Plot Debt

“Plot Debt” consists of unexplained or nonsensical events, especially character choices, which an audience is led to believe will be justified later on. It is most prevalent in “puzzle-box” long-form media, such as TV shows. (“Lost”, q.v.) It can also appear in other media, e.g., the murder(er) of Owen Taylor in “The Big Sleep”.

The difference between Plot Debt and a Plot Hole is one of audience reaction and expectation; if the audience assumes that there is a reason for what is shown then we have the former, otherwise, the latter. Plot Debt can turn into a Plot Hole over time, but it is more common for unresolved Plot Debt to simply be forgotten as audiences lose track of the nonsense they expected to be explained later. (“Lost”, q.v.)

Occasionally, Plot Debt will be systematically paid down with explanations that incur more Plot Debt than they retire; this can lead to Narrative Hyperinflation and Plot Bankruptcy. (“Lost”, q.v.)

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Six Word Stories: Simile

Like being trapped in a metaphor.

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Reelviews #13: The Matrix

Agent Smith

'Well Jones, that's the last of that clown!'

1999’s “The Matrix” (dir. The Wachowski Brothers) tells a fanciful story — presumably inspired by Tron — from the perspective of software processes. The two protagonists, Agents Brown and Jones, are charged with protecting their host system from damage caused by intruders, but are constantly frustrated by their incompetent and unhinged boss, Agent Smith. Eventually, they hatch a plan to trick one of the intruders into solving their problem for them, which succeeds with spectacular and satisfying results. An excellent companion to “Office Space”.

(This film received two sequels, that were seen when released as irredeemably awful. With the fullness of time, and the perspective of the 3 Star Wars prequels, they can now be seen as merely terrible.)

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The Media are Just Awful

There’s a saying to the effect of: “Anytime the media write about something you know, you’ll see that they get it wrong”. On that note, I saw this republished press release news story from the AP about the new 2015 Mustang.

It’s all pretty basic boilerplate stuff, until we get to this:

The car sits on the Mustang’s first independent rear suspension, which should improve handling because it lets the wheels operate independently.

I’ve personally owned 2 Mustangs with IRS. One was a 1999 model year car. You can read about it here.

While it’s difficult to imagine a less important issue than this, it does raise the question: What else do the media get wrong, that you depend upon to make important decisions?

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Reelviews #12: The Road Warrior


Admittedly, a limited selection.

A loose adaptation of “Death of a Salesman” (Arthur Miller, 1949), 1981’s “The Road Warrior” (dir. George Miller) follows the adventures of door-to-door pet salesman Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) in the Australian outback of the early 1980’s. While the basic structure of a man failing at his profession (most of the people Max meets react to him rather violently) while worrying about his family’s welfare (in Max’s case, a son with a severe case of being dead) is retained, many changes were made to accommodate the new era and setting. There are, of course, a lot more guns and a lot fewer chamois cloths, and the phantasmal character of Uncle Ben is replaced with the flesh-and-blood Gyrocaptain (Bruce Spence) — who may not own a diamond mine, but does have a trained attack snake. Most controversially, Miller’s film diverges from Miller’s play in the third act, as Max survives his final crash.

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Reelviews #11: Dark City

Mr. Book

Outlasting the hell out of Margaret Thatcher.

An unofficial 4th chapter in the British “House of Cards” mini-series trilogy, 1998’s “Dark City” (dir. Alex Proyas) sees Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson) revivified by aliens, and set up as the governor of the eponymous city (clearly a much reworked London). Perhaps a bit over the top in highlighting F.U.’s villainy, it is nonetheless good to see that character having fun again, after the somewhat gloomy grind of “The Final Cut”. This chapter benefits from a more cinematic style, most dramatically apparent in the switch to surrealist/German Expressionist set design and cinematography (Dariusz Wolski).

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Reelviews #10: Breaking Bad


On the nose much, Gilligan, you lousy hack?

AMC’s “Breaking Bad” (showrunner: Vince Gilligan) is a surprisingly ham-fisted critique of the Fed’s expansionary monetary policy, badly concealed inside an implausible crime story and tedious domestic drama. The effects of inflation run throughout the series, usually reflected in the increasingly futile efforts of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) to secure his family’s future by earning more and more money that seems more and more worthless. In the end, Cranston is literally left with a barrelful of cash in the New Hampshire wilderness, forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars for each month’s basic supplies.

The rising price level is also represented in more concrete ways. For instance, in season 1 the street price for a stolen barrel of methylamine is given as $10,000. Assuming a standard 55-gallon drum, this works out to $182 per gallon. By season 5 (less than 1 year later), Walter White and friends are offered $15,000,000 for 1,000 gallons of the stuff; this works out to $15,000 per gallon, or an inflation rate of over 149% per month.

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Reelviews #9: Manhattan


Every year, one or two people get killed during an electrical storm in Central Park.

Woody Allen’s 1979 “Manhattan” is, perhaps, one of cinema’s greatest misfires. Famously so hated by its auteur that he offered to forgo his director’s fees on his next project if UA would shelve the film, it illustrates how even the most talented cast and crew can still produce a debacle. Intending to create a harsh critique of late-70’s New York City misgovernance, Allen reunited with DP and “prince of darkness” Gordon Willis to shoot the film in a gritty B&W style. Unfortunately and incomprehensibly, the project was let down by a silly romantic subplot, and became a deeply disingenuous movie that suggested that Manhattan might be an interesting and picturesque place to live.

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Reelviews #8: Lawrence of Arabia


Ho Chi Minh City, 1975

A prescient allegory for the Vietnam War, David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” of 1962 moves the action to the Arabian Middle East during WWI, and recasts Hoang Van Thai as T. E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole). The film is remarkable not for its deeply conventional view that a foreign power will be unable to persevere against determined indigenous opposition, but rather for its unusual attention to the longer-term effects of the glorious revolution. It is not hard to read the incompetence of the Damascus council as a critique (well-justified in the event) of the evils that the eventual communist government would bring to South Vietnam. Even more interesting is the blood-lust revealed in the character of Lawrence — a bold artistic choice, given the wide-spread leftist sympathy for the communists in the arts, then as much as now.

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Reelviews #7: Goodfellas

4-star prison

Could there be an informer in this cell?

1990’s “Goodfellas” (dir. Martin Scorsese) follows Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) as he pursues his life-long dream of working for the FBI. Unable to join the bureau due to the era’s prejudice against his half-Jewish ancestry, Liotta commits himself — from a very young age — to a one-man crusade to infiltrate the Mafia. The film takes a fairly realistic view of this quixotic quest as Liotta faces major setbacks, including the murder of a contact he had been cultivating inside the Mafia’s inner circle, and, ultimately, personal ostracism as the mob grows more and more suspicious of the favorable treatment Liotta receives from law enforcement.

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