause.
In Goldfinger, the eponymous villain allows Bond to live despite having him entirely at his mercy, when Bond causes Goldfinger to doubt himself and act cautiously. Which in the Bond-universe means letting Bond live. This, naturally, proves Goldfinger’s ultimate undoing.
Some audiences are more nit-picky about plot holes than others. Particularly when you factor in viewer-bias; people are more likey tear apart Twilight for its blatant disregard of logic simply because they do not like sparkly centuries-old pedophiles (see?) but try to point out plot holes in a sacred cow like Star Wars and you’re accused of sacrilege. Then again, some filmgoers do not get emotionally invested in the material itself will abide a leap or two in logic, as long as they’re entertained (ie. not Highlander II ).
The most offensive plot holes are the arbitrary ones for which there seems to be no clear genesis or purpose save some minor plot contrivance. The frustration mounts when the elimination of a particular event in question might make for a more streamlined narrative. The only theory I can propose is that at the hundred-million dollar level there are so many people in control of a project there’s a repeated attempt to satisfy multiple egos, it results in disaster. But again, even in these cases the film can still make a butt-load of cash.
It’s called marketing.*