The Alexandrian

The Big SleepEvery so often I’ll discuss plot holes in movies. Sometimes I’m critiquing a movie I liked. Other times I’m excorciating a movie I hated.

For example, last month I posted a lengthy essay discussing (among other things) some significant problems with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

Another example would be the plethora of plot holes Peter Jackson created in The Two Towers. (Gratuitous examples include teleporting ents, the elven legion from Lothlorien that teleports to Helm’s Deep, and Faramir’s strangely psychic ability to know events taking place in Rohan on the same day that they occur.)

And frequently, during the ensuing discussions, someone will trot out what I’ve come to refer to as the Big Sleep Fallacy.

The Big Sleep is a classic movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. It’s a noir detective story based on Raymond Chandler’s novel of the same name and Chandler also wrote the screenplay. It’s widely considered to be one of the best movies ever made. It’s also remembered as having an incredibly convoluted plot. The most notable example of this is that one of the murders in the film is never explained. When asked about it later, Chandler himself couldn’t identify the murderer. It’s a huge gaping plot hole.

And the Big Sleep Fallacy looks like this: “The Big Sleep was a great movie. The Big Sleep has a famous plot hole. Therefore, there’s nothing wrong with having plot holes.”

Err… No. If you think that makes sense, I’m afraid you’re in dire need of a remedial logic class.

If you want to go for the weaker conclusion that “movies can have plot holes and still be good”, then you’re in decent shape. But with the stronger conclusion you’re assuming the unstated premise that “great movies are without flaw”. And even if you can swallow such a patently ridiculous premise, you’ve now introduced an ancillary conclusion that “plot holes aren’t flaws”… which also appears to be patently ridiculous.

You can also scent the fundamental error here by noting that The Big Sleep is specifically noteworthy for having such a significant plot hole while still being considered a great movie. In other words, that type of thing is unusual and therefore merits mention. If great movies routinely had gaping plot holes lying around, then the appearance of one in The Big Sleep wouldn’t be of notable significance.

… and that’s my rant for the day.

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One Response to “Thought of the Day: The Big Sleep Fallacy”

  1. Justin Alexander says:


    Rory Weston
    Fair enough – given that everyone assumed everything had been answered.
    Great blog/page by the way.
    Rory Weston
    Thursday, October 02, 2008, 12:36:17 PM

    Justin Alexander
    In the case of The Big Sleep everyone in the movie and the author assumed that all questions had been answered. I’d say that makes it a plot hole. Certainly that’s the way it’s commonly described.
    Wednesday, October 01, 2008, 4:02:03 AM

    Is leaving a question unanswered actually a plot hole?

    I don’t disagree with your point, but I find a difference between a mystery (unanswered question) and a plot hole (unanswerable question).

    Tuesday, September 30, 2008, 6:15:27 PM

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