"Us" and a Rising Problem in Film Criticism

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By Derrick Jean-Baptiste

With the recent release of “Us” and the subsequent reaction to the film I have become aware of an aspect of modern art criticism that I am not a fan of, overly focusing on what they believe are “plot-holes.”

Most people utilize the term "plot hole" as a catch-all for bad writing. Yet a plot hole is a particular type of bad writing.

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A plot hole is a gap or inconsistency in a story line that goes against the flow of logic established by the story's universe or constitutes a blatant omission of relevant information regarding the plot sometimes even contradicting itself.

These include such things as unlikely behavior or actions of characters, illogical or impossible events, events happening for no apparent reason, or statements/events that contradict earlier events in the storyline.

While admittedly many stories have unanswered questions, unlikely events or chance occurrences, a plot hole is one that is essential to the story's outcome.

Despite all of the information presented, certain genres that require or allow suspension of disbelief—especially action, comedy, fantasy, and horror—are more tolerant of plot holes.

So with plot holes being operations defined I would like to say I don't have an issue with people not being able to get past bad writing. It is rare indeed that a movie can be worth watching that has bad writing.

This bothers me because it's such a lazy way to criticize writing. Gaps in information can be indicative of so many things. There are plot reasons, character reasons, pacing reasons, genre conventions, and more. There are so many reasons that a character might not do what you want or expect them to. Or why the filmmakers might be withholding information. Or why the internal logic of the world might differ from that of the real world.

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Each can be good or bad writing. And arguing why it did or did not work is the heart of film criticism and analysis.

But instead, people just yell "plot hole!" which either shuts down discussion or puts opposing viewpoints on the defensive.

A plot hole is an individual, specific type of bad writing. It means something. It's not just a catch-all for 'I don't think that development was logical'. But that's what it's become in layman's terms.

Unfortunately more often than not, when people discuss plot holes they make it very clear that they tend not to know what a plot hole is.

A plot hole ISN'T something unexplained you wanted to be explained.

A plot hole ISN'T a gap in logic or a leap in to be explained personally didn't like.

A plot hole IS a piece of information or a plot point that directly contradicts or invalidates previously established rules or information.

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In regards to the film, “Us, ” it isn't structured in a way to detail every logistical aspect of the story. You either suspend disbelief or you don't. Not knowing everything about the Tethered and how they were created and how they planned their takeover isn't a plot hole. It's simply what you have to accept in order to enjoy the film and its themes. The underground complex ISN'T the story. Adelaide and her family is the story.

In the end, film is art and not a math problem. Sometimes the value in the art is the precision and perfection, like realism in painting. Sometimes it's an emotional expression that's difficult to quantify, like Jackson Pollack or punk rock.

What drives me crazy is when an artist intentionally takes artistic liberty for the purpose of symbolism or to garner an emotion, and they are criticized as if the liberty was done out of stupidity.