Saucers of Mud

August 15, 2008

Plot Hole II

Filed under: Uncategorized — matt w @ 1:03 pm

Well, apparently the IMDb folk beat me to this, but see if you can spot the plot hole here. (You have to know something about the movie, but no spoiler necessary.)



  1. It’s one of the classic aesthetics chestnuts, actually. (When trying to figure out what counts as true in the story, etc.)

    Comment by Cala — August 15, 2008 @ 7:37 pm

  2. The IMDb people point out that the butler tells the reporter what Kane’s last words are, so the problem gets pushed back to “How did the butler know?” Though this seems like an easier problem to solve — he can have been listening at the proverbial keyhole.

    Comment by matt w — August 15, 2008 @ 8:55 pm

  3. Maybe the butler was in the room and they didn’t show him. Butlers have a way of fading into the woodwork when necessary – it’s their job.

    The plot hole they didn’t point out is in the ending [SPOILER], when the sled is thrown onto the fire. How did the sled wind up in Xanadu? Are we meant to believe that later, rich and disappointed Kane rounded up a replacement sled? He surely could have afforded to, but it’s an empty gesture, out of keeping with the psychological significance of the snow globe and sled that underpins the movie.

    The great thing about plot holes and continuity goofs is that they demonstrate how, if the narrative structure is compelling enough, your brain papers over the holes, in much the same way that your brain processes vision so that a moving object doesn’t appear blurred. It’s a bit similar to that experiment about the unreliability of eyewitnesses with a gorilla running through a basketball game. Suspension of disbelief and this exclusivity of vision (seeing what you are looking for) are related, I think.

    Comment by Ben — August 16, 2008 @ 4:43 pm

  4. Ben–the NY Times Science Times section just had an article about how stage magic exploits the phenomena you describe. I think someone has written a book about the cognitive science of illusionism.

    Comment by Matt's mom — August 16, 2008 @ 11:58 pm

  5. Maybe the butler was in the room and they didn’t show him.

    Though this raises a funny issue about truth-in-fiction; if we’d been looking at documentary fiction, then the butler could easily have been there, but in a fiction film if you don’t show the butler in a room like that it creates a pretty strong presumption that the butler isn’t there (or if he is, he’s hiding). Perhaps overridden by the later revelation that he was, but still.

    I think truth in fiction often involves a kind of local coherence rather than a global consistency, so that it might not even make sense to ask whether it’s true in Citizen Kane that the butler is in the room; it’s true at the beginning that Kane dies alone, it’s true that the butler heard him for the moment that it’s critical to the plot, and later it doesn’t matter. Or something like that. One of my favorite examples of this is a mystery where it’s a critical plot point that someone’s birthday is Feb. 29, except when he was introduced he said that he turned forty-two that (leap) year. Another example, where it doesn’t even make sense to try to fit the aberrant bit into the rest of the framework, is the ending of Italo Calvino’s “Dinosaurs”.

    Is it implausible that the stuff from his mother’s old house got boxed up and carted to Xanadu at some point? It’s been so long since I saw the movie that I have no idea.

    Comment by matt w — August 18, 2008 @ 8:29 am

  6. When Kane meets the singer, he says he is or was on his way to a warehouse to look through some old stuff of his mother’s that had been packed up and sent there. There may be one more reference to things from his mother’s house that I don’t remember, but I always thought they’d implied or otherwise indicated that those things ended up in Xanadu along with all the other stuff he had shipped there.

    Comment by andrew — August 19, 2008 @ 5:05 am

  7. I just saw a good movie called “Edge of Heaven.” Toward the end you realize that the time sequence hasn’t been straightforward. I have the feeling that if you watched it over and over you might find that the time sequence was impossible. I hope that wasn’t the point.

    Comment by Matt's mom — August 20, 2008 @ 11:26 am

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