I really love the YouTube Channel of Patrick H. Willems. He’s done some solid work over the years. I think I’ve watched his entire channel twice by this point. How to Make a Perfect Action Scene is brilliant and Marvel’s The Defenders: Why is the Hand So Boring? answers a question that Netflix probably should have figured out about four years ago.
Over the past handful of years I’ve had to pay more attention to narrative and structure because the videogames I critique are so often designed and marketed with a huge emphasis on their stories. To do a proper analysis I need to understand what they were trying (and often failing) to accomplish in a cinematic sense. Which means that I’ve spent a lot of time watching stuff from filmmakers-turned-YouTubers. PHW is one of the better examples of this.
A few weeks ago he published SHUT UP ABOUT PLOT HOLES. I knew the video was going to get him into trouble the moment I saw the title. At a couple of points in his essay he even says, “You’re watching movies wrong.” That’s provocative to the point of being flame-bait, although I doubt he intended it that way. As of this writing, SHUT UP ABOUT PLOT HOLES has more views than any of his other work, but it’s also the most intensely disliked. It’s got a 30% negative rating, which is way out of norm for the channel.
We’ve Been Here Before
The argument is very reminiscent of the exchange I had with Film Crit Hulk about plot holes. This was back in 2012 when the end of Mass Effect 3 was the outrage fuel of the day. In his post Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK VS. PLOT HOLES AND MOVIE LOGIC, FCH made the case that the point of a story wasn’t to present a perfect, flawless, rigorously logical world, but to tell a particular story.
I wonder if Patrick Willems is aware of the genealogy of this debateI’m not suggesting that FCH and I were REMOTELY the first people to tackle this. This debate is ancient.. He’s wearing Hulk gloves in the video thumbnail, which seems like it might be a nod to the work Film Crit Hulk did six years earlier.
Playing “Gotcha” With Movies
I can see where the author is coming from. I know there are a lot of people out there who like to play “gotcha” with storytellers. Some of this is the result of people doing “outrage as performance art” for their YouTube channels. Some people even take it one step further and suggest that if you didn’t notice these OBVIOUS AND GLARING plot holes then you must be a dumb popcorn-munching sheeple and you’re part of the reason movies are so stupid these days. I’ll admit these arguments are really annoying and I can see why you’d want to tell these people they’re “watching movies wrong”. On the other hand, claiming that “plot holes don’t matter” is a massive over-reach that leads PHW to waste his time demolishing pointless strawmen.
I think CinemaSins is seen as the King of the Pointless Plot Hole Nitpickers. I’ve never seen a channel where its performance was so divorced from its reputation. CinemaSins videos regularly top a million views, and yet I can never find any fans. It’s not that people don’t like it, it’s that they actively revile it. This distaste comes from all over the spectrum. Even people who disagree with Patrick H Willems are in agreement that CinemaSins is trash.
(For the record, I watch it once in a while. I’m not a huge fan but I do like when Jeremy makes an observation of a detail I’d missed, even if I don’t think it’s strictly relevant to enjoying the movie. Having said that, I get that some people are driven to irritation by the CinemaSins style of rapid-fire nitpicks over things that often aren’t worth picking. I use the channel as a way to collect little lists of things I might have missed or not thought about. Which means that even if I’m not watching movies wrong, I’m probably watching CinemaSins wrong. Having said that, if you’re looking for nitpicking-as-comedy, then Screen Rant’s Pitch Meeting series is a better place to go.)
People do get annoyed with overly pedantic nitpicking and with lazy gotcha-style dismissals of a work based on trivial perceived sleights. People do sometimes make arguments like “they didn’t explain why the eagles couldn’t take Frodo to Mordor therefore the movies are dumb garbage for dumb people”. I imagine the public would probably welcome a good rant pushing back against this sort of thing. But Willems takes the argument so far and states everything in such absolutist terms that there’s no room left to draw a distinction between “trivial nitpick” and “massive violation of common sense that ejects the audience from the world and leaves them confused”.
Logic isn’t Everything – But it Still Matters
It’s clear that the video on Plot Holes isn’t totally in line with Willems actual beliefs. In the video he makes the case that you shouldn’t complain about people acting illogically because people are illogical in real life and that’s what drives the conflict. But in his video on Jurassic Park’s Sequel Problem he makes the case that characters behaving irrationally prevents us from caring about them and is one of the major failings of the franchise. It’s obvious that logic does matter to Willems, so I have no idea why he felt like he needed to take such a hardline stance. Maybe he watched one too many irritating episodes of CinemaSins and allowed his anger to carry him into imprudent arguments. Maybe he was trying to do the “exaggerated outrage as performance art” but it doesn’t work because he’s neither angry nor profane enough to sell it. Maybe he just wanted to stir the pot for some cheap clicks. I don’t know.
Like I’ve said in the past, plot holes aren’t a binary thing; they exist on a gradient, and everyone has a different threshold for when nagging questions become distracting enough to take you out of a story. If you’ve got a lot of domain experience in a given field than you’re really likely to notice factually absurd details that go unnoticed by the average viewer. If you view a movie in sections rather than a single sitting, then those nagging questions will have longer to nag you. If you’re feeling restless and bored then you’re more likely to turn your mind to nitpicky details that would go completely ignored if you were laughing and having a good time. If a movie offends you on a moral or intellectual level then you’ll probably start distrusting the storyteller and you’ll be more inclined to look for justifications to hate the work.
No matter how logically sound a movie is, there will always be a few people who feel the need to nitpick a few details. Maybe they were having a bad night when they saw the movie. Maybe they went in expecting something else. Likewise, no matter how infantile, nonsensical, or structurally incoherent a movie is, there will always be a handful of people who don’t care because the movie gave them the 90 minutes of low-effort sensory stimulation they were looking for that night.
This doesn’t mean that plot holes are purely a matter of taste or that they don’t matter. A sloppy or poorly conceived movie will have more people griping about plot holes. A good storyteller will anticipate what elements might frustrate or confuse people and will address it early so it doesn’t fester in the minds of the audience. A sloppy one will overlook important details and lose some people along the way.
A great example is the one we talked about in Mass Effect Andromeda just two days ago. The main character breaks their helmet twice. The first time the problem is quickly and easily fixed and the second time it’s a dire life-or-death situation. People get distracted arguing about what the technology can and can’t do, or how big the crack was, but that’s not really the source of the problem. These two scenes caused confusion because they created an expectation in the minds of the audience that the first scene was the set-up for the second. The fact that so many people had a problem with this scene shows that the writer’s intentions weren’t being properly conveyed. That’s sloppy work, and the writer should have anticipated the audience expectations and made allowances for them. (Or, you know, cut the first scene since it’s not required by the story.)
I have this sneaking suspicion that all of this debating over plot holes is based on the residual bitterness over The Last Jedi. Willems was a huge fan, and a lot of his critics responded to his video on plot holes with digs like, “Pfft. What do you expect from someone who liked The Last Jedi?” The movie was pretty divisive and some culture-war baggage got dragged into the analysis. A lot of the criticisms of TLJ focused on supposed plot holes. I think that’s really unfortunate, and maybe the culture war is polarizing people into untenable positions of “plot holes instantly invalidate a movie” and “logic is for losers”. I plan to do a long-form analysis on The Last Jedi at some point, so we can come back to this topic later.
Whatever the root of the problem is, I’d like to see this debate move in a more healthy direction. I believe strongly that craft matters. We should celebrate creators that can get the audience to buy-in rather than condemning the members of the audience who don’t. At the same time, it’s good to remember that movies are not logic puzzles, and there’s a big difference between something that broke your immersion in the theater and an inconsistency pointed out by some rando in a Reddit thread a week later.
 I’m not suggesting that FCH and I were REMOTELY the first people to tackle this. This debate is ancient.
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